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Milan 0 – Inter 1

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"Give me three fried chickens and a coke"

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If we want to look at reasons we won this game, it’s such an obvious answer that it’s often overlooked. We won because we defended our space better than the other team on the field and attacked their space as they were out of position. We won because we didn’t allow the ball to go into our net and they did… twice, even if only one counted. When the most dangerous players from their side tried to attack us, the most secure guys from our side turned them away. At times, it was done with delicious prejudice. And duck sauce.

We can talk about Milito’s resurgence. We can talk about Zanetti showing yet again how he’s been able to outlast and surpass all of his foes through the decades. We can talk about how Ranieri outfoxed Allegri. We can talk about how this game symbolizes the collective effort and singleness of purpose that epitomizes the best that an institution like Inter can bring blending the multicultural, multilingual and diverse styles of football around the globe into a tiny, lethal point.

We can talk about that, but I won’t do it here.

Inter needs to be able to defend and this game on Sunday was all about defense. When you want to build a team you start there. Any team that needs to compete at the highest levels has to be able to defend. Last season this team couldn’t do that and we faltered. We faltered in the league and we faltered in the Champions League – despite being the only Italian team to reach the quarterfinals we should have been able to handle Schalke… that’s faltering because we couldn’t defend. Inter needs to be able to defend. In a 4 game marathon against Barcelona 2 seasons ago they scored 4 goals against Inter. I’ll say that again: Barca, The Great and Terrible Barca, only managed 1 goal per game against Inter in the Champions League not 2 whole seasons ago.

Inter needs to be able to defend. It’s our hallmark. It’s our DNA. We need to defend to be successful. And we are defending… now. In the last 6 games, including the Derby, going back to December 10th Inter has given up 1 goal. Inter is 6-0 in those games. If I go back to 9 games – to our first game in November – it’s 3 goals. Inter is 8-1 in those games. Let me say this in another way; going back to November 19th Inter is 8-1 with 17 goals for and 3 against.

Inter needs to be able to defend. In the last month we have regained ground on the table to the tune of 9 points in 40 days and it’s all happening because we are nearly 100% fit, young guys are stepping up and we are thinking security first. We are currently sitting in 5th place but the top 5 are all within 6 points of each other. That’s 2 games. All someone else has to do is mess up twice in around 4 months and we have reached 1 of our 2 goals. In other words, we have turned this formerly 2 team Scudetto race into a crap shoot.

I am not going to do the regular position grade stuff. If we had someone that fucked up even a little, considering the strategy we had dialed up for this game, we would have lost by a lot. Everyone did their job. There were no bad performances for us, really.

I do want to just jot down some thoughts I had about this game though.

This team is best when there is someone in charge who understands its strengths.

It started with Facchetti bringing in Zanetti. It’s always going to start with Facchetti and it’s always going to start with Zanetti. It’s gong to start with Zanetti after Zanetti’s name is no more than a whisper in the wind and his body dust on Lake Como. Take a look at Zanetti and compare him to any other team’s – Italian or otherwise – talismanic captain. He comes out ahead over them all. He’s not the most individually talented. Oh no, we know that. He doesn’t score many goals. He’s an incredible outside defender; he’s still that, that’s been proven for sure... just ask Messi and Xavi. But his ability to defend to see the whole game developing and then act with suddenness and singleness of purpose and determination… that’s not what this is all about, either.

The ultimate team player

The ultimate team player

It’s about his ability to be a teammate. It’s about his ability to fit into the collective effort and his willingness to be a member of a group all with the same vision and focus in the same direction. It’s about his ability to pick up 10 other men on his shoulders and show the way when they are faltering. How many times has the team needed him and he was there, not just to score, but to show how to act like a professional on the training ground. How to show up for work in the morning and leave at night. How to study and prepare. How to have a word when one’s needed. That’s a teammate, a leader. There are others that are great players. They score goals when the team is down sure. But look at how few people pick up the whole organization onto their backs when things aren’t going well and how many dozens more seem to be the actual problem to begin with?

When Materazzi and Cordoba came in they weren’t the greatest players at their own positions either, but no one who has played for Inter hates Marco, excepting perhaps Ibra… and doesn’t that just go ahead and prove the point I am making to begin with? Marco, like Zanetti is a great teammate, even if he’s not ever going to be listed with the greatest players ever. Cambiasso will never be considered the greatest center midfielder despite his incredible qualities as a prototype box to box player. But like Marco, like Cordoba, like Javier, he’s a player who is willing to be a cog knowing that he’d get more accolades if he were to strike out on his own instead of sacrificing for the team.

I could even include Deki in this eulogy. This might shock some people but I have an incredible amount of respect for Deki as a person and a player. He’s amazingly selfless and he’s as hard as iron. He’s exactly the type of player that Facchetti wanted when he brought him over. I think his physical ability has gone south and he’s not the player he used to be… but I have a lot of love for what he gave to this team.

