Antonio Conte rolled out the same lineup that beat Lazio 3-1 last week, including Christian Eriksen and Ivan Perisic, the two of which have improved remarkably in recent weeks. Inter’s only injury was to Stefano Sensi (surprise surprise). Milan meanwhile was without Ismael Bennacer so Sandro Tonali replaced the Algerian. Alexis Saelemakers and Ante Rebic started on the wings, with Rafael Leao relegated to the bench.
The derby didn’t take long to heat up, with Lautaro Martinez finding the opener five minutes in. The LuLa combination ripped Milan’s defense to shreds and Inter went up 1-0.
INTER STRIKE FIRST!— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 21, 2021
Lukaku sets up Lautaro for the opener! pic.twitter.com/KDqodN7WBi
The Nerazzurri remained on the front foot for the first half-hour of action and found gap after gap in a shaky Milan side. Inter failed to find a second, though, and eventually the frenetic pace of the game started to turn in Milan’s favor. The Rossoneri came inches from an equalizer in the 32nd minute when Theo Hernandez sent a low drive past a frozen Handanovic but barely wide of the post. Inter had a chance of its own in the 36th minute. The rebound of an Ivan Perisic effort dropped to Lautaro’s feet in the six-yard box but the Argentine couldn’t redirect it on target.
Milan’s pressure on Inter ramped up as the later stages of the half arrived, and by the time halftime arrived the Nerazzurri was struggling to even exit its own half. The interval was a much-needed respite for the visitors. Inter had control over the first thirty minutes but fell onto the back foot for the final fifteen minutes. Antonio Conte’s side outshot Milan 9-4, though both outfits put only two on target while Milan boasted 55% of possession.
Milan came out of the break on all cylinders, forcing Handanovic into three world-class saves in the span of two minutes. First up was a lighting fast reflex diving save on a Zlatan header off a corner kick. He then managed to paw another Ibrahimovic header from point-blank range off the goal-line before getting his fingertips on a Sandro Tonali blast heading for the upper ninety. It was, to say the least, a very, very stressful period for Interisti.
But just when Milan’s equalizer seemed inevitable, Inter put a second into Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goal in the 57th minute. A beautiful team goal stretching across the length of the pitch ended with Lautaro notching a brace after contributions from the likes of Perisic, Eriksen, Hakimi, Barella, and Skriniar. I, uh, may or may not have spent the last ten minutes watching this on repeat.
AC Milan 0-2 Inter— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 21, 2021
Lautaro Martinez finishes off a beautiful move for Inter pic.twitter.com/nytvsuFlaX
Inter came close to a third in the 63rd minute. Lukaku got in behind Milan’s backline but put his effort right at Donnarumma. The Belgian wouldn’t be denied minutes later and he’s now the capocannoniere leader with 17 goals.
Lukaku becomes the first player since Romeo Benetti in 1973 to score in four consecutive Serie A Milan derbies pic.twitter.com/SPtKkzKqn6— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 21, 2021
With a three-goal cushion secured, Inter was able to see out the shutout relatively comfortably and pick up its sixth derby win in the last eight league clashes.
This wasn’t the prettiest of Inter performances, but it was more than enough to get the job done. Though Milan notched 60% of possession, the Rossoneri only caused Handanovic to worry during that wild two-minute segment to start the second half. Milan’s expected goals of 0.71xg were nowhere near Inter’s 2.96xg. Though Inter and Milan took 16 (6 on target) and 15 (8) shots respectively, 40% of Milan’s came from outside the box compared to just 25% for Inter. In fact, over 80% of the gameplay took place in the middle third or Inter’s defensive third. But though Milan was able to pin Inter back in its own half and control the majority of possession, Inter’s defensive solidity that its 3-5-2 shape allows kept Milan from consistently finding clear looks on goal.
Handanovic - 9 (Man of the Match): By far the Slovenian’s best performance in recent memory. Without any of his three brilliant saves at the start of the second, Milan would have been level with Inter rather than two goals down. And considering how shaky Inter was looking at that moment, Milan could easily have gone on to win. But instead, Handanovic put in a masterful display with a trio of saves few other keepers could have made. He came up big when it mattered and Inter can thank him for the three points.
Bastoni - 6: Not Bastoni’s best outing, putting the team in danger on several occasions with poor clearances or giveaways. Still registered a passing rate of 84% and 7 successful long balls. The sooner he gets back on top form, the better, but a benefit of the back-three is that one of the center-backs can go through a rough patch without dire repercussions.
de Vrij - 7: Wasn’t pressed into action too often but always ready to be called on. Made 9 clearances and 4 interceptions, and was reliable on the ball, with 15/16 passes completed.
Skriniar - 7: Like his Dutch partner, Skriniar put in a solid shift. Won five duels, made six clearances, and had a passing rate of 95%.
Perisic - 8: The Croatian’s turnaround in form has been remarkable. He’s now gotten the better of both Manuel Lazzari and Davide Calabria in two successive games, two of the better right-backs in the league. Perisic was a constant threat against Milan, with 3 key passes, 6 successful long balls, 4 interceptions, and 4 duels won. Not to mention the assist on Lautaro’s brace and the second-most touches (61) on the Nerazzurri.
Eriksen - 7: Wasn’t quite as good as he was against Lazio, but that’s a high bar to clear. Calhanoglu was able to beat him more often than not in their midfield battle, but Eriksen still had his say. His vision to lay off the ball to Perisic helped create Inter’s second, while he had the third-most touches (59), 90% of which were successful, and 2 key passes.
Brozovic - 6.5: Wasn’t able to influence the game quite as much, but still had a passing rate of 90%, 2 key passes, and 4 clearances and interceptions.
Barella - 7: Once again proves to be a vital piece of Inter’s midfield. Barella lead Inter in touches (65), made 2 key passes, had a passing accuracy of 88%, and won five duels. Put in a heavy shift on both sides of the ball before exiting late on with what appeared to be a hamstring problem. Hopefully nothing more than cramps but he has a week to rest before Inter’s next match.
Hakimi - 6.5: His splitting run through Milan’s defense opened up space for the second goal, but overall was fairly quiet. Had a passing rate of 71% and wasn’t able to cause Milan problems in a similar fashion as Perisic. The Morrocan will also miss next week’s clash with Genoa due to yellow card accumulation, though a week off may be what he needs to refind his best form.
Lautaro - 8.5: When the Argentine’s finishing is calibrated correctly, Inter has perhaps the best strike duo in the world at its disposal. Lautaro leads Serie A in non-penalty goals (13) and was crucial on Sunday. Outside of his brace, he also notched 2 key passes and won five duels, but it was his movement around the goal that played a major role in the Nerazzurri’s victory.
Lukaku - 8.5: Even without his goal, this was an incredible showing from Lukaku. He made 3 key passes and sent a perfect cross to Lautaro for the opener. His finish and driving dribble on his goal was incredible as well, and he breezed past Romagnoli like he wasn’t there.
Conte - 8: Rode the hot hand with Eriksen and Perisic and it more than paid off. Also was smart with his subs to control the game. The mister did all he could to set Inter up for victory, and the players did their part.
Inter now enjoys another week off until it meets the red-hot Genoa next Sunday. The Nerazzurri has a four-point cushion over Milan, who takes on AS Roma looking to reverse its two-game losing spell. Inter has an eleven-point lead on Juventus, though the Old Lady has two games in hand.
See you Sunday.