Monday, May 29, 2023

Inter Milan 3-3 (Agg. 5-3) Benfica: Talking points as Nerazzurri push through to set up Champions League Milan Derby

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The semifinals of this season’s Champions League are sure to bring a treat to all football fans around the globe, with the ruthless Manchester City side facing serial winners and record-holders Real Madrid, while seven-time European champions AC Milan face their fierce city rivals, Inter.

To get here, Inter had to go through Benfica, and though the second leg played in Milan on Wednesday was an exciting match in its own right, there wasn’t really much hope for the Portuguese side to get through after the Nerazzurri saw them off with a 0-2 victory in Lisbon.

Nonetheless, it was a thrilling contest which ended 3-3. Nicolo Barella, who broke the deadlock in Lisbon, repeated the feat in Milan with a brilliantly taken goal in the 14th minute. Fredrik Aursnes headed his team back level in the 38th, but all Benfica hopes will have been extinguished in the 65th, when Lautaro Martinez restored Inter’s lead. Many believed the game would end with another Benfica defeat after Joaquin Correa scored Inter’s third in the 78th, but Antonio Silva closed the gap down in the 86th, and Petar Musa equalized in the fifth minute of added time.

The game by numbers

Having come to Italy with a two-goal deficit to overcome, Benfica were unsurprisingly the team in control of the ball for a greater amount of time than the hosts, ending the game with 60% of possession, more passes attempted (691-584) with greater accuracy percentage (84-76).

The visitors also took more shots, a total of 12 with five going the right way while Inter took 11, three on target. That, in combination with the final scoreline of course, means Benfica forced two saves from Inter’s Andre Onana, while Odysseas Vlachodimos didn’t make a single save.

The stats pin-point Inter’s Lautaro Martinez as the best individual performer on the pitch, and the official Man of the Match award handed to him after the final whistle confirmed the claim of the numbers.

The case for Lautaro was obviously made strong by the goal he scored along with the assist for Barella’s opener. Of all players who attempted more than six passes throughout the game, only Benfica’s Joao Mario had a greater completion rate (89.5%) than the Argentina international (88.9%). Benfica left-back Alex Grimaldo was the player with most completed take-ons, four from five attempted, followed by Lautaro with three from five attempted.

Despite playing as a forward, Lautaro made a successful tackle inside his team’s third of the pitch, and put it two important blocks to keep Onana’s goal safe. It’s fair to say he was everywhere, wherever his team needed him to be in a specific moment.

Barella and Dimarco impacts

Barella is another Inter player who will remember the Benfica tie warmly, having accentuated his reputation as one of the most accomplished midfielders in Europe with an outstanding goal. A fluid fusion of impeccable footwork, close control and shooting accuracy, his curler into the top corner calmed any jitters at San Siro as the Nerazzurri went three goals ahead on aggregate in the first half.

Barella, a self-confessed Inter fan, is contracted to the club until June 2026, but that hasn’t prevented repetitive reports of interest from clubs around Europe, most notably Liverpool and Manchester United, both believed keen to take the Italy international to the Premier League.

Left-sided wing-back Federico Dimarco also underlined his value to Inzaghi’s team by assisting Lautaro for his goal, as well as Correa for Inter’s third.

Notwithstanding slipshod defending in the final stages and the asinine actions of a few Benfica supporters that threw flares in the stands, it was a memorable night for a club with a rich history at Europe’s elite level.

Benfica

The players who wore the Benfica shirt in this game have very little to regret, given the situation they started in. They can only be sorry that they didn’t put in this kind of effort in Lisbon too.

It may seem pointless from the most obvious perspective as it didn’t help them reach their goal, but Benfica’s late fightback in this game was very important. By putting in such an emphatic effort in the face of futility, on Europe’s greatest stage, they will have restored some confidence in their quality. It helped them stop a highly unwelcome run as they avoided fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions.

There are six rounds still to be played in the Primeira Liga, and Benfica’s four-point advantage over FC Porto at the top of the table could melt away quickly if their defeats to Porto and Chaves are followed by another such result. The fact that they went two goals down away to Inter with 12 minutes left on the clock and ended up level will have shown them that there is a way. The quality is there; all it takes is motivation.

Individually, it could be said that former Inter forward Joao Mario played the best game for Benfica, obviously keen to make up for conceding the penalty for Inter’s second goal in Lisbon. As has been said, only he had a better pass completion rate than Lautaro, and helped by fine performances from Chiquinho and Aursnes, he was involved in almost everything Benfica tried upfront, and also made a tackle and a clearance closer to his own goal.

Grimaldo’s penetration down the left was also of great importance, most notably when he whipped in the cross that found Aursnes in the air for Benfica’s first goal.

Inter and the season salvation

Inter are obviously doing great in the Champions League, but unless they end up winning the competition, it will mostly have been in vain if they fail to qualify for the next season’s edition. As things stand in the Serie A, Simone Inzaghi’s men are fifth with 51 points, and though the race for places three and four between them, Milan and Roma is very tight, their recent domestic form will have raised a few questions. Many feel that had inter been eliminated from Europe at an earlier stage, Simone Inzaghi would be staring thoughtfully at the exit door.

The first leg of the clash with Milan in the semifinals is scheduled for May 10th, and there’s five matches they need to do well in before that, and some of those will pose a problem. It’s Empoli away next, and then it’s the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal against Juventus. After that, Inter play host to second-place Lazio, travel to relegation-threatened Verona, and face third-place Roma at the Olimpico.

Simone needs to rally his men after the celebrations end, and they must make sure to make the most of these games.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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