Once one of the most revered derbies in the football world, the clash between Inter Milan and AC Milan certainly still bears a lot of passion for both sets of fans, as well as interest from any Serie A lover around the globe. And as often the case has been when they face each other, there was much more at stake in their ninth-round league clash, formally hosted by the Nerazurri this time. Though at first glance the difference in their respective table standings seemed big ahead of the game, the seven teams sitting below Inter and above Milan were squeezed into a gap of just four points, and that with Milan having a game in hand.
The teams had issues with a Croatian international defender apiece, but with different outcomes. Šime Vršaljko was ready to play for Inter and manager Luciano Spalletti had the full squad at his disposal. Meanwhile, AC Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso still couldn’t count on long-term absentee Ivan Strinić.
Spalletti put Samir Handanović in goal, Šime Vršaljko at right-back and Kwadwo Asamoah on the left, with the pair of Stefan de Vrij and Milan Škriniar between them. Radja Nainggolan, Marcelo Brozović and Matias Vecino formed the midfield trio, while Matteo Politano and Ivan Perišić flanked Mauro Icardi in attack.
Gattuso went with Gianluigi Donnarumma between the posts, Davide Calabria and Ricardo Rodriguez on defensive flanks, Alessio Romagnoli and Mateo Musacchio between them, Lucas Biglia anchoring the midfield where he was joined by Giacomo Bonaventura and Franck Kessie, and Gonzalo Higuain upfront with Hakan Calhanoglu and Suso either side of him.
The First Half – Intense But Goalless
The game proved very intense in every way right from the start. The ball was moving quickly from one end to the other, there were a number of good chances at both ends, and both teams had a goal rightly disallowed. It was a very physical contest as well, and despite the total of seven yellow cards, there were a number of heavy fouls missed by referee Marco Guida altogether.
Milan threatened first with both Suso and Calhanoglu missing the target with long-range efforts within the opening 10 minutes, but then Icardi had a goal disallowed. Brozović had sent in a good cross, but Vecino’s flick-on towards the striker caught him a yard offside.
In the 15th minute, Higuain and Suso worked out a good move to set up Kessie for a nice chance, but the midfielder blasted it off target.
Two minutes later a clash between Biglia and Nainggolan resulted in the Milan midfielder getting booked, even though he came out worse off from the duel. Then Donnarumma did well to deny Perišić, before Calhanoglu earned his team a free-kick some 35 yards out and took it himself, just missing the target.
With 26 minutes gone, another contact between Biglia and Nainggolan caused the Inter player to leave the pitch injured, and he was eventually replaced by Borja Valero.
The ball was spending more time in the Nerazzuri’s possession at this point, but Milan’s pressing constantly prevented them from doing much. They would only occasionally reach the opposition box but couldn’t cause any real harm, before Vecino struck the post from close range after a corner. Eight minutes before the break Icardi failed to reach a very dangerous pass into the six-yard box by Vršaljko, and then Politano fired one from range far over the bar. A good pass by Valero sent Icardi running into the box, but Milan’s defence was alert.
Lightning almost struck in the 42nd minute when Mussachio put the ball into Inter’s net after a cunningly taken corner, but the linesman had rightly raised his flag. Then Vecino got into a good position to capitalize on a Perišić cross, but he failed to hit the ball the way he wanted to and the chance went begging, before De Vrij stopped Higuain from scoring at the other end as the half went into the four-minute injury time. Suso and Calhanoglu both had a go at beating Handanović from outside the box, but neither could hit the target.
The Second Half – Dynamic and Fruitful
Less than three minutes in the second period, Asamoah, who individually had an appalling game, needlessly lost the ball to Suso in his own half. However, the former Liverpool man was isolated and stopped by de Vrij before he could enter the box.
