BATTLE FOR FIRST PLACE

Two teams that have already qualified to the knockouts in Group D meet in Spain to decide who takes top spot.

Real Madrid are on an absolute roll in La Liga, sitting pretty at the summit with a nine point lead. They have not suffered defeat since early October, winning 10 of the 11 games they have played since.

 

Los Blancos’ mantra has been simple- give the ball to the front duo of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr. The two have 29 goals between them in all competitions while David Alaba has been a steady addition in defence. However, there was some major bad news over the weekend as Benzema had to be substituted off after just 17 minutes against Real Sociedad with a hamstring injury.

 

Luka Jovic played ably in his absence and looks set to start midweek as well.

Similarly, the away side come into this fixture in great form. Having won all of the past five games in all competitions, including a 3-0 demolition of Roma on Saturday, Inter will be confident of their chances.

 

Edin Dzeko has shown no signs of slowing down with age while Hakan Calhanoglu is having a renaissance season. The fact that they have kept most of their key players over the summer meant the Nerazzurri are well-positioned to mount a capable defence of their Serie A title as well.

 

No doubt Simone Inzaghi will be looking to avenge their loss in the reverse fixture, knowing that only a win will guarantee a first-place finish.

 

TEAM NEWS

Benzema has been ruled out for a few weeks, and Carlo Ancelotti may look to resist any temptations of making wholesale changes.

 

PROBABLE LINE-UP: Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Valverde, Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo, Jovic, Vinicius 

 

Inter have more injuries to deal with, as Joaquin Correa became the latest to get sidelined. Matteo Darmian and Stefan de Vrij remain absent.

 

PROBABLE LINE-UP: Handanovic; Skriniar, Bastoni, D’Ambrosio; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Martinez, Dzeko

 

GAMECHANGERS

Calhanoglu has settled in brilliantly with his new side, and his ability to advance the ball along with pinpoint passing is getting desired results. Five goals and four assists in the league, including one of each against Roma. With Inter needing a big result, this looks like the perfect time for the Turkish international to break his duck in Europe so far.

 

Though he stars in the midfield five, Calhanoglu has full license to join the two forwards to make it a front three. Madrid will be wary of allowing him too much space and it will be up to Casemiro to stop him initially. They do not have the speediest attackers which will allow the defence to get back but giving opportunities to shoot will be fatal.

 

Calhanoglu also is an expert set-piece taker, so if Inter can draw fouls in dangerous areas, that will provide yet another goal scoring opportunity.

Though Benzema has been in a league of his own and finished in 4th-place for the Ballon D’Or, it is his younger cohort who can grab the headlines in his absence. Vinicius has 12 goals and five assists in all competitions, which includes his side’s first against Sociedad.

 

The Brazilian attacker has seemingly come into his own this season, making dazzling runs down the left and providing emphatic finishing at the end of it. Vinicius will be up against Denzel Dumfries who himself loves going forward, and it looks to be the former which he will be relishing to get by using his trickery and quick feet.

 

Next up will be the backline of Inter who have little hope of catching up if Vinicius gets on the wrong side of his marker or shows off his skills on the ball. Samir Handanovic could be in for a busy night and it will likely take more than one covering player to stop his linkup play with other attackers as well.

 

PREDICTIONS

Both teams have been in supreme form so there is little to separate them heading into the fixture. Benzema’s absence might prove to be a key point in favour of Inter nevertheless. FootTheBall predicts a 2-1 win for the visitors.

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