By Jeremy Lim
The pre-match talk had centered around the seasonal encounter being a crunch tie between two fallen Serie A giants, Milan certainly appearing the worse-off, languishing in 11th place before kick-off. You’d hardly been able to tell though, given the complete and utter dominance exerted by the Rossoneri on their relative high-flying neighbours.
"I think it was one of our best games of the season and we deserved to win," lamented Riccardo Montolivo. "There was only one team on the pitch. Inter played defensively, they were good but lucky as well."
Well Mr. Montolivo certainly has a fair point. To call it a hotly contested derby would be a disgrace. From start to finish, it was all Milan, who exhibited no sign of the troubles their early campaign had been plagued by. Yet in the end, it was Massimiliano Allegri who went home humbled, after counterpart Andrea Stramaccioni plainly certified that all the pretty football in the world counts for nothing without good old basic Italian grit, pragmatism, and delivering the result that truly counts in the end.
You have to take your hat off to Inter, who did what counted at both ends of the pitch, in what very much amounted to an Italian display. Doggedly holding on despite playing the entire second period with ten men after Yuto Nagatomo received his marching orders, they showcased remarkable solidity in repelling Milan’s attacks, unrelenting forays would have broken any other side’s will.
Stramaccioni’s men did what counted to perfection, grabbing an early sucker punch through veteran Walter Samuel, before the Argentine went on to put in a master class in defence. The 3-5-2 formation has become the latest fashion in Serie A, and I do believe the Nerazzurri showed everyone why with their resoluteness on Monday morning.
Players are unique, but to the Inter fans who believed they would never again see someone able to replicate Lucio’s swashbuckling performances stemming from the Champions League-winning campaign of 2009, they certainly never betted on the rise to prominence of young Juan Jesus. If anyone from the Nerazzurri line-up stood out that night, it was the lanky 21-year-old Brazilian, putting his age to shame as he stood tall in the face of unyielding pressure.
Andrea Ranocchia was just as impeccable, while Javier Zanetti consistently proves to onlookers that class and talent are timeless elements. In my opinion, that Inter possessed such men who knew how to stand up and take responsibility was the reason why they saw out the match against their spineless opponents.
So then, it’s back to the drawing block for Allegri, and I see no sign of his nightmare letting up anytime soon. They did everything right in midfield to be fair, never allowing Inter’s near them, but a lack of cutting-edge in attack, combined with a defence prone to lapses in concentration as well as that tad bit of bad luck are to blame in a match that otherwise might have been heralded as a belated turning point.
Custodian Christian Abbiati has constantly been an accident waiting to happen for too long now, even dating back to the time when he enjoyed stellar protection from the likes of Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva. Daniele Bonera is at best unsuited to the grandest stages of European football, while Mattia De Sciglio needs time to grow, regardless of his talent.
The frustrating inabilities of Bojan Krkic and Giampaolo Pazzini to make any impact in the final third leaves the attacking department far too reliant on teen wonder Stephan El Shaarawy, who still has a lot of growing to do, particularly in terms of decision-making. Lacking the steel and someone in the squad who can interject and take charge at this point, I fear the worst for the club’s immediate ability to challenge for honours.Still, as mentioned earlier, Milan can at least take heart from being ‘almost there’, even if they have a few issues left to iron out. With time however, expect them to eventually shrug off their troubles, even if it may take slightly longer than Stramaccioni managed for Inter to turn their page of bad form.
Till then though, the balance of the San Siro divide definitively lies under Nerazzurri control.