The UEFA Champions League quarter-finals are upon us, with high-flying Benfica welcoming out-of-sorts Inter Milan to Estadio da Luz on Tuesday.
The Eagles made it to this stage in consecutive seasons, having annihilated Club Brugge in the first knockout round, while Inter eliminated another Portuguese side, Porto, to reach the last eight after 12 years.
This season has been outstanding for Benfica in the Champions League, ending atop a group that contained heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, with the latter exiting the competition in the group stage. Roger Schmidt’s troops are unbeaten in this year’s competition, a feat they share with Manchester City and Bayern Munich.
The goals have been spread around, but Joao Mario has hit the back of the net six times for the Portuguese outfit, with Rafa Silva and the talented Goncalo Ramos finding the back of the net five and three times respectively. Only Napoli (25) have scored more than Benfica’s 23 in this year’s competition, a statistic that would worry the Italian side, who have struggled for clean sheets in Serie A lately.
However, Benfica’s preparation for Inter saw them beaten 2-1 by their title rivals Porto on Friday, which saw their lead at the top of the standings cut to seven points. It was their first league loss since New Year’s Eve, and Schmidt will hope that defeat was a one-off result.
As for Inter, since the end of February, the New Year has been a mixed bag for Simone Inzaghi’s team, with a wretched sequence of results. Beaten by Bologna after a commendable 1-0 win over Porto in Europe, that defeat began a run of games in which only one victory has been secured in seven games in all competitions.
Goalscoring has been an issue for Inzaghi’s men, with the Nerazzurri not scoring more than one goal in three of those seven fixtures and also failing to find the back of the net in as many games. Good Friday’s 1-1 draw with Salernitana was almost comical, with Romelu Lukaku contriving to somehow hit the crossbar from the goalmouth, Nicolo Barella hitting the post from distance, and Guillermo Ochoa making a glut of saves to keep the home side in the game before Antonio Candreva’s fortunate equaliser.
Be that as it may, Inzaghi could take solace in the quality of chances created on the day, even if they can afford no more off days in front of goal against one of the best teams in this year’s Champions League.