Football is a cruel sport. For 75 minutes, Inter’s status as the superior team in Milano looked pretty secure. The good guys peppered Milan’s goal with chance after chance and it was only thanks to a heroic performance from Mike Maignan that the Rossoneri weren’t down 3-0 at halftime. Any result other than an Inter win looked unfathomable. And then disaster struck. A fatal combination of poor substitutions and an overall lack of intensity from the team in black and blue gave a reinvigorated Milan a path back into the game, and unlike Inter in the first half, Stefano Pioli’s side was lethal to the extreme. A quick-fire brace from Olivier Giroud was enough to turn the derby on its head and pull Milan within one point of Inter. The Scudetto race, you feel, won’t be fading away any time soon.
From the Inter perspective, it’s easy to adopt a doom and gloom mindset. After all, it’s hardly cause for optimism when you lose to your direct rivals at the beginning of a testing schedule featuring clashes with Napoli and Sassuolo. In fact, there are definitely real concerns to be had after Saturday. Inzaghi’s late-game management is again put into question (Vecino in 2022? Really Simone?), along with the capabilities of the Nerazzurri’s depth. But maybe this is the kick in the teeth Inter needs to lock in for the next four months. I’d much prefer a result like this to come in February than April or May when there’s no room left for error. Tonight showed that nothing less than 100% will suffice if Inter is to hoist the Scudetto. Let’s hope the Nerazzurri can take that lesson to heart.
Simone Inzaghi rolled out Inter’s strongest possible XI, with Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez leading the line. Felipe Caicedo (muscle fatigue) and Joaquin Correa (hamstring) were the only two absentees. Milan, on the other hand, missed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fikayo Tomori, and Ante Rebic from the starting XI while Simone Kjaer remained out with a long-term injury.
The second derby of the season got off to a back and forth start amidst an electric atmosphere and sparkingly (thanks in part to spray paint) green newly laid grass. Inter struggled to keep ahold of the ball throughout the opening stages but soon grew into the ascendancy. Denzel Dumfries thought he had the opener in the 10th minute when he headed home a Perisic cross but the Croatian was a step offside in the buildup. Moments later a long-range Marcelo Brozovic effort almost beat Mike Maignan thanks to a deflection but the French keeper managed to change his momentum and paw the ball off the line.
The match began to take on a physical nature with a number of chippy fouls at both ends. Nonetheless, Inter wasn’t deterred from taking the initiative and keeping Maignan busy in the Rossoneri’s goal. Lautaro slipped Dumfries in behind the Milan backline in the 28th minute but the French keeper made a huge save on Dumfries’ low rocket. Sandro Tonali came close to giving Milan a shock lead soon after. A long-range blast from the Italian was headed for the top corner before Samir Handanovic made an impressive diving stop. Luckily Tonali’s chance wasn’t a sign of a trend and it didn’t take long for Inter to find its way back into the final third. Lautaro let loose on an effort to the bottom corner in the 37th minute but once again Maignan was up to the task. On the ensuing corner, however, the good guys finally got their goal with Perisic doing to honors via a Calhanoglu assist.
IVAN PERIŠIĆ WITH A BEAUTIFUL FINISH.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 5, 2022
INTER STRIKE FIRST IN THE DERBY DELLA MADONNINA. pic.twitter.com/8TStgLjgje
A 1-0 scoreline flatted Milan going into the break. Though the Rossoneri had 58% possession, Inter had 9 shots (5 on target) compared to Milan’s 3 (1 on target). Pioli’s side was forced to camp deep in its own half and barely ventured forward with any real intent.
The additions of Junior Messias and Brahim Diaz to Milan’s ranks brought new life to the Rossoneri, while Inter lacked the same level of intensity that brought it so much success in the first half. Small mistakes crept into the Nerazzurri’s play and Milan slowly but surely slipped onto the front foot. Inter still did enough to avoid being carved apart like Milan earlier, but ultimately the good guys’ wall broke under mounting pressure. Olivier Giroud pulled Milan level in the 75th minute and made it 2-1 three minutes later in a nightmarish stretch of play for everyone in black and blue.
