For a game that was supposed to be so weighted with tension, Real Madrid made extraordinarily light work of Inter Milan. The Italian side’s challenge evaporated inside eight minutes. Their hopes of qualifying may have gone with it, as they lie five points behind Madrid and six behind Borussia Monchengladbach with just two games left.
The Spanish champions showed exactly why they have never been knocked out in the opening round, and why they are the most successful team in the competition’s history. This 2-0 win was a display of such exacting command that it can only come from experience.
By contrast, Antonio Conte arguably showed why he has so little experience in this tournament, and why he so often fails in it. The Italian is a superb coach, but his struggles in this competition represent one of the major negatives in his career. The furthest he has been is the quarter-finals, on one occasion, and has been knocked out in the group stage twice in five seasons. It could be about to become three in six - a 50 per cent washout.
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That illustrates there are some bigger issues that go further back, but Conte will doubtlessly point to the two controversial calls that went against his side here.
The first came in that seventh minute, and effectively sealed the game.
Nicola Barella was adjudged to have tripped Nacho Fernandez, and Eden Hazard stepped up to score his first Champions League goal for the club.
The thinking then might have been that this might have been the stage for the Belgian to finally illustrate his true level at Madrid, after so much frustration with his fitness.
This is after all one of the great arenas in European football, where the Spanish club had actually won the Champions League in 2016.
It’s just Inter didn’t live up to that challenge. It was too easy for Madrid. It was certainly over with the second decision, that came in the 33rd minute.
Arturo Vidal tried to force his way into the box with a typically powerful run only to go down amid a few flailing legs. English referee Anthony Taylor booked the Chilean for a dive, and then booked him again for his response. There were theatrics all round from Vidal. He remonstrated with Taylor and reportedly swore at him.
A goal down and now a man down, Inter just couldn’t get close to Madrid. They also seemed stunned by the way the game had gone. There was a flatness to them that was in contrast to the agitation of Conte on the line, his automated system producing little more than ineffective tactics.
Madrid just looked like a side on a higher level, and suffering none of the doubt that has been a problem for them over the last few months. They just knew they were better.
Stars like Romelu Lukaku and substitute Christian Eriksen looked well off their level, illustrating why there have previously been debates about their exact status.
In truth, this was a collective problem.
Madrid soon proved how much better they were with what initially looked a fine second goal. Lucas Vazquez clipped in a deliciously inviting close-range cross, that Rodrygo had seemed to smash into the net.
It actually came off Achraf Hakimi, and went down as an own goal.
That was symbolic of Inter’s night. They just capitulated, devoid of the fight you would expect of the occasion, or a Conte team.
They now need a miracle to turn this around. Madrid seem to have turned around their season.