Derby Day: Inter Milan vs AC Milan
A fixture that never fails to entertain. A fight between the Nerazzurri and Rossoneri for bragging rights to the city with seasonal implications for both.
The Deby Della Madonnina, like all intercity football derby’s, it’s a tale of two halves. One Red. One Blue. Today’s match was no different than any other deby in these two teams storied history both of whom call the San Siro Stadium their home.
The match was always poised to be a contentious one, pitting the surging 8th placed AC Milan against the big money spending Inter Milan. Going into the game AC Milan was looking renewed and invigorated by the recent injection of Zlatan Ibrahimovic into their side. On the other side, was the much improved title-chasing Inter Milan who were currently sitting in second and led by new talisman Romelu Lukaku. He was one of many signings picked up during their summer spending spree. A win for Inter would see them overtake Juventus at the top and a win for AC Milan would move them closer to the coveted automatic Champions League spot.
So who would take the spoils? Which of the aforementioned strikers would be the difference maker? Or would the play in the midfield prove to be the decisive factor? One thing that could be counted on was the fact Zlatan would be hard to contain.
Since Ibrahimovic’s return, AC Milan has gone on an unbeaten run of five games (Wining three and drawing two). Over this time he has proved crucial, helping the team score 3 goals while providing an assist to his name. On top of that you only have to look at last last season while with the LA Galaxy where he scored an astounding 31 goals in 31 games as to why AC Milan went to such lengths to sign him. And so Milan hoped Zlatan could harness the same scoring ways of old and bring the some magic to the field again.
So the stage was now set with the teams taking the field. Kickoff took place and in the opening minutes Inter Milan looked far from clear favorites to win the match. Instead AC Milan looked the better side and it could be forgiven for a casual fan to easily mistake the Rossoneri for being the clear favorite to win the match.
From the first whistle, they smothered Inter. Each player swarming to the ball whenever they lost possession and closing down passing lanes. Inter, on the other hand, we’re lackadaisical in their build up play with errant passes highlighting their play throughout the early goings. They played with a casualty of a team unphased or unaware of the potential lethality of their opposition's attack. Whether this is true or not the visual performance of those in blue in black belayed this sentiment to anyone watching. Shortly after the opening kickoff a wayward pass by Inter stalwart, Milan Škriniar, opened up a golden opportunity the Rossoneri when his attempted switch of play in the 5th minute was snuffed out by Theo Hernandez who thundered forward from his position out wide (where he had been positioned and collected the pass). Hernandez then proceeded to cut towards the middle of the pitch. From here he made a simple pass to Ibrahimovic who approached on his right. At which point, Zlatan seeing both Frank Kessie and Samu Castillejo were sprinting to his right, attempted a through ball. The move looked like the start of a sequence destined to end with the ball in the net. However, Danielle Padelli aware of the danger sprinted off his line to intercept and collect Zlatan’s weak through ball.
Four minutes later AC Milan almost had the breakthrough they looked destined to get since the start. In the 9th minute, Hakan Çalhanoğlu collected a short pass from Kessie and with one fluid motion quickly turned and fired a shot past Danielle Padelli’s diving outstretched arm. The shot zipping past Padelli’s attempt to save the ball only to be denied by the post.
The rest of the half was more of the same. The Nerazzurri on the back foot, struggling to get the ball out of their half and while Milan continued their relentless attack in pursuit of the ball. Then disaster struck for Nerazzurri fans, in form of Rossoneri striker Ante Rebić who hit pay dirt as a cross from Samu Castillejo (positioned just north of the halfway line) connected with Zlatan's head. Zlatan flicked a header back across the goal mouth to the waiting Rebić who to the amazement of everyone was able to squeeze a weak left-footed volley past a well-positioned Padelli when it seemed more likely for the shot to be saved.
At this point, Inter players were shell shocked, each of them visibly wearing an expression of disbelief. But as I watched the game unfold the question in my mind was why were we so slow to react? This was THE Derby Della Madonnina! Not some early round of the Copa Italia versus some team from the lower leagues. If that goal was a murmur of an impending earthquake then the goal by Zlatan in the 45th minute was the earth splitting tremor that sent the San Siro’s red half into pandemonium!
Amazingly only minutes before (from a free kick) Inter had their first discernable chance of the first half outside of the glancing header by Diego Godin in the 19th minute and the miserable shot by Matias Vecino in the 24th minute. The free kick from Marcelo Brozovic was a deep inswinging curler from well outside the 18. The shot was one that dipped towards the top right corner of the Rossoneri goal post. Yet, Gianluigi Donnarumma was not taking any chances and tipped the shot over the bar.
As I sat watching the first half come to a close I couldn’t help but wonder when the general malaise would wear off for Inter Milan. On top of this what was maddening was the fact that Inter’s 3-5-2 formation is tailored made for attacking football, yet none of their play approached anything close to attacking football. Instead, their half of football could be summed up and branded as conservative, sloppy, disjointed, and indecisive. Nothing resembling dynamic Conte style football. But as a faithful supporter, I still held out hope. Although I knew how dangerous that could be given the circumstances. Even as the teams headed into the locker rooms. With Inter players' head's drooped in disgust, I still thought to myself “This is only one half”. And little did I or those in the city know what we would be treated to in the second half.