(Viewer discretion advised)
OLIVIER GIROUD SCORES HIS FIRST DERBY DELLA MADONNINA GOAL— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 5, 2022
AC MILAN ARE BACK IN IT pic.twitter.com/jpyzWI2JCe
TWICE AS NICE.— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) February 5, 2022
OLIVIER GIROUD WITH A SECOND HALF BRACE IN THE DERBY DELLA MADONINNA. ⚫️ pic.twitter.com/kMYwQSBpmL
Inter looked shellshocked after going down and tried and resoundingly failed to mount a last-minute comeback. There was some late drama in the form of a Theo Hernandez red card but that did nothing to ease the pain of a second straight home defeat to the cousins.
Handanovic - 5: Faced just three shots on target and conceded twice. Made a very good save on Tonali in the first half but undid all of his good work with an awful attempt at a save on Giroud’s second. Was slow to react and even slower to go to ground. I would say Onana can’t get here fast enough, but uh, yikes...
Onana inter's future goalkeeper the Cameroonian Neuer pic.twitter.com/wopa0jmVkf— Jack Dawson ₂₂ (@_jcak) February 5, 2022
Bastoni - 6: Fairly quiet showing from the Italian. Just 39 touches and 0 out of 5 duels won, but he did manage four accurate long balls, 3 clearances, and 2 blocked shots.
de Vrij - 5: Got beaten way too easily by Giroud on the second goal, barely putting up a fight as the Frenchman spun around him. The recently-turned 30-year-old continues to be a bit of a defensive liability and with a contract expiring in 2023, his future at Inter is likely under the microscope.
Skriniar - 6: Did well to keep Leao quiet for the most part but offered very little otherwise. Wasn’t as physically imposing as he usually is and rarely ventured into the attack.
Perisic - 7: One of the few bright spots and it was a surprise to see him withdrawn so early. The Croatian was a constant threat down the left and consistently got the better of Calabria.
Calhanoglu - 7.5 (Man of the Match): Hakan sure loves playing Milan. He assisted Inter’s lone goal with a superb corner (one of his many dangerous set-pieces), made 3 key passes, 4 accurate crosses, 5 long balls, and won five duels. Calhanoglu played with the most fire of anyone on the pitch and continues to be one of Inter’s key pieces.
Brozovic - 6: Had a great first half but tailed off steeply after the interval. Inter’s lack of midfield control is pretty obvious once you take a look at Brozovic’s stats sheet. Though he led Inter in both touches and accurate passes, his tallies of 60 and 43 respectively were well below his usual average and Inter desperately missed his calmness and control on the ball.
Barella - 6: Not much to write home about for the Italian, who struggled to get the better of Tonali. Managed just 53 touches and a 78% passing rate. He also had the third-most giveaways on Inter (13).
Dumfries - 6: Was a man possessed in the first half and gave Theo nightmares. Almost all of Inter’s attacks went through him or Perisic, and to great effect. With that said, he faded sharply in the second half. Dumfries ended the day with a team-high 21 giveaways and a 67% passing rate, which cost Inter heavily when it desperately needed consistent possession.
Lautaro - 5: The same old story for E Toro. He put in a hard-working but ultimately fruitless shift against Milan and his goal-scoring woes continue. Lautaro’s off-the-ball work is as good as anyone’s but at this point that pales in comparison to his haphazard scoring form. Inter needs a lot more from its number 10 in the final third if silverware is a real possibility this season.
Dzeko - 5: Similarly to his strike partner, Dzeko continues to leave something to be desired. The veteran’s age is showing and was only a factor for the first hour or so against Milan. Even then, though, he was on the periphery in attack and featured more in the build-up play than actually shooting/scoring. Caicedo might be able to help somewhat this season but it’s glaringly obvious that Inter needs a goal scorer come summer.
Inzaghi - 4.5: Aced the starting XI but couldn’t have gotten the subs any more wrong. Calhanoglu and Perisic had been some of Inter’s best performers so removing them may no sense whatsoever (it’s not like they were fatigued either, the last game came two weeks ago). Vidal and Dimarco both looked out of their depth and keeping Dzeko on basically meant Inter was playing with ten. As for bringing Matias Vecino on, well, it’s probably for the best if I don’t speak about that.
Milan now moves to within one point of Inter and could be joined in second by Napoli, who plays Venezia tomorrow. Inter’s visit to Naples next Saturday is looking more and more important by the minute, but first comes a Tuesday Coppa Italia quarterfinal tie against Roma. On to the next one.