Hapless Inter Need a Miracle to Pass Champions League Group Stage

It was not the best night for a football game, in the day when football lost perhaps its greatest star. But the show had to go on, and on it went. Diego Armando Maradona was remembered with one minute of silence before Inter and Real Madrid played out their Champions League game, the mind of most football fans set on him rather than on what would usually be considered  a top-class European game.

Against a Real Madrid side who were missing two key players as Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema, Inter needed to take all the three points on offer to keep themselves in contention for a ticket to the knockout stage.

But after going down only seven minutes into the game, the Nerazzurri remained with one man less in the 33rd minutes as Arturo Vidal saw red. At that point, it was child’s play for Zinedine Zidane’s to preserve their lead and eventually adding to Inter woes’ in the second part of the match.

Inter will need to win in Moenchengladbach next Tuesday and hope that the Germans fall to Real in two weeks to continue harboring a dim chance not to crash out of the top European competitions for the third year in a row. But if the Nerazzurri play like tonight – totally outclassed by a version of Real Madrid that was still far from its best – the task might be even harder than it looks on paper.

The Blancos‘ start tonight was pounding: Five minutes into the game, Martin Odegaard served Nacho with a filtering pass in the box, Nicolò Barella knocked him down and referee Taylor had no hesitation in allowing the penalty. From the spot, Eden Hazard beat Samir Handanovic to add to open the scoring. Inter were shocked and seemed to suffer the Blancos‘ pressing.

In the 12th minute, a Lucas Vasquez long-range effort from out of the box made Handanovic’s right post rattle and sent a chill up Antonio Conte’s spine. Then, the Nerazzurri were literally spared by Ferland Mendy who preferred to go for a pass rather than shooting from point-blank range after an Arturo Vidal mistake had set him free to go one-on-one with Handanovic.

Vidal didn’t have a good start and things got even worse in the 33rd minute when he managed to collect two back-to-back yellow cards and received his marching orders from Taylor. The Chilean protested over a disallowed penalty, with Raphael Varane allegedly pushing him back in the box while going for a clearance.

The referee was adamant about the tackle being regular and declined to check the VAR, prompting Vidal’s excessive reaction and his dismissal.

Forced to play with one man less for more than one hour, Conte switched to a four-man defense, switching Ashley Young to a left back position with Milan Skriniar playing wider on the right flank to limit the damage. But it seemed like a hopeless situation as Real continued to suffocate the Nerazzurri with their ball possession and, at half time, Conte could count himself lucky to be down only 0-1.

There were two changes for Inter after the break, with Danilo D’Ambrosio coming to support in defense and Ivan Perisic taking Young’s wing-back spot on the left. Alessandro Bastoni and Lautaro Martinez went out.

Paradoxically, Inter seemed better disposed with one man less and their restart was more convincing. Roberto Gagliardini was held down in the box by Lucas Vazquez but the referee – this time also supported by the VAR – ordered to play on.

It was a short illusion, however. As soon as the visitors showed their faces around Inter’s final third again, the numerical advantage paid its dividends and Real doubled their lead with a perfect Rodrygo finish. The 19-year-old had just replaced Mariano Diaz when he volleyed the ball past Handanovic making the best out of a cross from Lucas Vazquez.

What’s worse, Real’s second was eventually recorded as an Achraf Hakimi own goal as the Moroccan seemed to have pushed the ball into his own net in an attempt to anticipate Rodrygo. It was another disappointment for the former Real man, whose both encounters with the club he grew up in were disastrous.

That was the end of the game. The three minutes of playing time Conte eventually conceded to Christian Eriksen seemed to perfectly reflect the feeling of hopelessness the Nerazzurri must be experiencing. In the next two games against Borussia Moenchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk, they will need a double miracle and that could not even be enough.



November 25, 2020 – Champions League 2020-21 Group Stage

SCORERS: 6′ Hazard pen., 61′ Hakimi o.g.

INTER (3-5-2) Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni (46′ D’Ambrosio); Hakimi (65′ Sanchez), Barella, Gagliardini (79′ Sensi), Vidal, Young; Lukaku (87′ Eriksen), Martinez (46′ Perisic) (Stankovic, Radu, Ranocchia, Darmian, Nainggolan) Coach: Conte
REAL MADRID (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Nacho, Mendy; Modric, Kroos, Odegaard (59′ Casemiro); Vazquez, Mariano Diaz (60′ Rodrygo), Hazard (78′ Vinicius) (Lunin, Altube, Asensio, Marcelo, Isco, Chust, Hugo Duro) Coach: Zidane

REFEREE: Taylor (England)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Barella, Sensi (I); Red Card: Vidal (I); Extra Time: 1st Half 2′, 2nd Half 2′