MADRID - It wasn't a happy return to the Santiago Bernabeu for Inter. The last time the Nerazzurri trod on this hallowed turf they sealed their historic treble. However, this time around they were on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline, which saw them finish second in Group D. Arguably worst of all Nicolo Barella saw red meaning he will miss the first leg of Inter's last sixteen tie.
Despite falling to defeat, Inter had already secured their place in the second round of the Champions League, almost ten years since they had last achieved the feat. The Nerazzurri will take great heart from the first half performance at the Bernabeu, in which Simone Inzaghi’s men exuded great character and personality, peppering Real’s goal with 13 shots. Only once since the 2003/04 season when Los Merengues faced Bayern Munich had they been under such a siege in a match. Toni Kroos’s strike tainted this otherwise impressive half, while after the break Inter were frustrated by their hosts and for long stretches at a numerical disadvantage.
The Nerazzurri offered a dynamic performance, full of ideas. It was clear that they weren’t going to be happy returning to Italy with anything less than the three points. Meanwhile their hosts, in classic Carlo Ancelotti style, were content to hold back and try to hit Inter on the counter through Vinicius Junior. Inter dominated possession, with Marcelo Brozovic threatening Real’s goal several times, while compatriot Ivan Perisic was unlucky not to score after Dani Carvajal miraculously deflected the Croat’s goalbound effort.
Despite Inter’s pleasing on the eye performance they were punished by Real at the first opportunity after 17 minutes. Kroos found space on the edge of the box and managed to rifle in an unstoppable shot to make it 1-0. However, Inzaghi’s men weren’t flustered and maintained their early intensity, with Barella, Lautaro Martinez, Edin Dzeko, and Perisic all close to opening the scoring for the Nerazzurri. Real only managed to muster more clear-cut chances towards the end of the first half, with Luka Jovic finding the side netting and Rodrygo hitting the post with Samir Handanovic beaten.
After the break Inter made a change – Federico Dimarco on for Denzel Dumfries – yet didn’t alter their approach to the match. Despite the visitor’s best efforts they found themselves stifled by Ancelotti’s well-drilled and experienced team. Barella was presented with a glorious opportunity to score – in the same position where he blasted in past Wojciech Szczesny in Inter’s triumph over Juve – but then the lustre of Inter’s first half performance had faded and it turned out to be the Nerazzurri’s last great chance of the encounter.
Real grew into the game and saw both Jovic and Casemiro test Handanovic. The game was still poised at 1-0, and the real turning point in the match came on the 64th minute when referee Felix Brych sent off Barella for violent conduct against Eder Militao. The Nerazzurri midfielder’s actions weren’t excessive, particularly if you take into account that he was merely reacting to being pushed into the advertising hoardings. Indeed, the Brazilian only picked up a yellow for his part in the skirmish, while Barella will miss at least the first leg of the round of sixteen.
Coach Inzaghi rang the changes to compensate for his side being a man down, switching to a 3-5-1 formation. Inter struggled to contain their hosts, who by this point had a firm grip on the match. While Handanovic pulled off another great save to deny Rodrygo he could do nothing about Marco Asensio’s strike in the 79th minute. The Spanish forward had only just come on as a substitute when he curled in a beautiful strike into the far corner, signalling the end of the match for all intents and purposes and sealing Real’s spot at the top of Group D. There was time for Mariano to have a half-chance and for Milan Skriniar to head into the arms of Courtois, but nothing further to change the scoreline.
The game drew to a conclusion and Inter left the field knowing that their second-placed finish will see them in Monday’s draw for the last sixteen of the Champions League. A last sixteen first leg which they will have to face without midfield mainstay Barella, which means the Nerazzurri leave the Spanish capital with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Group D standings:
Real Madrid 15, Inter 10, Sheriff 7, Shakhtar 2.
Real Madrid 2-0 Inter (H-T 1-0)
Scorers: 17' Kroos (RM), 79 Asensio (RM)
REAL MADRID (4-3-3): 1 Courtois; 2 Carvajal, 3 Militao, 4 Alaba, 23 Mendy; 8 Kroos (15 Valverde 78), 14 Casemiro (25 Camavinga 71), 10 Modric; 21 Rodrygo (11 Asensio 78), 16 Jovic (24 Mariano Diaz 78), 20 Vinícius (7 Hazard 81).
Unused substitutes: 13 Lunin, 40 Fuidias, 5 Vallejo, 6 Nacho, 12 Marcelo, 17 Vazquez, 22 Isco.
Coach: Carlo Ancelotti.
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 33 D'Ambrosio, 37 Skriniar, 95 Bastoni; 2 Dumfries (32 Dimarco 46), 23 Barella, 77 Brozovic (22 Vidal 60), 20 Calhanoglu (8 Vecino 60), 14 Perisic; 9 Dzeko (7 Sanchez 60), 10 Lautaro (5 Gagliardini 66).
Unused substitutes: 21 Cordaz, 97 Radu, 6 De Vrij, 11 Kolarov, 12 Sensi, 46 Zanotti.
Coach: Simone Inzaghi.
Booked: D'Ambrosio (I), Militao (RM), Bastoni (I).
Sent off: Barella (I)
Referee: Felix Brych (GER).
Assistants: Borsch, Lupp (GER).
Fourth official: Schlager (GER).
VAR: Fritz (GER), Dankert (GER).