Ismael Bennacer wants AC Milan to use painful Inter loss as fuel for Champions League push

Italian side missed out on final last season after losing to arch rivals in last four

AC Milan's Ismael Bennacer, left, in action against Inter Milan during the Uefa Champions League semi-final first leg at the San Siro on May 10, 2023. AFP
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AC Milan midfielder Ismael Bennacer says the club will use the hurt of last season’s Uefa Champions League semi-final exit to fuel their bid to go all the way this campaign.

The Serie A side, seven-time European Cup winners, reached the last four of the 2022/23 tournament, but were beaten 3-0 on aggregate in May by city rivals Inter Milan.

Milan, who qualified for last season’s Champions League by winning a first Scudetto in 11 years the previous year, last lifted Europe’s premier club trophy in 2007.

This season, Milan sit third in an incredibly tight Group F with two matches remaining, one point off second-placed Paris Saint-Germain and two back from leaders Borussia Dortmund. Newcastle United, meanwhile, lie bottom, although only three points off the summit.

Milan round off the group against Dortmund, at home on November 29, and Newcastle, away, two weeks later.

Speaking on Monday in Dubai at an event to mark the opening of Casa Milan Dubai, the club’s new base in the emirate, Bennacer told The National: “First, you play to win the Champions League, not playing just to be in the Champions League.

“Then, when you have the taste of the Champions League semi-final, you want to go higher, to do better. And that’s why we will try this year.

“Because as I said, we’re not just here to be here in the group and that’s it, or quarter-final and that’s it. No, we want to win it. But, as we saw, a lot of teams will have a chance to win it.”

Bennacer, 25, has not featured for Milan this season following surgery on a knee injury sustained early in the first leg of the semi-final with Inter, on May 10.

The Algeria international has been an integral component of Stefano Pioli’s team since moving to San Siro from Empoli in 2019, helping Milan finish runners-up in Serie A in his second season. He then played a pivotal role in Milan's title success the following year.

Bennacer said on Monday that he expected to return to action midway through next month.

Asked about the frustration of his lengthy spell on the sidelines, the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations winner said: “That’s hard. When you have this type of injury, and at this moment as well, because that was one of the most important games of my life.

“But it’s OK, when you see positive things day by day, you work, you have some [programme] to come back, you see there’s some steps. I was not working for two months, and then after you are doing the bike, then running, then more.

“As I said, you have to see the positive things; I spent time more with my family, with myself as well. I’m not happy [to be injured], but it’s OK.

“Everything is going well, and I don’t feel anything on my knee. There’s been no reaction as well.”

Bennacer said he could use the frustration as motivation to return to top form and help Milan’s quest for silverware this season.

“When you’re playing for AC Milan, you want to win every year,” he said. “And also everything, even though it’s hard. This year we have a very, very good team, very good players, new arrivals.

“All the time we are making a team. It will take time a little bit, but we will be OK.”

Last week, Milan rebounded from a run of four matches without a win – three of which were losses – with a come-from-behind, 2-1 victory at home in the Champions League to PSG.

And, though at the weekend they slipped eight points behind Serie A leaders Juventus having surrendered a 2-0 lead at Lecce to draw 2-2, midfielder Yacine Adli believes the PSG result can still spark Milan’s season.

“Last week was a really important game,” said Adli, sitting alongside Bennacer. “We made a very good game in a crazy atmosphere, and we were very happy.

“We struggled a little bit in Serie A these last months, but we know the way is long in the Champions League and in Serie A [Milan are third in the table after 12 matches]. So we will try to keep working and do more every day to reach our goals.

“It’s not easy every day. But it’s our job. We have to do it and we will do it because, like I said, we are in such a big club and we need to do it for the club, for the fans and for us also.”

Updated: November 13, 2023, 8:14 PM