Given the wild nature of their season, it seemed impossible that Internazionale would end up holding the balance of power. If they lost this second Derby della Madonnina, their bitter rivals Milan would take the race for the Serie A title to the final week. If they won, their bitter rivals Juventus, with whom they compete in the Derby d’Italia, would finish first, regardless of results in the ultimate round of fixtures.
Contrary to the popular stereotype of Italian football, this was not catenaccio – far from it. The two line-ups suggested that the match would be tight, but it was nothing like the previous derby; a completely clichéd Italian affair.
Woeful defending, superb goals, contentious penalties and niggling altercations across the San Siro all contributed towards an open game in which both sides lacked a definite structure to provide some stability. Indeed, the only thing missing appeared to be a red card which, given the animosity between certain players as half time approached, surprisingly never arrived. The match ended with Inter retaining hopes of European qualification – though the Champions League looks beyond them – but more importantly, it confirmed Juventus as Serie A Champions for the first time post-Calciopoli.
Milan entered the game needing a win to keep alive their opportunity of overcoming Juventus at the summit of Serie A and winning lo scudetto. Allegri made five changes from the team that defeated Atalanta midweek, including three defensive alterations, as Bonera, Abate and Yepes replaced Sciglio, Mexes and Antonini.
Inter, meanwhile, made two changes after their away defeat to Parma. An injured Stankovic was left out, and Obi dropped to the bench allowing Zanetti to be recalled following his return from injury. Most surprising was that Fredy Guarin started, given that the versatile midfielder had made just 4 appearances since joining on loan from FC Porto in January.
Milan went with their customary 4-3-1-2 formation; Boateng providing the link between midfield and attack as he has done to such good effect in Milan’s domestic and continental competitions. This is, however, a Milan side lacking in width and pace, and Inter took advantage of their opponents’ weaknesses with an enthusiasm that has often abandoned them this season.
Although Inter at first appeared to be utilising the same 4-3-2-1 shape as they had during their visit to the Stadio Ennio Tardini, there were subtle, but hugely important, differences.
Firstly, in the defensive phase, Inter clearly dropped to a 4-4-1-1 formation. Sneijder positioned himself just behind Milito and Alvarez fell to the left of a conventional midfield four. Content to drop deep and concede ground to Milan, Milito and Sneijder pressed high, but the remainder of the Inter team quickly retreated into their own half and regained their shape as Milan attacked.
When attacking, both Inter full backs pushed forward considerably, aided by the wide midfielders, with Zanetti on the right and Alvarez on the left, who tucked in to allow Maicon and Nagatomo to advance beyond them.
Guarin also advanced to the left whilst Cambiasso, who was positionally superb throughout, remained deep, providing cover to the centre backs. This created a situation where Nagatomo, Alvarez, Sneijder and Guarin, all operating in a similar area of the field, could give Inter a numerical superiority over Milan’s right flank.
Holes in the defence
Inter’s first was the result of horrendous defending by Milan. A poorly executed offside trap left Samuel free beyond the far post, and he miscontrolled the half-volley to allow Milito to push the ball in from a few yards. With the significant changes made to their defence, many were left wondering whether Milan should have persisted with such an exaggerated offside trap on the edge of their penalty area. They did, though to better effect as the match wore on, as Lucio’s effort was disallowed after 19 minutes.
The Milan attack
In the first half, Robinho often found himself drifting laterally to a position wide on the left, and on two occasions found Ibrahimovic with crosses to the far post. The physical difference between Ibrahimovic and Nagatomo is considerable, yet Milan never really sought to utilise this difference any further.
Inter were the dominant side for the majority of the opening period, yet Milan drew level through a fortuitous penalty. A series of collisions in the Inter half eventually led to the ball being played through to Boateng who was “fouled” by Cesar. Ibrahimovic duly converted.
In the second half, Robinho shifted to the right and Muntari was asked to shuttle between his midfield berth in the defensive stage and an attacking wide-left position when Milan were on the front foot. Obviously responding to the attacking freedom which both Inter full backs had utilised during the first half, Allegri attempted to limit the attacking forays of Maicon and Nagatomo. This worked, to an extent, as Milan found themselves with more control in possession and defence.
Milan took the lead in the opening minute of the second half. Robinho, now deployed on the right, played a low ball diagonally infield, where Boateng made his only real contribution to the game with a clever dummy that allowed Ibrahimovic to take the ball past Lucio and score clinically across Julio Cesar. Lucio had been criticised early in the week for the poor defending which led to Parma scoring, and though this was an entirely different scenario, he was slow and cumbersome to react to Ibrahimovic’s movement.
Throughout the first half, Inter had attacked down their left with Nagatomo pushing very high and receiving support from Alvarez, Guarin and Sneijder. Alvarez and Sneijder offered fluidity and movement, as they swapped roles in the attacking phase. This pushed Abate back and pulled Nocerino and the Milan midfield wide to offer greater protection to his full back.
The first Inter penalty came when Milito and Alvarez combined on the left as they moved diagonally infield towards the Milan penalty area. As Milito broke into the penalty area, Abate, who had been preoccupied with the overlapping Nagatomo, was caught on the wrong side of Milito and carelessly pulled him back, allowing Inter to equalise.
The other penalties were arguably the result of defensive errors. Boateng was played clearly in as Inter lost focus en masse, and was deemed to have been felled by the goalkeeper. Inter’s second penalty came as a cross was deflected onto Nesta’s outstretched arm, and Milito scored with abundant delight.
As the match reached the three-quarter mark, both teams began to lose their shape, and the match opened up considerably.
Milan were pushing forward in search of the third goal that they needed, whereas Inter appeared to be battling both fatigue and their desperate opponents. Milito and Sneijder were no longer pressing with the same impetus, and Milan were moving further into the Inter half before being closed down. Finally, Inter were taking longer to regain their shape following the breakdown of attacks.
Yet Inter took the lead again, this time from another penalty following Nesta’s seemingly inadvertent handball from a header. This goal rejuvenated Inter for the closing minutes of the game. Milan had already moved to a 4-2-4 with Cassano arriving from the substitute’s bench. Robinho went back to the left and Boateng moved to the right when Maicon moved forward unchecked, and his 25 yard shot found the top corner of Amelia’s net. The goal demonstrated just how good a full-back he was, and can still be, on occasion. Robinho chose not to track his man, giving up rather easily, and Sciglio at left-back was too slow in closing the marauding Brazilian down. This kind of attacking run from Maicon had occurred several times in the first half without reward for Inter, most notably when Inter switched play to the right.
This game with almost everything, and one in which Stramaccioni produced a clear tactical plan which was implemented well by his players. Inter offered greater mobility in the first half against a static Milan team and were able to defend their lead when required to. It will be very interesting to see how Inter can start the new season.
Chalkontheboots for The Substitution