Wednesday, May 29, 2024

AC Milan 0-2 Inter Milan: Talking points as Dzeko and Mkhitaryan give Nerazzurri first-leg advantage

Embed from Getty Images

Inter Milan have gained a significant foothold in their bid to reach the Champions League final by beating city rivals AC Milan in the first leg of the semis, officially away even though the two teams, of course, play at the same stadium and there’s no away-goal rule anymore.

Still, a two-goal lead is about as tangible as any Inter fan but the most fanatical ones will have hoped for going into the match. Edin Dzeko used all his cunning to outsmart Davide Calabria and slam in from close range to break the deadlock in the eighth minute, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan added the second just three minutes later after a brilliant counter, which involved Nicolo Barella, Federico Dimarco and Lautaro Martinez.

First blood

At first glance at the scoreline and the timing of the two goals (Dzeko 8′, Mkhitaryan 11′), Simone Inzaghi’s men seem to have taken their opponent by surprise early in the game and knocked them out with a burst of attacking intent from the first whistle. It wasn’t quite like that – it was more that their direct approach produced results, unlike Milan’s possession-seeking tactics which couldn’t even yield a chance to score at the other end.

Dzeko’s goal, as fine as it was, should make something for Calabria to reflect on and work on his marking skills. The Milan captain simply wasn’t up to the task to tussling with the Bosnian striker on the edge of six yards, trying to back into his opponent and outmuscle him, rather than trying to play the ball and clear the box. Obviously a lot stronger, Dzeko won the fight and stuck his left foot out to fire the oncoming ball into the net, with Mike Maignan in the Milan goal powerless to do anything but watch it go in.

The second one was a collective effort, from Federico Acerbi who forced Olivier Giroud to head backwards, through Barella who picked the ball up in the middle of the park and sent Dimarco running down the left flank, Dimarco’s squared pass for Lautaro Martinez on the edge of the box, Lautaro’s awareness to do a dummy for Mkhitaryan to pick it up, down to Mkhitaryan’s impeccable run and composed finish.

Embed from Getty Images

From the perspective of Milan fans, it would be easy to point the finger at Calabria again for not being fast enough while running alongside Dimarco, or Sandro Tonali for not tracking Mkhitaryan’s run to its end, but to be fair to the Rossoneri, this was simply a brilliant piece of football, and most defences across Europe would’ve been just as beaten by it as theirs was.

Inter came close to a third as former Milan man Hakan Calhanoglu let one fly from range and hit the post, and Maignan saved a disappointing Mkhitaryan effort after the rebound.

It’s very damning for Stefano Pioli’s team that their first effort of any kind to get the ball into the opposition net came after half an hour, and that was a deft but rather hopeful back-heel flick by Calabria that had little chance of finding its target.

Penalty revoked

One minute later, Milan were in trouble again as Denzel Dumfries employed Lautaro on the edge of the box with a long throw-in, and the Argentinian initially wriggled away from Simon Kjaer and tried to get past Fikayo Tomori. but as he passed between the two defenders, the Inter forward went down after what appeared to have been a trip by Kjaer from behind. Referee Jesus Gil from Spain blew his whistle, awarded a penalty to Inter and booked Kjaer, before receiving instructions to check the situation on the pitch-side screen.

Having consulted the video footage, the referee changed his mind, canceled the penalty and canceled the yellow card for Kjaer. There were some calls for Gil to book Lautaro for diving, and it certainly wouldn’t have been wrong to do so, but the referee chose not to.

Embed from Getty Images

Looking at the incident objectively, there wasn’t enough contact for a penalty to be given, or indeed for Lautaro to go down, and one has to question the sense of his decision to hit the deck, given that he was practically through, one-on-one with Maignan well inside the box. Had he stayed on his feet, it would’ve been a glorious opportunity to add a third goal, and perhaps settle the whole tie then and there.

A balanced second half

Embed from Getty Images

Instead, Milan gradually improved towards the break as Brahim Diaz and Alexis Saelemaekers sprang into life, and Giroud wasn’t quite as isolated anymore. They continued in that manner in the second half, and their arguably best chance of the match came in the 51st minute. Tonali slipped a pin-point pass between the Inter defenders to set Junior Messias up, but the 31-year-old ruined his chance to be a hero for his team with a shockingly poor attempt at a finish.

On the other hand, Inter had another great chance to score a third goal just two minutes later. Milan player obviously didn’t consider Bastoni to be a threat when he started running towards the box with the ball, and he had almost reached it when he slipped Dzeko in behind the Milan defence. It was Maignan who spared the Rossoneri their blushes with a fine save to deny the 37-year-old striker.

In the 63rd minute, Milan substitute Divock Origi broke down the left and slipped the ball trough for Diaz to chase. The Spaniard pulled it back for Giroud who laid it off for Tonali, Tonali’s effort from just inside the box grazed Bastoni and then the outside of the post as luck served Inter on that occasion.

Romelu Lukaku came on to replace Dzeko later on, and after an effort of his to make something happen down the left in the 73rd minute, Messias made a mess of things close to his own goal and Mateo Darmian almost took advantage, combining with Lautaro, but thwarted in the end by another Milan substitute, Malik Thiaw. After the ensuing corner, Rade Krunic was lucky not to be booked for the second time in the match, not to mention not to concede a penalty, as he quite deliberately hit Bastoni in the box. The incident escaped Gil’s attention and the VAR remained silent.

The last moment when Milan could’ve perhaps reduced the deficit to take into the second leg came with six minutes remaining on the clock, but Theo Hernandez blasted the free-kick his team were awarded way off target from around 25 yards.

Leao missed

Rafael Leao, who is reportedly on the verge of signing a new contract with Milan, missed this clash after picking up a groin injury early into the Rossoneri’s triumph over Serie A top-four rivals Lazio on Saturday. He was seen in the stands of the stadium, clearly distressed by what went on down on the pitch and his own inability to help his teammates in a difficult moment.

As has been said, it took Milan 30 minutes to get a shot off, and it stands to reason to suppose that things probably would’ve been significantly different, had the in-demand Portugal international been on their left attacking flank. Dumfries and Darmian, who’s job it was to cover that area for Inter, would certainly have had a lot more to do at the back.

Not over yet

Leao has revealed that his injury isn’t serious and he should be back for the second leg next week. It remains to be seen if his presence can inspire Milan into a historic comeback against their arch-rivals and lead them into the Champions League final to fight for their eighth European crown.

A 2-0 lead has often been described as a “dangerous result”, and Inzaghi’s team surely won’t need reminding that there’s still a job to be done next week. If they can absorb the early siege that’s sure to come from the Rossoneri in the second leg, they may go on to establish control and bring the contest to its end in a calm and mature way.

On the other hand, if Milan get an early goal, they could be in for a very rough ride for the rest of the evening.

Embed from Getty Images


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This field is required *

Join the conversation!

or Register

More More