Barella and Bastoni find their spark against Benfica, giving Inter control of Champions League tie

Inter finally got a win under their belts after a barren run with a superb away performance against Benfica in the Champions League. Barella and Bastoni were key, despite underwhelming for much of the season.

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There have been a number of factors contributing to Inter‘s disappointing 2022/23 campaign and the easiest scapegoat is of course the coach, Simone Inzaghi.

If we spare him for the time being, a major factor has been a number of Inter’s best players performing well beneath their best level despite being in the same system with many of the same players around them as last season.

This sort of criticism can be laid at Edin Dzeko, Marcelo Brozovic, Nicolo Barella, Alessandro Bastoni and more. The latter two dropped a hint during the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Benfica that they could be turning a corner.

Federico Dimarco on the ball for Inter against Benfica. [@Inter_en]

The energy of Barella

When on form, Nicolo Barella is one of the most enjoyable players to watch in Serie A and indeed across the whole of Europe. The Italian seems to be able to add 10% to the legs of every player around him with his infectious running and energy levels.

This season, though, he has almost looked like he is suffering from burnout. Perhaps, he has been. Ever since playing 30 games in the 2016/17 season, he has not dipped below that figure in any campaign despite still only being 26 years old. He played 35 times in 17/18, 38 in 18/19, 41 in 19/20, 46 in 20/21 and 48 in 21/22. He’s on 38 this season already.

The Benfica first leg at the Estadio da Luz was his 39th of this season but he seemed to get his legs back. The former Cagliari man was all over the pitch and whilst he was struggling to create much in the way of clear-cut chances, he was certainly a reference point for the Nerazzurri.

It was at the start of the second half that his positive attitude was rewarded with a headed goal from a superb Alessandro Bastoni cross. Inter are a much better team when Barella is playing in that excitable, boyish manner and if he can carry that into the rest of the Serie A season, their chances of making the top four will be boosted.

Inter’s Nicolo Barella in action in the Champions League. [@Inter_en]

Bastoni finds his range

Much like Barella, Alessandro Bastoni is a player who has routinely been linked with a big move away from the club but some of that interest has cooled this season as his form has left a lot to be desired.

The Italian defender has all the hallmarks of being one of Europe’s best modern centre-backs with the way that he can carry the ball out of the defence and play passes that many midfielders would be proud of.

Like Barella again, he found something that has been missing for large swathes of this campaign. The former Atalanta defender was the man who produced the superb cross for Barella to make it 1-0. He put in another very similar cross shortly before the Romelu Lukaku penalty that made it 2-0 which could have helped Inter reach that scoreline even sooner.

Bastoni created two big chances, completed two out of his three crosses and six of his 11 long balls. As well as that, he was crucial at the back with four clearances and three tackles.

Whilst these two performances bring promise for Inter’s season, they could also be necessary for cashing in on players if the financial situation calls for it this summer. A strong end to the season from Bastoni and Barella could quickly add millions to their price tags, such is the volatility of the market these days.

In the meantime, a 2-0 win over Benfica to take back to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza will ease the pressure on Inzaghi and keep the dream of a Champions League semi-final against either AC Milan or Napoli alive.

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