Eden Hazard's penalty and an Achraf Hakimi own-goal just before the hour mark helped Real Madrid cruise to a 2-0 win away at Inter Milan. Zinedine Zidane's men earned an important Champions League Group B result at the San Siro, with the three points taking them to second in the table.
Nicolo Barella, one of few bright sparks on MD3 in Madrid, upended an overlapping Nacho Fernandez inside the area. Hazard duly converted from twelve yards, with captain Sergio Ramos (hamstring) and Karim Benzema (knock) both absent due to injuries.
Inter's slow start only worsened. Arturo Vidal was booked and then sent off after persistent arguing with referee Anthony Taylor. Already goal behind, they now had a numerical disadvantage too for an hour against a Real Madrid side who rarely relinquish leads.
The visitors created chances aplenty and despite a promising start to the second half by Inter, their endeavours were suddenly diminished by Zidane's double substitution. Rodrygo put in another memorable cameo from the bench, but would be unhappy his close-range strike - less than 60 seconds after being introduced - was ultimately ruled a Hakimi own-goal.
Both sides had a few half-chances before full-time, but the game petered out as a contest with Real Madrid able to control play whenever they truly wished and Inter becoming increasingly frustrated.
Los Blancos now have a three-point advantage over third-placed Shakhtar Donetsk before travelling to Kyiv next week, while this latest defeat means Europa League football is the best Inter can hope to achieve for a third successive season.
Without further ado, here's a look at five talking points from an eventful affair in Italy:
#5 Martin Odegaard's encouraging UCL debut
Although the magnitude of this fixture for both sides was not lost pre-match, it ended as the perfect platform for Martin Odegaard to build upon among Europe's elite. The 21-year-old playmaker, who has flourished on three previous loan spells - most recently with La Liga leaders Real Sociedad last season - operated in the number ten role here.
Supported by Eden Hazard to his left, Lucas Vazquez to his right and a fairly quiet Mariano Díaz ahead of him, the Norway international did his reputation no harm with an accomplished display. He went down a touch easy under some challenges near referee Taylor, who felt he went down looking for free-kicks at times.
But besides that, there wasn't much to highlight negatively. His selfless approach in the final third is understandable, but he perhaps needs to be more assertive and take on increased responsibility as the highest-positioned creator behind the lone man in attack.
Odegaard had experienced pass masters in Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in holding midfield, and this facet of his game will come with more experience and minutes in Zidane's 4-2-3-1 system. It's easy to forget this was only his fourth start of the season for Real Madrid.
The Norwegian popped into a myriad of different positions, either helping to recycle or progress forward in possession while making intelligent runs and pinching the pocket of an unsuspecting Inter backline. It was his intricate pass to Nacho that ultimately won Real Madrid's early spot-kick, while his tackle on Hakimi high up the pitch saw Vazquez hit the post seconds later.
An encouraging hour's work in the bank for Odegaard.
#4 Eden Hazard not 100% but still proves his worth
Samir Handanovic probably would've been unhappy not to get fingertips to Hazard's early opener, but it's remarkable to think the Belgian's penalty was only his third goal for Real Madrid.
It's been a tough 18 months since his £90m move (plus add-ons) from Chelsea, where he was heralded as the Blues' creator-in-chief and had ultimate freedom to roam forward at will.
Hazard has struggled with everything since - weight issues, troublesome injury problems, inconsistent form and a seeming lack of confidence at times, as things haven't gone his way with Real Madrid.
The highs remain fleeting under Zidane so far, but this display - his best of 2020 - will have provided him with a morale boost ahead of a tough stretch of matches across all competitions for Real Madrid.
You could tell the Belgian wasn't at 100%, having missed the most recent international break after a positive coronavirus test. He's had muscle, ankle and multiple knocks this term already - we're not even at Christmas yet.
It's why the Real Madrid man didn't have a bounce in his step, and didn't drive at defenders with the same conviction he usually does. But he also proved that that wasn't necessary either.
Hazard combined well with Vazquez and Odegaard while showing intelligent movement to roam across the pitch, depending on which side Real Madrid were attacking from.
No one completed more than Hazard's six dribbles before he was replaced for Vinicius Junior, though most of them came from exploiting open midfield spaces. Milan Skriniar and Stefan de Vrij forced him into a cul-de-sac when he edged towards goal as time wore on. It didn't matter, though, as his job was done by this point.
