There are few games in world football which exude as much passion as the clashes of AC Milan and Inter Milan. The two clubs share not only the city of residence and the stadium, but also mush history. The two clubs have so far won a whopping 30 domestic trophies apiece.
Both clubs have, however, fallen from grace somewhat in recent years with Juventus mostly running the show in Serie A, and even the likes of Napoli and AS Roma achieved better results. The Old Lady remains top of the league with Napoli trotting far behind in second place, and the two Milan greats are now battling each other and Roma for the remaining places which lead into next season’s Champions League.
Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso is still without the services of midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura, but defender Mattia Caldera has returned after missing five months of football through injury.
Gianluigi Donnarumma was in goal. Mateo Musacchio and Alessio Romagnoli formed the partnership in the heart of defence, flanked by Davide Calabria on the right and Ricardo Rodriguez on the left. Tiemoue Bakayoko anchored the midfield, joined by Franck Kessie and Lucas Paqueta. Krszystof Piatek led the line in attack, with Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu in support from the wide positions.
Luciano Spalletti in the Inter dugout faced two major problems going into this clash. Midfielder Radja Nainggolan was out injured. The coach was, however, able to count on midfielder Marcelo Brozović and forward Lautaro Martinez who recovered from injury problems of their own.
Striker Mauro Icardi remains out of the squad on disciplinary ground, as his standoff with the club over a new deal comes no nearer to being resolved.
Samir Handanović stood between the posts. Milan Škriniar partnered Stefan de Vrij in the central defensive positions, with Kwadwo Asamoah on the left and Danilo D’Ambrosio on the right. Marcelo Brozović played ahead of the back four, with Matias Vecino and Roberto Gagliardini sharing the midfield responsibilities with him. Ivan Perišić and Matteo Politano flanked Lautaro Martinez in attack.
The First Half
The game kicked off with a bang. Minute four was running when Perišić broke down the right for Inter and whipped in a good cross towards the far post. Martinez headed back across the goal with Donnarumma utterly confsed and Vecino was on hand to slam it in from close range.
The early goal Milan immediately pushed forward in response, and in the eighth minute Paqueta burned the hands of Handanović from long range.
Inter seemed the better team quite apart from the early lead, but as they charged forward in the 14th minute, Milan won the ball and Brorzović had to earn a yellow card as he stopped the run of Calhanoglu with a late tackle.
The Nerazzurri used the full width of the pitch, moving the ball from one side to the other and trying to stretch Milan’s defence and create an opening, and they came close in the 17th minute as D’Ambrosio broke into the box on the right and squared the ball towards Martinez, but the home team’s defence held out.
Milan just couldn’t organized their game. They were being pressed hard deep into their own half, and when they went long towards Piatek, the Polish striker was isolated and easily dealt with; mostly by Škriniar. However, when almost a quarter of the game had passed, Calabria’s cross from the right found Paqueta high in the air, but the midfielder failed to hit the target.
Politano had a go from range soon after for Inter, but straight at Donnarumma, followed by a strong low drive by Calhanoglu which Handanović saved with some difficulty. It was clear that the early goal had injected the game with pace and both teams with determination. Inter had the lead; but it was clear to see that the game could swing either way before the end.
After a while, Inter took the pace down a bit and controlled the ball well in their own half, trying to draw Milan players out and then play past them. The change in approach got them into promising situations a few times but they failed to take advantage. The most notable one was in the 30th minute when Perišić’s low cross found Vecino near the penalty spot, but the Uruguayan sent his shot just over the bar.
Rodriguez became the first Milan player in referee Marco Guida’s book two minutes later with a late tackle on Politano.
It cannot be said that Milan players lacked either desire or dedication, it was just that their opponents were slightly better organized and more creative on the ball. Even when they were allowed to come within reach of Handanović, they hesitated too much and allowed themselves to be marshaled away.
Škriniar was not only great at the back, but he came close to doubling his team’s lead three minutes before the break, but he headed an excellent Brozović corner wide.
Inter were now brimming with confidence. They constantly played out from the back with great success playing past the opposition, and one such moment gave Vecino a chance to shoot from the edge of the box; but he also missed the target. Milan had a chance to make something happen from a set-piece as they were awarded a free-kick wide on the left late on, and Perišić was lucky as his deflection of Calhanoglu’s cross missed his own goal by very little.
The Second Half
Gattuso for some reason left Paqueta in the dressing room at halftime and he brought on Samu Castillejo instead. It’s not very easy at this point to explain why as Paqueta looked arguably the best player for the home side in the first half unless it was some kind of an injury issue.
Inter continued their game after the restart and Gagliardini forced a good save from Donnarumma and Martinez took on Musacchio one on one, only to see his shot blocked by the Milan centre-back. The Nerazzurri won several corners and whipped in several dangerous crosses, before de Vrij managed to head one by Politano past Donnarumma in the 51st minute.
