Maybe they have peaked too soon. Maybe Carlo Ancelotti will pay later in the season for not rotating and playing his best XI every week. But one thing is certain: if Real Madrid do manage to keep up their current form then they will test the best in Europe once more as they go in search of a 14th European Cup.
They needed to beat Inter at home to top their group and they did so 2-0 with the same old faces bossing midfield and some towering new talents in attack and defence.
Yes Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro were superb, but in attack once again Vinicius was magnificent and in defence Eder Militao was immense. The former was given a standing ovation when he trotted off with 10 minutes left, and Militao’s name was chanted by the Bernabeu – hero worship approach the type Sergio Ramos once enjoyed.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid side finished top of the Group D thanks to their victory over Inter
Madrid were again without the injured Karim Benzema but as on Saturday against Real Sociedad they had Vinicius and Luka Jovic determined to fill the void.
Vinicius almost scored inside the first three minutes and was furious he was not awarded a corner after his effort was cleared. He then tumbled over Denzel Dumfries’ leg in the area but was correctly not given the penalty he half-heartedly asked for.
Inter were on the front foot but there was more quantity than quality in their shooting. Ivan Perisic crossed for Edin Dzeko who was denied by Thibaut Courtois and Kroos then cleared from Marcelo Brozovic’ attempt.
Inter were shooting from all angles and Perisic even tried from corner with an effort that Jovic cleared at his near post.
Toni Kroos (above) scored Real Madrid’s opening goal in the 17th minute of the game
Marco Asensio added the second to secure the victory and their place at the top of the table
Real Madrid: Courtois, Carvajal. Militao, Alaba, Mendy, Modric, Casemiro, Kroos, Rodrygo, Jovic, Vinicius
Substitutes: Vallejo, Nacho, E Hazard, Asensio, Marcelo, Lunin, Valverde, Vazquez, Isco, Mariano, Camavinga, Fuidias
Inter Milan: Handanovic, D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Bastoni, Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic, Martínez, Dzeko
Substitutes: Gagliardini, de Vrij, Sanchez, Vecino, Kolarov, Sensi, Cordaz, Vidal, Dimarco, Zanotti, Radu
But what they were missing was precision and no one has more of that than the man one Spanish commentator calls the surgeon – Toni Kroos. He scored with his weaker left foot from outside the area with a glorious strike that found the far corner of Samir Handanovic’ net.
Jovic almost made it two but he lifted his shot over the keeper just wide. And Rodrigo then hit the bar after a brilliant Kroos pass.
The Brazilian was playing his part as Madrid continued not to miss Benzema and he smashed a shot into the side netting as Bayern ended the half on the ropes in desperate need of the bell.
They did make it into the dressing room still only 1-0 down and started the second half well with Nicolo Barella firing wide inside the first five minutes. Casemiro looked like he might have to go off inside the first five minutes of the second period when he was caught late but he was soon leaping to head Kroos’ corner over.
Even with Madrid under greater pressure they still had the Vinicius out ball and Danilo D’Ambrosio was booked for bringing him down to stop one counter-attack.
On the hour Inter brought on two former Barcelona players Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez for Brozovic and Dzeko. Soon they were down to 10 men.
Real Madrid secured the victory without Karim Benzema – who is currently out injured
Meanwhile, Inter were forced to finish the game with just 10 men after Barella was sent off
Eder Militao went shoulder to shoulder with Barella. It was a fair challenge but hard and it sent him crashing into the pitchside advertising. He was frustrated and aimed a punch at the leg of Militao from the ground.
The Real Madrid defender then stepped over him menacingly and when the Inter man was back on his feet he and the Brazilian needed to be separated.
Felix Brych took out a yellow for Militao but it was a straight red for Barella.
Madrid were comfortable now and with Modric sublime on his 100th European game and Kroos even better on his 120th there was no way back for Inter.
Ancelotti finally gave some of his players a rest with 77 minutes gone and Marco Asensio, Fede Valverde and Mariano replaced Rodrygo, Kroos and Jovic.
Asensio got the second almost with his first touch curling the ball in off the post from the edge of the area. Mariano could have added a third and the final whistle could not come soon enough for Inter. They go through, but well beaten by group winners Real Madrid.
Eder Militao went shoulder to shoulder with Barella. It was a fair challenge but it sent him crashing into the advertising. He was frustrated and aimed a punch at the leg of Militao
A victory for Simone Inzaghi’s Inter Milan team would see them leapfrog Real Madrid
Meanwhile, Sheriff Tiraspol ended their Champions League campaign by avoiding a fourth successive defeat when Boban Nikolov’s last-gasp strike earned them a 1-1 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk in Group D on Tuesday.
The Moldovan side started the group phase with two shock victories and although they could not continue that form in Europe’s premier club competition, they have at least booked a spot in the Europa League last 32.
They looked to be heading towards another loss after Fernando’s opening goal three minutes before halftime, only for Nikolov to salvage a point three minutes into stoppage time with a shot from close range.
Sheriff finished third in Group D with seven points, eight behind Real Madrid and three adrift of Inter Milan, with Shakhtar bottom on two points.