And I can go on. I can say that Maicon by all rights should be a superstar in both Brazil and Europe. Look at Alves and how much attention he’s garnered for having only half the ability and a quarter of the brain power of a Maicon. Maicon could be earning much more money, he could be on a team like Madrid or Munich who would probably market him better considering his pedigree. Hell, the way football is today he’ll get more stardom from the price that others would pay for him rather than his accomplishments. But he stays. I cried when Maicon scored the Keepy Uppy Volley against Juventus and he ran to a camera and declared that he was going to stay right here. I still cry, like a baby I might add, when I see highlights of that. Hell, he’s crying too!

SOCCER-ITALY/

Maicon has long been one of my favorites and I know that he changed his style almost completely when he came to us. He learned to defend. He learned to come back after a blitz forward. The Brazilian developed a deep on the field understanding with Zanetti, an Argentine I might add, who plays a completely different game. That takes sacrifice on several levels. If Maicon were a spoiled brat he never would have done that. He never would have deigned to limit himself to an Italian style organizational paradigm with an old school Argentine if he was a me-me only player.

Nagatomo is definitely fitting into this collective mindset. He’s sacrificing for the team by learning Italian, curbing his runs forward, working on his crossing and being a tenacious little fucker on defense. I love the man but I can’t describe his defensive style any better. Will he make mistakes? Absolutely. But what he does that not a lot of others do is he’ll break his legs getting back to make it better. What a find!

Look at Pazzini coming back for corners, dropping deep to be a passing option and pressuring defenders when the ball hasn’t even crossed midfield. For a forward to waste energy and leave it on the field like that!? There were other big name forwards in this game… you might have noticed that they never crossed midfield. Indeed as the game wore on, Pazzini worked his ass off to help preserve the lead… others kind of walked around our penalty area waiting for someone else to step up. Kind of telling, huh?

This brings me to the Blues Brothers. I don’t really care if the name never catches on, for this game, this moment they are this to me. Like the relationship between Maicon and Zanetti the understanding these two have is far too deep for me to fathom, but they trust each other. Such two disparate styles of play complement each other perfectly. They don’t sing or dance but they move impeccably with each other in support and attack. Lucio surges forward and Samuel stays back, Samuel puts a hit on Pato to stop a passing combination and Lucio supports covering Ibra. They both run forward for corners knowing that in the collective scenario they are as dangerous as Milito and Pazzini. It’s like it’s all choreographed. There might be better, younger defensive players right now, but do those players work together as well in tandem?

They could have both been carved out of the same block of granite for all the words they might utter to each other, but when the enemy comes near there seems to be an unbreakable, implacable Wall on one side. On the other side a berserk battler who will follow his marker to gates of hades or use every part of his body in bizarre contortions to block a shot or a pass, usually with an amusing grimace on his face. Are these men friends or just co-workers? I couldn’t tell you. I took a freakish genius or astronomical luck that brought these two together. I am happy that they are here. Both are perfectionists and both fit into the idea that Facchetti dreamed - and passed on to Branca - when he collected Zanetti, Materazzi, Cordoba, Cuchu and Deki. They sacrifice their bodies these two for the group and they never, ever complain. In fact, they rush themselves back from injury just so they can do it again.

Not everyone is suited for this team. And that’s not an arrogant conceit the way you might hear it said by others in Italian football. We have an idea here that the whole is bigger than the parts – not that some players are bigger than the team. When Ibra was here he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and there was a lot of intervening by Marco and Javier to smooth ego’s in the dressing room. Three years ago Ibra wanted to leave because he said that he wanted to win titles with Barca that he didn’t think he could win with us. I suggest there was another reason. He left because Mourinho wouldn’t let him be bigger than the team, the way Mancini did. Mourinho didn’t sub Ibra when Ibra was too hung over to play and demanded a change for example, Mourinho instead sent a message and the look on Ibra's face that game wasn't pretty. Mourinho insisted that Ibra play with Mario, who Ibra constantly berated, and later Milito, who liked to score himself and didn’t defer to Ibra too much. Ibra was allowed to leave for a very fair price and we had never in our history been better the following year when Eto'o proved to be every bit as selfless as Ibra was selfish.

The goal that Milan supporters don't want to talk about

The goal that Milan supporters don\'t want to talk about

Over the last year and a half this team forgot a lot of the things that made it great. We had coaches who came in here who wanted us to play “great football” not just successful football. The code word “great” means more attacking, as though there is a cognitive disconnect between winning with a great defense and doing it collectively or playing “great”. We have showed in the past that one can win as a unit, as a collective and be great. Was Milan the better side yesterday? No. They were not. They had more possession. That’s it. We controlled space and more importantly we controlled the space in their end of the field when we went forward. Don’t believe me? Check out how many shots on net both teams had. We had more. Check out how many goals were scored, we scored two. That’s not domination for them. They had fewer points, that’s not better football, that’s not “great” football. It’s losing football. It's taken us a while, but we have gone back to basics. We have built our organization up from the back to the front and we have started to play for each other again. Could we easily slip back into bad habits? Sure, we might do that tomorrow, but for right now...

I know that most of you probably expected more of a game analysis and exploration on how we got this particular game to go our way… well, I think that’s just what I did.

FORZA
FORZA
FORZA INTER

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