Fresh off yet more Serie A disappointment against Salernitana, Inter can now turn its focus back to the Champions League and a quarterfinal tie against Benfica. Surely it can’t go any worse than the last month of Inter’s games, right? Right??
Benfica is the second Portuguese team Inter will face in the knockout stages after a 1-0 aggregate victory over Porto in the Round of 16. The Águias are a bit better than Porto, and currently lead the Primeira Liga by 7 points over their counterparts with 71 points and a 23W-2D-2L record - although Porto handed Benfica its first defeat in 8 outings in all competitions last weekend. Other than that, though, Roger Schmidt’s side has been in stellar form the entire campaign. It finished atop a Group H that featured Juventus and PSG in the UCL, with a +9 goal differential, two draws against PSG, and a clean sweep over Juventus. The Portuguese side went on to cruise past Club Brugge in the Round of 16 by an aggregate scoreline of 7-1. In short, Benfica is one good team and can give anyone in Europe trouble despite hailing from a non-top 5 league.
Inter will also have the Law of the Ex to worry about come Tuesday. After leaving Inter with his contract terminated, our old friend Joao Mario has become a star at Benfica as a winger and has an incredible 23 goals and 8 assists in 34 appearances. Twenty-one-year-old striker Goncalo Ramos (20g, 3a), Rafa Silva (11g, 4a), and David Neres (9g, 6a) form quite the formidable attack alongside Joao Mario and will be what has Inter and Simone Inzaghi most worried.
The Nerazzurri’s horribly predictable draw at Salernitana means at kickoff Tuesday, 37 days will have passed since Inter last won a game (2-0 vs Lecce, in case you were wondering). Since then Inter has mounted a very impressive record of 0W-3D-3L. Without the hope that Inter’s deep UCL run has offered, Inzaghi would likely be out of a job by now, and defeat to Benfica would leave the Mister all but out of insurance policies. On the other hand, perhaps a return to Europe’s biggest stage is what Inter needs to wake up and find something resembling its best self as the business end of the season arrives.
Inter and Benfica have only met 3 times, with the good guys holding a 2W-1D-0L advantage in the series.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Benfica 1-1 Inter Milan
Inter won’t do enough to break its lengthening winless run but the Nerazzurri will at least avoid defeat thanks to a Romelu Lukaku equalizer after Joao Mario (who else?) opens the scoring.