Former Nerazzurri and Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez believes Inter Milan are the only Italian team at the level of Man City and Real Madrid.

The Spanish coach spoke to Milan-based newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport in an interview published in today’s print edition, via FCInterNews.

This season, Inter were dumped out of the Champions League in rather disappointing fashion.

After a first leg in which they were dominant against Atletico Madrid but only took a 1-0 lead into the second match due to profligate finishing, Inter crumbled in Madrid.

Meanwhile, the team who beat Inter in the Champions League final last season are also out.

Manchester City exited the competition via the same route as Inter – a penalty shootout. And like the Nerazzurri, they were eliminated by a team from the Spanish capital, Real Madrid.

Even so, the sense remains that Inter are now one of the heavy hitters in Europe’s top club competition.

That is the case because of last season’s run to the final. And because Inter have been a dominant force domestically this campaign.

Rafae Benitez: “Inter Only Italian Team On Par With Man City & Real Madrid”

Benitez, who coached Inter in the 2010-11 season, gave his thoughts on the current Nerazzurri side.

“I think they’ve gotten everyone in agreement,” he said. “They’re the strongest team in Serie A.”

“They absolutely deserved to win the Scudetto,” he continued.

“And that’s always a big achievement, even if you’re the best team in the league.”

“In fact, it’s even greater then – because then you feel that you have to be successful.”

Benitez extended his “Congratulations to the Nerazzurri.”

Asked how far off he thinks Inter are from Manchester City and Real Madrid, Benitez said that “There’s still a gap. But not much.”

“Inter can go toe-to-toe with anyone,” he went on.

“At the moment, City and Real have accumulated a little more experience,” Benitez suggested.

“In my opinion, that makes the difference when competing at the highest level. But Inzaghi’s team can reach that point.”

“Other than Inter, I think the other teams in Italy will need a little more time to close that gap with the continent’s elite.”