Friday, September 22, 2023

Inter Milan 5-1 AC Milan: Talking points as Nerazzurri continue Derby domination

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial, Serie A 17 Sep 2023

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The first Derby della Madonina of the season was played at Giuseppe Meazza (San Siro) on Saturday, and Inter Milan absolutely destroyed their city rivals by putting five goals past them, and conceding one in return.

The deadlock was broken within five minutes from kick-off by Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marcus Thuram added the second in the 38th. It looked as though Milan might be finding their way back into the game when Rafael Leao made it 2-1 in the 57th, but it took Mkhitaryan only 12 minutes to restore a two-goal lead for Milan. After that, the Rossoneri completely fell apart, and Hakan Calhanoglu converted a penalty conceded by Theo Hernandez in the 69th, before Davide Frattesi set the final score three minutes into the stoppage time.

Milan is black-and-blue

AC Milan have definitely improved over the last couple of seasons, a fact punctuated by the Scudetto they won in 2021/22, but it seems it’s still impossible for Stefano Pioli’s men to discover a formula to beat their city rivals.

The Rossoneri have now lost five consecutive matches in all competitions against Inter, and they didn’t even manage to score in the previous four. With that in mind, Leao’s strike can perhaps be seen as an improvement of Milan’s fortunes in this fixture, but it had been a very long time indeed since they conceded five.

The last time Milan won the Derby was in September last year in the Serie A, and since then, they’ve lost three matches to Inter in the Italian top flight, two in the Champions League, and one in the Italian Super Cup.

It’ll be a long time before Milan fans start feeling any confidence ahead of a game against Inter again.

The suspect Milan defence made it easy

To be fair to Pioli and his team, they missed Fikayo Tomori and Pier Kalulu who missed this game through suspension and injury, respectively. It would, however, stand to reason to expect Simon Kjaer and Malick Thiaw, on paper a good mixture of experience and youthful talent, to step into the breach and perform well, but that simply didn’t happen.

Both Milan centre-backs played a very poor game. Kjaer appeared uncharacteristically indecisive on the ball and timid when entering duels, while Thiaw looked inexplicably slow for a player of 22. Defenders mostly improve with age, but speed and agility aren’t traits that fall into that category.

The first goal came as a consequence of Thiaw losing a duel to Thuram far too easily out wide, putting the rest of his team under severe pressure inside the box and Inter charged forward. In the end, Federico Dimarco hit a low drive from the left towards the six-yard line, and Mkhitaryan was there, unmarked.

Just five minutes later, the Armenian was unmarked again on the same spot and again it was Dimarco who found him with a fine cross, but Milan got lucky there as the header went off target. Kjaer was nowhere to be seen, and Thiaw was practically caught between the hammer and the anvil, not knowing which way to turn as Thuram charged towards the other post.

Lautaro Martinez frequently got the better of both Milan centre-backs and impacted the game greatly, even if he didn’t score. It was he who instigated the move which led to the second goal, releasing Denzel Dumphries on the right with a fabulous pass while under far too little pressure from Kjaer. The Dutch right-back quickly whipped it across towards Thuram, who was now one-on-one with Thiaw inside the box.

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Thuram’s finish was a beauty indeed as it hit the top corner and left Mike Maignan in the Milan goal with no chance whatsoever, but Thiaw shouldn’t have allowed the Inter striker to turn the way he did and shoot. He simply couldn’t keep up with the change of direction, and that’s a telling sign for a young defender whose potential is reportedly valued greatly. Similar can be said of Kjaer, whose experience shouldn’t have allowed him to underestimate Martinez the way he did.

Kjaer was again far to lax with Martinez ahead of the third (and probably decisive) goal, but the attacking prowess of Inter should be commended here first and foremost. Martinez receieved the ball wide on the left with Kjaer for company, and as he set the ball on his preferred right foot, two of his teammates made runs into the box one after the other, drawing the rest of the Milan defence deeper towards their goal, and leaving plenty of space for the third runner – Mkhitaryan. Thiaw’s bad night was compounded by bad luck here as he dove in to block the shot, but ended up just deflecting it in a way that left Maignan helpless again.

To be fair to Kjaer and Thiaw, right-back Davide Calabria was also below expectations on the night, frequently out of position and rarely to be seen when his flank was attacked. But it was Theo Hernandez, arguably the only member of the Milan back four who had a relatively good game, who brought about the fourth goal. He was late to challenge Martinez for a loose ball inside the box and caught the Argentinian’s foot. There was no doubt in the mind of referee Simone Sozza as he gave the penalty, and even less in the mind of Calhanoglu who denied Martinez’s request to take the spot-kick before dispatching it himself.

The Milan defence can hardly be blamed for the fifth goal, though. The game was obviously lost in a comprehensive way by that point. The frustration and eagerness for the final whistle to sound were understandable, the attacks they tried to mount far too feeble to trouble their flying opponents. It was no surprise then, when Mkhitaryan pulled a counterattack, kept his patience and waited for the perfect moment to thread the ball for the oncoming Frattesi.

Milan thin upfront too

The Rossoneri offered very little at the other end of the pitch as well.

Only Leao worked hard and got frequently involved on the left flank and deservedly got his goal, though he did waste a couple of other moments which could’ve taken the game in a different direction.

Olivier Giroud, the veteran striker, was too static and rarely sought spaces to attack, though it should be said he did get into good positions a once or twice, only to be overlooked by his teammates, or missed by their attempted crosses. He did very well for Leao’s goal, dropping away from his markers to receive the ball and release the Portuguese winger on a lightning-fast run, but it was only a shining moment in a dark night.

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As for Christian Pulisic on the right, it was hard to tell that the former Chelsea man was even playing. He rarely contributed at all, either threatening the Inter defence or tracking back to keep the marauding feet of Dimarco in check.

Apart from the goal, there was only one instance when they looked like threatening Yann Sommer’s goal seriously, when Hernandez smartly sent Leao running from a free-kick most would’ve expected to be taken directly on goal. Sommer saved Leao’s effort there, and the linesman raised the flag rightly for offside as well.

In the 77th minute, Pioli tried to shake things up by sending on Luka Jovic and Noah Okafor, but neither of the two substitute strikers made any contribution whatsoever.

Numbers mean little

Looking at the stats after the game, you might’ve been surprised to learn that Milan had the greater possession percentage (60%), and that they consequently completed more passes with greater accuracy. It was the dynamics of the game played by Inter that decided the contest, coupled with Milan’s troubled defending.

Martinez, Thuram and Mkhitaryan clearly stood out by attacking the right spaces at the right moments, working fast to switch sides or release runners down carefully chosen channels. Therefore, it was Inzaghi’s men who took more shots overall, 14-7, hitting the target seven times while Milan got only two.

Looking ahead

Both Inter and Milan kick off their respective Champions League adventures next week, and both will have a tough job to do. The Nerazzurri, who now top the Serie A table with four wins from four matches, travel to Spain to face Real Sociedad, while Milan host Newcastle at San Siro.

After that, the Italian top flight resumes, and there will be no excuses for third-place Milan who simply must beat Verona at home. Inter, meanwhile, play Empoli away in a game they’re also expected to win and maintain a perfect record.


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.



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