Another early shock seemed to have unnerved Gattuso’s men further, and their ability to get organized seemed to be continuously drifting away. Three minutes after the goal, Kessie embodied their lack of focus perfectly as he cleared another Politano cross by heading it onto his own arm, but luck served him at that moment and the referee saw no infringement.
And just as it looked there was no way back for the Rossonerri, Calhanoglu took a free-kick, whipped in a good cross which Bakayoko slammed into the top corner with a fantastic header.
Gattuso now threw caution to the wind and introduced striker Patrick Cutrone for Rodriguez. Kessie moved to the right defensive flank and Milan powered on.
And if they were shocked by the early goals, Inter players were even more so at seeing their lead halved. It was now the visitors (nominally, of course) who couldn’t get their game together and the ball was being flung towards their box relentlessly.
But Inter soon recomposed themselves and went forward again, and in the 66th minute they were awarded a rather controversial penalty. Castillejo seemed to have caught Politano just inside the box and Guida pointed to the spot. Slow-motion replay confirmed that there was indeed some contact, but Politano seemed to have been looking for it and threw himself to the ground far too easily.
But be that as it may, there was no intervention from VAR and Martinez stepped up and scored.
Milan now reacted differently. Gattuso made his final change by introducing Andrea Conti for Kessie, and his team threw everything forward and got rewarded very quickly. Calhanoglu swung in another good cross and de Vrij almost scored an own goal, but as Handanović saved his defender some embarrassment, Musacchio reacted on the rebound and slammed the ball in the net from two or three yards.
Sensing the need for fresh legs, Spalletti made his first substitution at that moment and sent on Borja Valero for Brozović.
It was now Milan on the front foot again. They pressed high and often won possession high up, and even when Inter did manage to move forward they didn’t get far. With seven minutes to go, Spalletti replaced Politano with Antonio Candreva.
As Milan continued attacking, Piatek came close with an inventive attempt after a deflected Calhanoglu cross found its way to him on the edge of six yards, but his back-heel flick went off target.
Three minutes from time, Conti took out Martinez with a reckless tackle and Guida was quick to flash out a red card, but having consulted the VAR the referee changed his decision to a yellow. Spalletti was so angry at this change of decision that his protest earned him a red card instead.
As the six minutes of stoppage time started running, a long diagonal cross by Suso found the run of Castillejo on the far post and Handanović was forced into another good save.
Milan were now giving everything they had, and they were constantly forward in numbers, and Spalletti’s assistants acted by sending on Andrea Rannochia to replace Vecino to add some strength in the air against the final Milan onset. All that Inter players were now interested in was wasting as much time as possible and clearing their lines as far as possible.
At the very stroke of 96 minutes, D’Ambrosio saved his team as he dove to block a shot by Cutrone from close range, and soon it was all over.
It was a proper Milan derby in terms of passion and unpredictability. However, it can also be argued that these teams still lack much of the quality they once possessed.
Inter probably deserved the win when all said and done. They played better football for most of the 96 minutes, and their game-plan had a more discernable shape throughout. Milan showed incredible desire; but their approach, at least the part of it which yielded some results, was more of the gung-ho type than real organization.
The table has now turned for the two teams. Inter have leap-frogged Milan and now sit third on 53 points, while the Rossonerri have 51 to their name in fourth. Milan can take some consolation from the fact that Roma, who are also trying to achieve a top-four finish and currently sit fifth on 47 points, suffered a defeat at the hands of SPAL on Saturday.
AC MILAN: Donnarumma 7.5, Musacchio 7, Romagnoli 6.5, Calabria 6.5, Rodriguez 6 (58′ Cutrone), Bakayoko 7.5, Kessie 7 (69′ Conti 7), Paqueta 7.5 (46′ Castillejo 7), Suso 7.5, Calhanoglu 7.5, Piatek 5.5.
INTER: Handanović 7, Škriniar 8, de Vrij 7.5, Asamoah 7, D’Ambrosio 7, Brozović 7.5 (73′ Valero 6), Vecino 7.5 (90′ Rannochia N/A), Gagliardini 7, Perišić 7.5, Politano 7.5 (84′ Candreva N/A), Martinez 7.
GOALS: Vecino 4′, de Vrij 51′, Bakayoko 57′, Martinez 67′ (P), Musacchio 71′.
YELOW CARDS: Brozović 14′, Rodriguez 32′, Romagnoli 66′, Vecino 79′, Suso 79′, Conti 89′, Gagliardini 90′.
RED CARD: Spalletti (Inter head coach) 89′.
REFEREE: Marco Guida.
DATE & VENUE: March 17, 2019, Guiseppe Meazza Stadium, Milan, Italy.
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