Two storied Italian clubs are back among Europe’s elite for the first time in more than a decade.
Inter Milan has not been in the Champions League quarterfinals since going out at that stage as the defending champion in 2011. City rival AC Milan last made it to the final eight in 2012.
Since then there have been slumps on the field and turmoil off it, with both clubs changing ownership several times and coaches even more frequently. However, after years of mediocrity, both teams ended lengthy waits for a Serie A title before finally making it back to the top of European football.
In their absence, no Italian team has won the Champions League — although Juventus did finish runner-up twice.
Milan will host runaway Serie A leader Napoli in the first leg of the quarterfinals on Wednesday, a day after Inter visits Benfica.
Inter was the last Italian team to lift the trophy, when it won an unprecedented treble of the league, Italian Cup and Champions League under José Mourinho in 2010. Before that, Milan won the last of its seven titles in 2007.
The other two quarterfinals this week pit Real Madrid against Chelsea and Bayern Munich against Manchester City.
When the Milan clubs were at the top of European football, they were under the stewardship of long-term owners Silvio Berlusconi and Massimo Moratti.
Moratti, who held Inter since 1995, sold a majority share of the club to an Indonesian consortium led by Erick Thohir in 2013. Retail giant Suning then took over the club three years later, shortly before Milan also came under Chinese ownership.
Former Italian premier Berlusconi had controlled Milan for more than 30 years before selling to a Chinese consortium in 2017. U.S.-based hedge fund Elliott Management took over the following year. The club was sold to another American investment firm, RedBird Capital Partners, last year.
Under former Juventus and Italy coach Antonio Conte, Inter won its first Serie A title in more than a decade in 2021 as it ended the Bianconeri’s grip on the league crown. That was Inter’s first trophy since 2011 and the first league title since 2010.
Milan finished second that season and went one better in 2022 as it ended its own 11-year wait for the scudetto.
In Europe, Inter reached the knockout stage of the Champions League last season. It was eliminated by Liverpool in the round of 16, despite winning at Anfield. It reached the Europa League final in 2020 but lost to Sevilla.
Milan made it back to Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in eight years last season, but was eliminated in the group stage.
Here’s a look at how the other quarterfinalists are shaping up: REAL MADRID Facing Chelsea for a third straight year in the knockout stage, Madrid will host the English side following a tough loss at home to Villarreal in the Spanish league. That result virtually ended its title hopes and left it in danger of losing second place to Atletico Madrid.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said the team was not 100% motivated but promised that “it will be a different story” on Wednesday against Chelsea. He rotated some players following the team’s 4-0 rout over Barcelona in the Copa del Rey last week. Madrid advanced past Chelsea in the quarterfinals last season, and lost in the semifinals the previous year.
With eight wins in a row in all competitions, Manchester City’s form looks ominous.
While the Premier League champions remain second to Arsenal in the race for the title, they are still in contention to win a treble of trophies this season.
Erling Haaland is flying with 44 goals and might be the difference in City’s long search for the Champions League title.
Pep Guardiola is still to win the competition since lifting it for a second time with former club Barcelona in 2011.
The closest he came to winning it again was in 2021 when losing in the final to a Chelsea team managed by new Bayern Munich coach Thomas Tuchel.
Unlike the other two Italian clubs, Napoli has never been in the Champions League quarterfinals.
But Napoli is set to end its own wait for a league title.
Napoli is 16 points ahead of second-place Lazio and nearly assured of winning its first Serie A title since Diego Maradona led the club to its only two Italian league championships in 1987 and 1990.
However, it recently suffered its heaviest defeat of the season — to the team it will meet in the quarterfinals — when it was routed 4-0 by Milan.
That was only the second time in 14 matches that Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti had lost to Milan counterpart Stefano Pioli.
Did Bayern make the right call firing coach Julian Nagelsmann and replacing him with Thomas Tuchel? Tuesday’s game at Manchester City could provide an answer.
Tuchel’s tenure started with an impressive 4-2 win over title rival Borussia Dortmund despite having only a few days to prepare. That game, though, was arguably more about Dortmund imploding after a goalkeeping blunder than a great Bayern victory.
Two games against Freiburg have increased the scrutiny on Tuchel. In both the 2-1 German Cup loss on Tuesday and 1-0 Bundesliga win on Saturday, Bayern lacked a cutting edge in attack.
City and former Bayern coach Pep Guardiola offer a very different challenge, but if Bayern doesn’t play to its best, unflattering comparisons will be made with Nagelsmann’s assured win over Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 just weeks ago.
Frank Lampard is back at Chelsea and has the chance to further enhance his legendary status among the club’s fans by leading it to the unlikeliest of triumphs in European football’s elite competition.
Chelsea’s all-time leading goal-scorer and former manager has been hired on a short-term basis until the end of the season after Graham Potter was fired this month. But he didn’t get off to a good start – losing 1-0 to relegation-fighting Wolverhampton in his first game in charge.
With Real Madrid in the quarterfinals, Lampard faces arguably the most difficult of tasks to advance to the semis.
One of the surprises of the Champions League, Benfica’s nearly perfect season took a hit on Friday with a home loss to rival Porto in the Portuguese league.
It was only the team’s second loss, following defeat at Braga 17 matches ago. It had won 13 of its last 15 matches in all competitions since then.
Benfica will enter the first leg at home to Inter on Tuesday without right back Alexander Bah, who was injured in the game against Porto.
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