With both teams already qualified for the next round of the Champions League, Inter Milan traveled to the Santiago Bernabeu for a battle to decide seeding in the knockout rounds. While it shaped up to be an exciting affair and a measuring stick for Inter, all hopes flew out the window when Nicolo Barella got himself sent off for punching at Eder Militao after a strong challenge. Nonetheless, Inter still finishes safely second in the group.
Real Madrid came into this match most notably missing Karim Benzema through injury. Other than their talisman, Carlo Ancelotti rolled out the same side that claimed a 2-0 win against Real Sociedad. In form Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo flanked Luka Jovic for the hosts’ front three.
Like Real, Inter have been in form and decided to make very few changes to the recent winning formula. Joaquin Correa missed the match through injury, meaning Lautaro Martinez got the start alongside Edin Dzeko in the front two. Everyone else from the 3-0 victory over Roma kept their spot in the team.
REAL MADRID (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Rodrygo, Jovic, Vinicius.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Dzeko, Lautaro.
Despite a dangerous opening chance from Vinicius, Inter showed the confidence they had taken from the recent run of victories early in this one. The visitors forced the issue, creating high levels of pressure around the Real box and came closest to an early breakthrough seven minutes in through a Marcelo Brozovic volley that rose just over the goal of Thibaut Courtois.
The home side snatched the opener against the run of play less than ten minutes later. Champions League veteran Toni Kroos got the ball in space outside of the far corner of the Inter penalty box and fired an inch perfect shot into the opposite corner of Samir Handanovic’s net.
Inter continued their attacking approach, undeterred by the Kroos goal. However, for all their pressure and shots, Inter could not get anything even on net. Real sat back and countered with chances through Jovic and Vinicius, but could not stretch their lead. The Real defense blocked a barrage of shots to go into the half 1-0 up despite Inter’s 13 shot attempts and six corner kicks.
The encouragement of the first half performance helped Inter come out searching for the goal they had come close to in the first half. For defensive solidity, Federico Dimarco replaced Denzel Dumfries at halftime, moving Danilo D’Ambrosio into the position the Dutchman occupied in the first half. Barella had a marvelous one on one chance early in the half, but skied his shot well over the crossbar.
Inter repelled a few attacks from the home side, including a save out of Handanovic from a Jovic shot, and continued their search for an equalizer, but all realistic hope was stripped away just after the hour mark, when Barella punched at the legs of Militao after a hard but legal challenge from the Real defender, earning the young Italian an unnecessary straight red card. In a match where the away side is chasing, a red card is a death knell, especially at the home of the 13-time European champions.
After the red card, Lautaro was taken off for Roberto Gagliardini to try to fill the gap left in the center of the park. Such a gap is hard to paper over, though, and Real killed off the match after 79 minutes as substitute Marco Asensio scored a highlight reel goal from outside of the box, off of the near post and in.
After the second goal, the match was totally finished. Inter mustered a few chances, but clearly did not have two goals in them down to 10 men. Referee Felix Brych did not even need to award any extra time, blowing the match dead as the clock struck 90 minutes, putting a merciful end to a match that Inter could have gotten so much more from.
Handanovic - 5.5: Had little to no chance on either goal, but did not exactly inspire confidence with his performance. Andre Onana cannot come fast enough.
Bastoni - 6: Not his best day at the office, but also not at fault for either goal. Managed well on the stage that is the Bernabeu.
Skriniar - 6: Arguably the best of the back three in this match, especially in the center of it for the first half. Vinicius gave him a tougher time in the second when he was moved back to the right side of the three.
D’Ambrosio - 5: In Serie A, Danilo can still do a job. However, against a side like Real Madrid, he is most definitely out of his depth. Torched tonight as a center back and a wingback, but this is clearly not a situation he would normally be put in, given the injuries to Stefan de Vrij and Matteo Darmian.
Perisic - 7: The most dangerous player going forward for Inter on the night. He was popping up in massive amounts of space, creating chances and pinning Rodrygo back. Could have easily had an assist on another day.
Calhanoglu - 5.5: Struggled to deal with the pressure put on by such experienced midfield opposition. Very wasteful and just could not get things going.
Brozovic - 7: Perhaps the calmest head on the pitch in this one, which is a massive compliment to a player as enigmatic mentally as Brozo. Did everything he could in buildup and defense. If that early shot stayed down, this may have been a very different match.
Barella - 4: Whatever hotheadedness Brozo left in Italy, Barella picked up on the trip to Madrid. Lost Kroos on the goal, missed a golden opportunity in on Courtois, and then got sent off for his needless actions. Did not even land the punch he threw for the red card. An inexcusable night all around for the man considered to be Inter’s next captain.
Dumfries - 6: Really not a bad night for him. Was getting forward a ton and getting into dangerous areas, but could not find the final ball. Still not sure why he was brought off so early, hopefully it does not affect the newfound confidence from the goal against Roma.
Dzeko - 5: A very anonymous performance from the striker. Could only get on the ball by dropping deep and did not do that very often. Real jamming their penalty box full of bodies out of possession really did a number on him.
Lautaro - 5: Same story, absolutely shut down by the Real defense. Never showed any chance of influencing the match.
Dimarco - 5.5: Brought on at halftime and did not have much to do. The biggest problem was that he replaced an offensive weapon like Dumfries just to be put in the back three.
Vidal - 6: The player in the Inter squad with the most Champions League knowhow, tried to use that experience to will the Inter team forward and give them more of a spine. Only played with a full side for 4 minutes before the Barella card.
Vecino - 5: Replaced Calhanoglu and had a very pedestrian performance. Did not show much of anything on either side of the ball.
Alexis - 6: Had more ideas than either striker that started the match, but his inclusion was moot after the red card forced Inzaghi to take off his strike partner.
Gagliardini - 5.5: The panic inclusion after the red card to Barella. The midfield was already lost by the time he set foot on the pitch.
Inzaghi - 5.5: Great first half approach, but set Inter up to suffer after taking off Dumfries. Nothing he could do after the red card but minimize the damage.
It was a tough loss, but Inter are still alive in the Champions League. The Nerazzurri will need to take their lumps and move on. They will have an opportunity to take their frustrations out on bottom of the table Cagliari at home on Sunday. Inzaghi’s men cannot afford to let this loss affect them domestically and could really use a resounding win over a bottom-feeding team to get everyone back into a groove.