Real Madrid have won Group D of the 2021/22 Champions League. They only needed a draw against Inter, but outside-the-box strikes from Toni Kroos and Marco Asensio earned a 2-0 victory over the Italian champions. Here come the main talking points, in the form of three questions that were answered and three new questions this game conjured up.
1. Would Carlo Rotate-Not-A-Lotti play his strongest possible XI?
Yes, this was Real Madrid’s strongest possible starting line-up. The only usual starter who didn’t play from minute one in this game was Karim Benzema and that was because of injury, with Luka Jović taking his place. Apart from that, this was the strongest possible XI, even though this was viewed by most as the game where you could finally rotate some players. Winning the group is important, and Real Madrid have commendably done so, but so too is keeping starters fresh and injury-free and ensuring backups remain involved. Surely, Ancelotti could and should have shaken things up a bit more tonight. But, he’ll say a win is a win.
2. How would Real Madrid unlock Inter’s back three?
In LaLiga Santander, Real Madrid’s last few opponents have all played back fours. So, how would Ancelotti’s men break down the back three of Inter? Well, it wasn’t by passing into and through the area, with Real Madrid having just 22 total touches in the Inter box all game. Instead, they broke the deadlock here through a Toni Kroos golazo and then added to it with another long-range beauty from Marco Asensio. With Kroos, we mentioned on a recent Managing Madrid podcast that he was volume shooting this season, but often taking low percentage shots as his average shots this season have had an average xG of 0.05 and an average distance of 26 metres. But, he’s one of the best in the business and showed that here again, while we know Asensio can produce them too. This was how Real Madrid broke through Inter’s largely solid defence and, as discussed here, their long-range shooting has been key for a while now.
3. Would this be the night the Champions League atmosphere returned to the Bernabéu?
This was the third home Champions League game for Real Madrid since they and their fans returned to the Bernabéu. But, the atmospheres for the first two matches against Sheriff and Shakhtar, were a little subdued for different reasons, such as the fairly unglamourous opposition or the early kick-off time. But, this was a home game against another European great at 21.00 the night before a public holiday. And it was a party. From the fans gathering with flares in the street before kick off to the noisy support throughout the match, the Real Madrid fans were into this one. The visiting Inter fans contributed too, adding to the pantomime with their furious reaction to the Nicolò Barella and with taunts towards their former city rival Ancelotti. This Champions League game really felt like a show. Now, bring on the last 16.
1. Who could Real Madrid get in the last 16?
This is the question that this game was all about. Both teams were going through, but it was all about who’d be first and who’d be second and, ultimately, who’d get a tougher draw in the next round. As a winner of their group, and keeping in mind that Real Madrid can’t play fellow Spanish side Atlético or their group rivals Inter, Los Blancos could face PSG or Sporting CP in the next round, as these teams have already qualified in second, or the non-Spanish sides that make it through in second tomorrow night.
2. Is Vinícius getting tired?
Even if his start to December hasn’t been as scintillating as his November, Vinícius has still been one of the best or most decisive players on the pitch against Athletic, Real Sociedad and Inter. But, it’s true that he has looked more tired in these past few games, opting to pass or look for a freekick rather than take defenders on. Ancelotti has said that he’ll give the Brazilian a rest whenever he starts to look fatigued. He logically won’t do it in the derby, but let’s see if the Italian gives Vinícius a break soon. At least he’s guaranteed one next midweek when there is no Real Madrid fixture.
3. Rush Benzema back or start Jović again?
There is a chance that Karim Benzema could be back for the derby against Atlético on Sunday. But, even if he does play, he won’t be 100 percent. So, does Ancelotti risk a relapse or does he start Luka Jović again? The Serbian obviously did great after coming on against Real Sociedad by assisting and scoring. Here, he wasn’t as impactful on the headlines, but he put in a battling performance and his hold-up play earned several of the loudest applauses of the night. The Bernabéu crowd was fully behind Jović in his role as backup tonight. Starting him on Sunday might not be the worst thing.