The two former European champions occupy the bottom two slots in their group going into Wednesday’s San Siro clash

We’re still not a great team,” Romelu Lukaku said after Internazionale came from two behind to beat Torino 4-2 on Sunday. That’s the bad news for Antonio Conte’s team; the good news is that Real Madrid aren’t either. Wednesday night’s meeting between the two teams at San Siro in what was always likely to be the biggest match in Champions League Group B, just not like this and quite not this big. First place is not on the line, but survival might well be.

Inter are bottom, Real Madrid are second bottom. And although Borussia Mönchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk are not out of reach, nor is the possibility of failing to get through this phase at all. One thing seems likely now: they won’t both get through; the knockout phases will be missing one of the competition’s biggest clubs, members of the cartel that plots for a breakaway Super League where this kind of risk can be consigned to the past, protecting them from impudent football teams that dare to compete.

For Real Madrid, who consider this competition their own, so often their elixir, it would be the first time ever. A Europa League slot would be no consolation; in fact, they would rather not have it. They would have no ambition to reach the final as Inter did last season. And in pandemic times with budgets slashed, the impact could be significant for both of them. Madrid’s salary cap has already dropped by almost €200m. There is a reason they did not sign anyone last summer.

Madrid have been rescued twice already and almost produced another dramatic comeback in the opening game, but still aren’t safe – a life lived on an edge from which they still haven’t entirely stepped back. Inter’s foothold is even less secure. They too needed a last-minute equaliser from Lukaku to avoid an opening night defeat against Gladbach, but haven’t won since these teams met a fortnight ago. Zinedine Zidane called it “a final”, but this time it really could be. Continue reading

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