Real Madrid took a huge step towards the knockout stages of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Inter at the San Siro on Wednesday. It was a match that answered various doubts, while throwing up some new questions too. Here, then, comes a look at some of the main talking points from this victory.
1. Would Casemiro start?
The big pre-match selection talking point centred around Casemiro. Would he start? Would he be left out? He was fully ‘back’ from COVID-19 in the sense that he was allowed to play if Zinedine Zidane so wished. But, the thing about this virus is that it takes a while to fully come ‘back’ from it. You hear that from most you speak to who had it, but it’s especially the case with professional athletes. It’s not just that the virus may leave them feeling groggy beyond the date of their negative test, it’s that their training schedule was completely disrupted the weeks when they had COVID-19. It takes time to come back, which is why I wasn’t particularly surprised to see Casemiro eased back in with an introduction off the bench in this one.
2. How would Lukaku change things?
Romelu Lukaku was back for Inter for this match, after missing the first meeting at Valdebebas. This was an interesting element going into this game, then. How would his presence change Inter’s setup and how would Real Madrid cope? In the end, they coped very well. The Belgian played down the middle, but a little more to his right and to Real Madrid’s left. That’s the side of the central defensive partnership where Nacho was stationed, but it certainly wasn’t a weak link. Nacho did an excellent job on Lukaku and this might have been as important a contribution as the penalty that he won.
3. Would the Ramos stat get added to?
Seven losses in eight games. That was Real Madrid’s Champions League record without Sergio Ramos going into this match and there was a lot of talk about this stat, with it brought up to Zidane at his pre-match press conference. “Yes, we need to break that stat,” the coach agreed. Real Madrid did, partly because of the excellent Nacho performance mentioned above. In Zidane’s post-match press conference, the Frenchman himself brought the stat up when the journalist who’d asked about it the day before appeared on the Zoom call to ask a new post-match question. “I think it was you who asked me yesterday about us not winning without Sergio,” Zidane said. “Well, we changed that and that’s good for all. I think Sergio will be happy back at home and Karim too.”
1. Why was the second goal put down as a Achraf own goal?
Rodrygo scored again in the Champions League… except UEFA say he didn’t. His thumping volley has been put down – provisionally – at least as an Achraf Hakimi own goal. It deflects in off the former Real Madrid man, but it’s clearly a Rodrygo goal. So, what gives? Including this one, Rodrygo now has six Champions League goals to his name and is averaging a goal with the star-covered ball every 49 minutes. No other player with at least six Champions League goals has a better minutes-per-goal ratio in the competition’s history, although Erling Haaland is close with one every 56 minutes for his total of 16.
2. When will Zidane repeat his line-up again?
Zidane’s line-ups are so unpredictable, but one thing you can usually predict is that he won’t play the same starting XI as the last game. But, not tonight. Against Inter, Zidane went with the exact same line-up that took to the field against Villarreal on Saturday. This was the first time this season that he’d played the same line-up in back-to-back games. When will it happen again? I’ll bet it’s not the same team against Alavés on Saturday...
3. Does Lucas Vázquez deserve a new contract?
This was a question that was actually brought up to Zidane in his post-match press conference. And the coach thinks the answer is yes. Lucas’ current deal is set to expire next summer, but Zidane said he’d like for the winger to stay and praised the heart and desire he displays every time he goes out on the pitch. In this game at the San Siro, it was about much more than that as he was also technically excellent, setting up the Rodrygo goal (or Achraf own goal). Back at the stadium where he assumed the responsibility of talking the first penalty in the 2016 Champions League final, Lucas made his mark again.