From that moment on, the home side re-established their domination and pushed the visitors back, but it took them a while to put some fluency into their rhythm. Still, they were more compact when defending than Milan, and they didn’t find it very hard to move high up the pitch quickly. But the best they could do was send in crosses from the flanks which didn’t trouble Milan at all until Vecino failed to get a header on target from just outside six yards after the hour mark. Corners were coming in thick for the Nerazzurri at this point and they weren’t very productive either, but the backs of AC Milan were slowly coming closer to being against the wall.
At the other end, Higuain seemed completely cut off with no support at all, and Škriniar and de Vrij found it easy to deal with any pass that went his way.
Inter’s counter-pressing was excellent. Every time they lost the ball they would get into the opposition faces with great commitment and win the ball back within a blink of an eye. With 20 minutes remaining, Spalletti decided to liven his attack up and he replaced the ineffective Perišić with Keita Balde, and Gattuso did the same by taking out Calhanoglu and sending in Patrick Cutrone.
Milan could’ve hit back suddenly in the 75th minute, but Politano took a yellow card for his team by taking out Bonaventura on a run. The moment did give the visitors a chance to move further up, but a misplaced cross by Cutrone quickly set them back.
Inter had a promising chance in the 78th minute, but Vecino and Valero couldn’t take advantage of a fantastic pass from Keita Balde. A minute later, Bonaventura and Cutrone set up Suso for a rare chance at the other end, but Suso’s shot was too tame to cause worry for Handanović.
However, Bonaventura’s runs and the industry of Suso and Cutrone were starting to surprise Inter players, and towards the end Milan regained some balance. With eight minutes on the clock, Suso earned a free-kick in a favorable position and took it himself, and hit the wall. Before the ensuing corner was taken, Kessie left the pitch making way for Tiemoue Bakayoko.
The Rossoneri were now turning up the volume. It was them with more control of the ball in the last few minutes, but their final passes constantly lacked precision.
Halfway through the three minutes of injury time Calabria made way for Ignazio Abate as Gattuso looked to tighten up his defence, but it was no use. Just a few seconds later, Vecino whipped in a fabulous cross from the right flank, Icardi beat his markers to it and slammed his header into the net.
It was certainly a heavy hit to take for AC Milan, and just as they started looking like the better team. They had one last go at snatching an equalizer when Suso sent a free-kick into the box in the dying seconds with even Donnarumma in Inter’s box, but the Nerazzurri stood strong and cleared it a second before the referee blew the final whistle.
Despite the winning goal coming very late, it’s fair to say Inter deserved it. They were the better team for a large chunk of the contest, and the result is a fair reflection of everything seen over the 90 minutes.
The three points won hereby allow Inter to get ahead of Lazio again as the two teams meet in Rome in the next round, and keep close to second-place Napoli while Juventus firmly hold the lead.
Meanwhile, Milan are left licking their wounds in the 12th place, and they will have a long time to plot revenge on their city rivals in the second half of the season. They face Sampdoria at home next week and welcome Genoa three days later in the game they have in hand, so they are set to get their chance to make up some lost ground.
INTER MILAN: Handanović 7, Vršaljko 7.5, Asamoah 4.5, Škriniar 7.5, de Vrij 8, Brozović 6, Vecino 7.5, Nainggolan 6.5 (30′ Valero 7), Perišić 6 (70′ Keita Balde 7), Politano 7 (82′ Candreva N/A), Icardi 8.
AC MILAN: Donnarumma 7.5, Calabria 6 (90′ Abate N/A), Rodriguez 6.5, Romagnoli 7, Musacchio 7, Biglia 7.5, Kessie 5.5 (84′ Bakayoko N/A), Bonaventura 7.5, Calhanoglu 7 (74′ Cutrone 7), Higuain 6.
GOALS: Icardi 90′.
YELLOW CARDS: Biglia 20′, Calhanoglu 44′, Calabria 45′, Suso 61′, Politano 75′, Bakayoko 90′, Keita Balde 90.
REFEREE: Marco Guida.
DATE & VENUE: October 21, 2018, Giuseppe Meazza (San Siro).
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