History is repeating itself for Inter. They will be facing familiar foes in the 2021/22 Champions League group stages, having met two of their opponents at the same stage last season. The Nerazzurri were drawn against Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid and Roberto De Zerbi's Shakhtar Donetsk, meaning that Group D will feature three Italian coaches. The other team in the group is Sheriff Tiraspol, a Moldovan club making their maiden appearance in the competition, qualifying after overcoming Dinamo Zagreb in the preliminary stages.
This time out Real Madrid are a very different proposition. Zinedine Zidane relinquished his role as head coach, with Carlo Ancelotti coming back into the fold. Defensive stalwarts Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane have also moved on, to PSG and Manchester United respectively. Meanwhile David Alaba has joined Los Merengues, while Gareth Bale is back at the club after his loan spell at Tottenham Hotspur ended.
Real are two games into the La Liga season, having beaten Alaves 4-1 and drawn 3-3 with Levante. Vinicius Jr. currently tops their scoring charts. Real Madrid are back at the redeveloped Santiago Bernabeu this season, following a year away at Valdebebas.
Inter and Real Madrid have a long history between them. The most recent clashes came last season, in which Inter were short of luck on both occasions. They lost the first game 3-2 at Valdebebas on 3 November, falling to a Rodrygo goal after having come back from 2-0 down, with Lautaro Martinez and Ivan Perisic’s efforts cancelling out Benzema and Ramos’s earlier strikes. Back at San Siro, the Spaniards again came away with the spoils, the goals coming from a Hazard penalty and a Rodrygo finish.
Inter and Real Madrid have faced each other 17 times, the first of which was back on 27 May 1964 in the European Cup final. The Nerazzurri came out victorious in a 3-1 success at the Prater in Vienna, with a strike from Milani and a double by Mazzola, with Felo replying for Madrid.
While 11 of the 17 games have come in the European Cup or Champions League, the clubs have also met in the UEFA Cup, most memorably so in the 1980s. Los Blancos made a stirring comeback in the second leg of the 1984/85 UEFA Cup semi-final and repeated the feat the following campaign at the same stage. The overall head-to-head reads seven Inter wins, two draws and eight Real Madrid victories, with Inter scoring 21 times and conceding 25.
Inter are returning to the Bernabeu for the first time in quite a while: they last darkened its doors for the 2010 Champions League final.
Shakhtar also have a new face in charge for this campaign. Following his stint at Sassuolo, Roberto De Zerbi has come in to replace Luis Castro on the Ukrainians’ bench. Five league games into the new season, Shakhtar sit in second place on 12 points, one behind Dynamo Kyiv. De Zerbi's team qualified for the Champions League groups after a thrilling tie against AS Monaco in the play-offs. While Shakhtar won the first leg 1-0, Monaco struck back on home soil, taking the game to extra time with the score at 2-1 after 90 minutes. Yet it was to be the Ukrainians that progressed, with Aguilar's own goal in the 114th minute putting paid to Monaco’s hopes. Shakhtar have made three significant acquisitions this summer, bringing in Marlon from Sassuolo, Pedrinha from Benfica and Traoré from Ajax. They currently play their home games at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv.
Shakhtar faced Inter twice last season, both games ending all square at 0-0, ultimately leading the Nerazzurri to be knocked out of the competition. Inter had faced Shakhtar on three other occasions before the 2020/21 campaign, most memorably overcoming the Ukrainians in resplendent fashion in the semi-finals of the 2019/20 Europa League, winning 5-0. You would have to go back to 2005 to find the only other campaign in which the two clubs have met, this time in the third qualifying round for the Champions League. Inter won 2-0 on Ukrainian soil before drawing 1-1 at San Siro, which saw the Nerazzurri reach the group stages. Click here to read more.
It will be an unprecedented event. Not only for Sheriff, but also for Inter, who for the first time in their long history will face a team from Moldova. What’s more, Sheriff’s participation in the Champions League will see a Moldovan club make their debut in Europe’s premier competition. Tiraspol is the capital of Transnistria, which became a self-proclaimed independent republic back in 1990. The club was founded in 1997 and has since won 19 Moldovan league titles. They play their home games at the Sheriff Stadium in Tiraspol, a 14,300-capacity venue. The club had already tried their hand at qualifying for Champions League but to no avail, falling at the preliminary stages. They did however reach group stages of the Europa League, in the 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 seasons.
So far in 2021/22 Sheriff have only played three league matches compared to the seven of their contemporaries, owing to their Champions League play-off commitments. Since beginning their European adventure back July the Moldovans have knocked out Teuta, Alashkert, Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb, overcoming the latter 3-0 on aggregate. They are coached by Ukrainian Jurij Vernydub, and their squad features 14 different nationalities. Colombian forward Frank Castañeda captains the side, while their star striker is Adama Traore, a Mali international whose former clubs include Metz.