The whistle blew and out of the locker rooms the teams processed and on to the pitch to start the second half. But the Inter team that took the field in the second half were not the same that went into the tunnel at half time. The players looked fresh and alert. Clearly, the halftime talk or more likely berating from Antonio Conte had awoken the fires within them. And like a dormant volcano they awoke. The first rumblings came in the form of a tenacious press by all those wearing the blue and black. Everyone now willing to commit wholeheartedly to disrupting Ac Milan’s attacking momentum anytime they gathered the ball.
The first great chance for the Nerazzurri came in the 50th minute. Alexis Sanchez, who up until this point had been a ghost, collected a pass at the top of the 18. Picking up his head Sanchez chipped the ball out wide to Antonio Candreva who was wide open on he right flank. He in turn whipped in a dangerous cross which narrowly missed the outstretched leg of a twisting Romelu Lukaku.
By now it was clear the Inter had sprung to life. This sentiment was confirmed when Marcelo Brozovic popped up at the edge of the box and latched on to a looping deflection. Smashing it home into the bottom left-hand side of the AC Milan goal and past the frantic Gianluigi Donnarumma. Game on!
The narrative of poor passing in the midfield which had plagued Inter in the first half now found a new host to latch on to. AC Milan’s midfield dominance which they had shown in the first half was evaporating. Replaced by sloppy passing and poorly timed interceptions. An errant headed pass from Ismaël Bennacer provided Inter with a chance to hit Milan on the break. Quickly Inter switched from defense to attack and before Milan could recover Donnarumma was picking another ball out of his net.
A slick pass from Godin split the Milan defense. Godin picking out Sanchez sprinting through the box from the midfield area he had taken up. Sanchez realizing his proximity to the end line and that Donnarumma was now drawn out of position, trapped the ball and cut back a pass to a trailing Vecino who tucked the ball through the legs of a defender into the exposed lower corner of the goal.
Now Milan’s nightmare took shape. They had become a clone of Inter’s first half performance. Giving the ball away needlessly and in all to precarious positions.
The game from this point onward took a frenetic pace. Accented by hard tackles and quick possession changes. AC Milan grew back into the game but the game again turned on its head when in the 69th minute when Stephan De Vrij stooped low and flicked a low lying cross with pace into the Rossoneri goal past the stretched out arm of Donnarumma. However, there was nothing he or any other goalkeeper could have possibly done to keep the ball out.
A series of yellow cards and substitutions soon followed as both teams looked to improve their fortunes. The key change coming in the 72nd minute when Eriksen replaced Alexis Sanchez. I say this because shortly after coming on Eriksen earned a deep free kick. Which he sweetly struck almost proving immediately why he is worth every bit of the $22 million paid for him.
The match began to settle down until in the 86th minute there was some controversy as Simon Kjaer appeared to get away with a foul on Lukaku as the Inter man tried to break away on a counter. Shortly thereafter Zlatan shook Nerazzurri nerves as he struck the woodwork with a glancing header from a floated cross. Four minutes of extra time was announced but neither team let up. As counter-attack followed counter-attack. But Romelu Lukaku had other plans and in the 93rd minute he began a passing move which after a well placed Victor Moses cross culminated in a goal. The cross was met by Lukaku who powerfully foreheaded it down into the lower corner of the net. Thereby etching his name into Nerazzurri lore. And so the game finished 4-2 to Inter Milan.
And so what can be the biggest takeaway from this all. The first is that Inter Milan proved they are serious contenders for this year's Serie A title. With everything to play for following the confirmed defeat of Juventus by Hellas Verona they proved every bit a champion quality team. By winning this game they proved to both the fans and themselves that they have the mental fortitude to secure wins in tight games should future games follow a similar script.
On the other side, AC Milan have much to be enthusiastic about in the closing few months of this season and going into next year. There squad has a fresh feel to it. Having seen a few of there games this year I can confidently say they are turning the corner and many teams should be wary of them. Milan no longer look like the desfunctional mess of yesterday. The team have cohesion now but visably are lacking a dynamic midfield pairing. Should they acquire someone to compliment the ever improving Frank Kessie they will have the makings of a solid “top four” team. The key will be for the top brass to hold onto Zlatan while also finding and acquiring a younger striker who embodies similar attributes. A tough task no doubt. But let’s be real there is only one Zlatan! And so we conclude another fantastic Derby Della Madonnina and like so many Derby’s before the match lived up to its hype. The contest had it all. An instant classic in a well storied rivalry. Drama. Heartbreak. Goals aplenty. A true showcase of Italian football at its finest. Hope you all enjoyed the read and till next time. Forza Inter!!!