As we enter the do or die phase of the Champions League group stage, both Inter Milan and Real Madrid are playing catch up in a section they share with Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk.
With the Nerazzurri and Los Blancos currently occupying the bottom two positions, Group B has a somewhat bizarre and upside-down look to it, and with time running out to secure a place in the knockout rounds, Inter’s clash with Real Madrid at the San Siro suddenly takes on huge importance.
When the continental heavyweights met in the Spanish capital earlier this month, Real emerged as 3-2 victors following a pulsating contest, and another showpiece showdown is anticipated when the teams reengage for Wednesday’s return fixture in Milan.
Ahead of what promises to be an enthralling evening of action in Italy, we take a look at the key match-ups that might decide the outcome of Wednesday’s skirmish.
You can also find betting tips and analysis for the game by reading our Inter Milan vs Real Madrid predictions.
Stefan de Vrij vs Karim Benzema
28-year-old Dutch centre half Stefan de Vrij had a really uncomfortable time in Madrid earlier this month in Inter’s 3-2 reverse against Real, and the former Lazio defender will be desperate to restore some pride through an improved performance against Los Blancos in Wednesday’s rematch.
Experienced French forward Karim Benzema gave de Vrij de run-around on November 3rd, and the 32-year-old hitman needed just 25 minutes to make his mark at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano. Benzema – who was rested at the weekend against Villarreal – notched in each of his last two Champions League appearances overall, and the prolific frontman will be targeting more final third success this week.
Nicolo Barella vs Luka Modric
Line-breaker Nicolo Barella tops the assists charts for Inter this season, and the midfielder’s ability to slip passes through massed ranks of defenders from deep positions makes him a crucial cog in Antonio Conte’s machine.
At 23, Barella is still very much a player in the making however, and the youngster will face a stern test of his potential against the world-class and evergreen talents of Luka Modric this week.
The 35-year-old Croatian is a top-level veteran, and Modric has been performing in football’s elite arenas with incredibly consistency for over a decade.
Modric has played an incredible 85 times (see above) in the Champions League during his silver-lined career, while Wednesday is likely to be Barella’s 7th runout in the competition, and the head-to-head between the established superstar and the aspirational one should make for compelling viewing.
Arturo Vidal vs Martin Odegaard
Norwegian schemer Martin Odegaard made a welcome return from injury at the weekend, and the 21-year-old looks set to make his long-awaited Champions League debut against Inter on Wednesday, where the crafty 21-year-old will likely share some midfield spaces with combative Chilean Arturo Vidal.
Former Barcelona star Vidal is just one booking away from incurring a ban in the Champions League, however, don’t expect that to temper his tenacity against Real Madrid this week. Remarkably, the tough tackling midfielder was cautioned five times in his last nine appearances for Inter overall.
Romelu Lukaku vs Raphael Varane
Inter have Romelu Lukaku back this week after the Belgian forward missed the reverse fixture through injury, and having scored and assisted twice for the Nerazzurri against Torino at the weekend, the 27-year-old looks ready to make up for lost time.
Cultured French defender Raphael Varane will be tasked with trying to limit Lukaku’s impact in Milan, and with his usual partner at the back Sergio Ramos absent, the 27-year-old will shoulder extra responsibility. Varane didn’t enjoy his best game in Real’s last encounter with Inter, though the languid centre-back has the skills to perform at a much higher level in Wednesday’s do over.
Lautaro Martinez vs Nacho
With Romelu Lukaku occupying Raphael Varane, Inter’s second striker Lautaro Martinez should be free to attack stand-in Real defender Nacho this week.
Nacho could be a little ring rusty having started just four times for Los Blancos so far this term, and Wednesday’s game in Milan will be just his second Champions League start in two seasons.
Argentinean poacher Martinez was Inter’s star man in their 3-2 reverse in Madrid in early November, and having rifled home three goals in his last three appearances overall, the in-demand 23-year-old will carry plenty of confidence into this week’s contest.