Inter put in another strong performance at the San Siro to extend their lead at the top of Serie A to four points, whilst also taking the head-to-head advantage over their city rivals. There's a lot to take from such a big result.
The Match Lived Up to Expectation
A lot was made in the build-up about this being the first time in almost 10 years that the two sides had met whilst occupying the top-two spots in Serie A. Suddenly the eyes of the footballing world were on Milan for more than just nostalgic reasons. What we got was a match that reminded its viewers of the titanic tussles from decades past. Inter came out like a house on fire and looked primed to end the match before half-time. Credit to the Milan who re-grouped to show exactly why they were top of the table for so long. They gained a foothold and even began to dominate the match for large periods, stopped only by a Handanovic-miracle (or two, more on them later). Inter weathered the storm and ended the match with two goals of absolute quality: one originating at kick-off and involving nine of the eleven players, and another showcasing the devastating individual brilliance of Romelu Lukaku.
After years of lackluster derbies involving mediocre individuals, it was brilliant to have quality opposition. Hopefully, both sides continue to improve, and the derby can return to being a landmark event in European football.
Ivan Perisic: Game Changer
In the build-up to Inter v Lazio, much was made of the threat posed by Manuel Lazzari down the right-hand side for the Biancocelesti. Instead, Ivan Perisic put in a top defensive performance that was key to Inter's dominance. However, the solidity came at a price, as Perisic was unable to offer much of a threat going forward. Against Milan, however, we saw Perisic's best performance in an Inter shirt for many years. The Croatian was a constant threat against Calabria and was unlucky not to get a goal to add to his assist.
The right-hand side has been brilliant for Inter, while the left has been largely sub-par. So much so that many fans prayed the club would be successful in its pursuit of an alternative at left wingback in January. Opponents knew that, if they shut down Hakimi, Inter would struggle to attack. If Perisic continues this form, Inter will be threatening down both wings and we will finally be able to see "ÇonteBall” in all its glory. That is very bad news for the rest of Serie A.
Handanovic Wound Back the Clock
After years of being a shining light in a mediocre side, this season has seen the decline of Samir Handanovic just as the squad began to improve. Indeed, the captain has been (deservedly) criticized through the season - to the point that he was even considered a liability. These three points, however, are largely owed to him. For a long period there, Milan were dominating possession and created three guilt-edged chances. They deserved to make it 1-1. The second save on Ibra and the reflex punch on Tonali were as individually brilliant as anything we saw from Lukaku et al. ahead of him.
One good performance doesn't undo what has been a clear drop in form, but Handanovic has definitely made a key contribution to Inter's Scudetto charge. If they do win this season, he will not have been just a passenger in the process.
Eriksen Looks to Have Earned Conte's Trust
Three big matches against Juve, Lazio, and Milan: three starts for Christian Eriksen. He may not have set the world on fire, but he is now a consistent performer who adds something to this team. His role in the second goal cannot be underestimated. He could have blazed away, but instead waited for the exact moment when both Perisic and Lautaro could move into the equilateral triangle that no defense could have stopped. That sort of intelligence and technique is something that no other Inter player possesses.
That said, the fact that he was even on the pitch at that point is a testament to Conte's trust. Milan had been growing in confidence and Eriksen was getting caught out by Çalhanoğlu. With only a goal advantage, you could have forgiven Conte for dragging the Dane and replacing him with someone more defensively minded. He has not hesitated to make the change before. The fact that Eriksen was still on the pitch to be able to contribute at that point shows how much Conte's opinion of him has changed and is fantastic news for the fans who were desperate to see the best from the midfielder.
There's Nowhere to Hide Now
These past two weeks have seen Inter turn a two-point deficit into a four-point advantage, with two supremely commanding performances. They can no longer hide from the fact that they are the favorites for the Scudetto from here on out. Last year it may have been enough to close the gap with Juventus, but now it is time to dethrone the Bianconeri. In the next five fixtures, Inter only faces two sides in the top half of the standings and both of those matches are at home. This is the period where titles are won. The results against Lazio and Milan are nothing if Inter cannot follow it up against Genoa and Parma. It is time for Conte and his men to embrace the tag and play like the best team in Italy. Come May, anything less than the Scudetto would be a huge disappointment.
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