#3 Inter Milan's self-inflicted problems continue against Real Madrid
"Honestly, we aren't a great team yet because we get ourselves into trouble like this. For the first hour we played badly and were in trouble, we didn't have enough fight and desire. Then we woke up and won, which is the most important thing."
They were in a similar scenario in this game against Real Madrid, but the quality of opposition was considerably higher and they were suddenly in a position they couldn't recover from.
It wasn't for want of trying, either. Whether you agree he should've been sent off or not, Vidal's conduct was simply indefensible and that's the last thing you expect from such an experienced player. He's 33 years old, nearing 400 club appearances in three of Europe's top leagues. The midfielder has amassed 75 Champions League games, but still sorely lacks discipline during big matches often decided by a single moment.
Vidal wasn't playing particularly well anyway, but by getting sent off the way he did, he just accelerated his side's struggles after a draining first half-hour where they lacked ideas and execution. Real Madrid didn't need an invitation to take advantage and Inter were drowning under persistent pressure.
Lautaro Martinez was sacrificed at half-time, but only had 11 touches in 45 minutes. It was an off-night for Lukaku, who was starved of regular service and struggling against Real Madrid's Fernandez-Varane pairing.
Conte's tactical tweaks saw him play as a lone centre-forward after Vidal's silly dismissal. Their central midfield trio didn't do enough to effectively protect their three-man defence or the wing-backs, who had a tough evening - especially Real Madrid academy graduate Hakimi.
They started the second 45 with more intensity and incision. But the timing of Real Madrid's second goal meant that it was difficult to say whether things might have unfolded differently if Barella didn't foul Nacho or Vidal kept his cool. Ultimately, we'll never know, but Inter made things difficult for themselves.
#2 Zinedine Zidane's tactics pay off, as do his substitutions
After insisting with a 4-3-3 formation in each of Real's three previous Champions League group stage games and having limited success, Zidane needed to shuffle the pack and it worked here.
Conte's adventurous 3-5-2 produces some beautiful football at times, but hasn't translated to wins against tough opposition regularly enough. They were 2-0 down inside 35 minutes on MD3 and despite recovering to equalise, lost 3-2 after Rodrygo's 80th-minute winner off the bench.
The Brazilian teenager played a pivotal role off the bench soon after being called upon by Zidane, who could sense that ten-man Inter were starting to rally with increasing confidence. They had a penalty appeal denied, and Lucas Vazquez made a last-ditch defensive intervention before Thibaut Courtois was called into action as substitute Ivan Perisic lurked dangerously.
Zidane's double change proved the ultimate sucker punch, as Toni Kroos' clever reverse pass into an overlapping Vazquez helped tee up Rodrygo at the far post. Although replays showed his sliced close-range effort took a deflection off the retreating Hakimi, Real survived a period of sustained pressure before doubling their advantage in a match of fine margins - red card or otherwise.
Casemiro's inclusion, in place of Odegaard, provided more defensive solidity in midfield alongside the Kroos-Modric duo who impressed as they so often do. He had more touches (55) and completed passes (49, 98% success) in 30-odd minutes than Odegaard in 60, without doing much defending either. The game was over.
#1 Antonio Conte and his players have it all to do
Inter's four-match winless run came to an end, and this latest display will leave plenty of questions at Conte's door in Milan.
They face an away trip to second-placed Sassuolo on Saturday and cannot afford to drop points in their final two Champions League group games. For the third season running, they've flattered to deceive among Europe's elite and it seems they'll face a scrap with Shakhtar for third place.
It's not where they expected to be just three months ago, after scoring first but ultimately losing 3-2 to Sevilla in last season's Europa League Final. They finished second in Serie A - their highest finish since 2010-11 - just a point behind Juventus and were expected to start strong this term.
Instead, their rivals Milan have started brilliantly while they lag behind across all fronts. The next six weeks of the campaign will prove decisive as far as their high aspirations are concerned.
Lukaku's comments at the weekend were impactful because it's true - despite spending more than £450m over the past four seasons, they're no closer to bridging the gap than other rivals who've invested more wisely.
Conte is a perfectionist who has won multiple honours elsewhere and will take perspective from this defeat, but how long before the pressure on him intensifies?