Inter Milan enters the second leg of this UEFA Champions League (UCL) quarterfinal with a comfortable two-goal aggregate advantage and a chance to advance to the semifinals. Inter will need to be vigilant to fend off Benfica’s advances and secure a first UCL semi-final berth since 2010, though, as their shocking 1-0 home loss to Monza at the weekend demonstrated.
Inter appears to be in a good position to secure a spot in the final four given that they have triumphed in 17 of the 18 UEFA competition matches they have won while winning the first leg away from home. Simone Inzaghi is poised to become the first native Italian coach to lead Inter to the semifinals of Europe’s top competition since Eugenio Bersellini in 1980–81. The last time Inter lost a UCL home game by a margin large enough to see elimination in 90 minutes here was a 5-2 loss against Schalke in 2011.
Benfica, who are traveling to Italy, are coming off of their own shocking 1-0 loss to Chaves in the Primeira Liga, which made their losing streak in all competitions three games long. If Benfica’s previous performance doesn’t give them much reason for optimism, then perhaps the fact that they have already triumphed on Italian soil this year—beating Juventus 2-1 in group stage play will.
However, their success against Italian opponents has been sporadic, with just four victories (D1, L11) on Italian territory, including the one against Juventus. On the strength of a nine-match unbeaten run in UCL away games (W6, D3), they do appear well-positioned to improve upon that record here, but given that only one of those victories came by a margin large enough to avoid the agony of extra time and penalties, Benfica’s tenuous chances of moving on may require more than the allotted 90 minutes.
Romelu Lukaku, the king of Inter’s penalty kicks, has scored four of his past five goals from the spot, including the winning goal in the reverse. Benfica’s Rafa is having a successful UCL season, and fans should expect excitement if he scores once more after netting at least six goals in each of his previous three UCL scoring performances.
In addition to their humiliating loss to Monza, Inter also suffered an injury as center-back Stefan de Vrij left the game early in the second half due to an ankle injury. It is unknown how long the Dutchman will be out with the injury, but Francesco Acerbi should be able to play tonight.
De Vrij is joined in the hospital by teammate Milan Skriniar, a defender who’s back condition isn’t expected to improve in time for the return leg. However, Inzaghi has no other injuries to worry about and was able to welcome Hakan Calhanoglu back from a thigh issue at the weekend.
While Lukaku is attempting to score his 10th Champions League goal in Nerazzurri colors only four players have achieved that feat for Inter Marcelo Brozovic is anticipated to keep Calhanoglu out of the team for the time being. However, the rested pairing of Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez may decide to reestablish their attacking partnership.
While Benfica will have Argentinian World Cup champion Nicolas Otamendi returning from a suspension served in the first leg, Morato is likely to be benched for Benfica, who are playing without some experienced center backs.
Midfielder Florentino is also available after serving a suspension that prevented him from playing in the defeat to Chaves. Julian Draxler has not fully recovered from a similar issue, while Mihailo Ristic has overcome a muscle issue. Gilberto stays in the Eagles’ backline as Alexander Bah, the right-back, is expected to be sidelined for at least a few more weeks due to a knee injury.
Goncalo Ramos, a striker for Benfica, has created 299 pressures in the final third during the current Champions League season. The 21-year-old is hoping to end a three-game goal drought at San Siro after already scoring 25 goals in all competitions this year.
Possible starting lineup for Inter Milan
Onana, Darmian, Acerbi, Bastoni, Dumfries, Barella, Mkhitaryan, Brozovic, Dimarco, Martinez and Dzeko.
Possible starting lineup for Benfica
Vlachodimos, Gilberto, A. Silva, Otamendi, Grimaldo, Florentino, Aursnes, Neres, R. Silva, Mario and Ramos.
We predict: Inter Milan ties Benfica at 1-1 (Inter triumphs 3-1 overall)
As Schmidt’s team fights tooth and nail to keep their European dream alive, a weakened Inter back line that once took pleasure in keeping shutouts should be penetrated at least once.
Otamendi’s return will give Benfica, who typically travel well in Europe, another layer of tenacity. However, the Eagles’ spirits may be as low as Inter’s right now, and Inzaghi’s cup specialists can force a scoreless draw to set up an Italian semifinal with AC Milan.