Don’t count them out – Inter can beat Real or City
Not even the most ardent Inter Milan fan could argue that the Nerazzurri will go into June 10’s Champions League final as anything other than underdogs.
The fourth best side in Serie A side this season will come up against either the Champions League specialists in Real Madrid, or the most in-form side in Europe against Manchester City.
But what Inter can fairly claim is that they can hurt whoever stands in their way in Istanbul. Not necessarily in terms of quality, but literally hurt teams emotionally.
The June final will likely go a similar way to how Tuesday’s semi-final second leg with AC Milan went. Milan wanted the goals, they pressed high, they caused pressure. But Inter stood firm – and frustrated.
The first half at the San Siro second leg saw 22 fouls – the most in the opening half of a Champions League game this season. Fourteen of those fouls were from AC Milan players.
Inter broke up the play, using fouls to bring them up the pitch. Most importantly it brought them time to wind down the clock and frustrate their impatient opponents. A similar tactic in the final is expected.
But it’s not just about the street-smart tactics. Inter have plenty to offer going forward.
Their forward options of Lautaro Martinez, Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko have enough verve, nerve and cool heads to damage any defence. Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco were major plus points in the semi-final games. Hakan Calhonoglu and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are expert playmakers from deep alongside Nicolo Barella.
And then there’s manager Simone Inzaghi – who is now becoming one of the best cup specialists in Europe.
The Italian has won his last five cup finals for Inter and Lazio, you can’t count him out of this Champions League one, with the squad and culture he has with the Nerazzurri.
AC Milan limp out and may not be back any time soon
AC Milan deserve credit for getting this far but the manner of their exit – limp and without even putting up a fight against their most bitter rivals – ensures this Champions League campaign will not be remembered fondly. In truth, they looked out of their depth.
They had their moments in the first half, Brahim Diaz spurning an excellent chance early on and Rafael Leao firing narrowly wide, but, emerging from the interval needing something special, they instead looked like a beaten side. Inter toyed with them.
The gap between the two sides is only five points in Serie A but the gulf looked vast as Simone Inzaghi’s side, having already underlined their superiority in the first leg, simply stroked the ball around and waited for their chance to kill the tie.
Lautaro Martinez’s ruthlessness bore sharp contrast to what happened at the other end of the pitch, where Olivier Giroud floundered and Leao and Diaz offered nothing either side of him.
Amazingly, despite the circumstances demanding two goals and a place in a Champions League final at stake, Stefano Pioli’s side could only muster a solitary shot in the entirety of the second period.
It was a miserable way to bow out, as Inter’s jubilant fans celebrated, and the brutal reality is that, sitting four points behind fourth-placed Lazio domestically, it may be some time before they are back on this stage.