Real Madrid gave their chances of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League round of 16 a major boost after a solid 2-0 win away at Inter Milan, recording their first victory at the San Siro against either Inter or AC Milan for the first time in 17 visits.
Zinedine Zidane started without Casemiro and opted for the same midfield of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Martin Ødegaard, as he did against Villarreal at the weekend. And that helped Madrid boss the early possession. There was a theme early on too, Nacho Fernandez would press up high with Ferland Mendy, allowing Kroos to sit back and dictate the tempo with long balls.
And the first chance came from Madrid’s timed press. Nacho found himself in the box, and Nicolo Barella tangled before clipping the Madrid defender’s heels, penalty given to the visitors. Eden Hazard stepped up to score the opener within six minutes. They didn’t stop there either, Lucas Vazquez was preferred for his work-rate, and the Spaniard’s effort from distance rattled the post with Samir Handanovic rooted to his line, there was nothing he could have done had it gone in.
Another example of Madrid’s successful press came to the fore, as Mendy won it back, then combined with Hazard and was in on-goal with a clear sighting, but the Frenchman strangely opted to pull it back for Vazquez who wasn’t sharp enough for Mendy’s pacey cut-back. The warning signs were there, Madrid utterly dominant in the opening half-hour.
The hosts didn’t really liven up despite the warnings, and then came the game-changing moment. Arturo Vidal thought he had been clipped by Raphael Varane, referee Anthony Taylor turned that appeal down, and in protest, Vidal squared up to the English official, earning him not one, but two yellows, and Vidal was handed his marching orders for an early shower.
If Madrid’s first half was dominant, the second was cruise control, and it became a training session, with Modric and Kroos at the helm, pulling the Italian’s apart on their soil. Antonio Conte had at this point changed to a traditional back-four, and Ivan Perisic was brought on for Lautaro Martinez, to add width and pace. But still, Madrid continued recycling possession, and with Ødegaard situated in between the lines, Madrid had an outlet in a dangerous channel which Inter just couldn’t deal with. Zidane then made his two changes, Casemiro came on for Ødegaard to protect the defence and anchor the lead, while Rodrygo Goes replaced Mariano Diaz. And with his first touch, the young Brazilian doubled Madrid’s advantage.
From a well worked move between Modric and Kroos, the German played a pass in-behind Inter’s defence, to pick out Lucas, who’s first time chip to the back-post was volleyed in by the 19-year old who scored yet another Champions League goal. Now Madrid were in total command, and at times, their passing triangles were a thing of beauty. The always dangerous Perisic did give Thibaut Courtois one last thing to think about, and the Belgian goalkeeper reacted really well to the Croatian’s low and powerful drive across the face of goal, because Romelu Lukaku was waiting on any scraps from Courtois.
An overall scintillating display from Madrid, who were tactically spot on and balanced across the pitch. Zidane will be pleased with how the defence coped without Sergio Ramos, and how Ødegaard and Hazard continued their positive progression back to match fitness. A crucial victory for Madrid, who are now three points away from qualifying.
Up next for Real Madrid?
Who? Deportivo Alaves
When? Saturday 28th November @ 21:00 CET
Where? Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano