Diego Milito scored a wonderful hattrick to give Inter a memorable 4-2 victory over bitter rivals Milan, to win the second derby in running. Douglas Maicon scored a screamer from distance while Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a brace for the former champions. The league is now officially awarded to Juventus and after nearly a decade Ibrahimovic is not part of a league winning side.
They were left with absolutely nothing to play for. Many felt, the highly disappointing performance that saw them lose to Parma in the midweek was the final nail in their coffin and summed up their season. With the results of the games scheduled for an afternoon kickoff on Sunday, it became even more evident that Inter’s efforts for the next two games shall bear no real fruits and will remain as pointless as perhaps Ivan Cordoba’s presence in the squad.
With their win over Genoa, Udinese would need only another win on the ultimate matchday to seal the spot for Champions League playoffs and they were now fairly out of Inter’s reach. Even arithmetical miracles would be rendered insignificant and while one may have just feared that will hamper Inter’s motivation levels to deliver in the derby that epitomizes football in more than one ways, the so called ‘has been’ juggernaut reclaimed itself to give Milan a taste of their own medicine with a commanding 4-2 win, completing their double over the former champions for the season and handed the title over to Juventus in the process.
Diego Milito was the one who pierced a hole past Milan’s defensive wall earlier in January to give Inter the narrowest possible 1-0 victory in a rather uninventive game of football and the Argentine continued to be the nemesis for Milan defenders one more time. With three goals to his credit, albeit two from the spot, he can now end the season on a reasonably high note after starting it with a string of unimpressive performances. You may equate his clicking back to the rhythm with Inter’s season finding back the much needed stability.
On Sunday, after doing little on the creative front, Inter were put in front only in the 14th minute through a Milito tap-in after Sneijder’s delivery from set-piece that came off Walter Samuel’s shoulders fell too easily for Milito who was believed to be in an offside position by the Milan defenders; so much so that they didn’t make attempts to body-check Samuel from controlling the ball. Ibrahimovic put Milan on level terms converting from the spot after Milan were awarded yet another dubious penalty and both the teams left for the tunnels on parity at half time.
A wonderful piece of artistry from Ibra, coupled with his immense shooting abilities saw Milan take lead even before many could take their seats in the second half. But Milan’s problems in maintaining an organised defence continued and ended up conceding two penalties, neither of which Milito failed to convert to complete his hat-trick. Maicon scored a scorcher from distance towards the end to take the game beyond all doubts. Perhaps the intensity and the vehemence that this game never stopped to demonstrate, it deserved such a rattling piece of football to conclude it.
Tactics Talk: Inter
How they started: Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Nagatomo; Zanetti, Cambiasso, Guarin, Alvarez; Sneijder; Milito
What initially appeared as a slightly secure 4-3-2-1 could very easily shuffle to a far more effective 4-4-1-1 for Inter, as pretty much like the first edition of the derby Ricardo Alvarez continued to drop deep when required to add numbers to the midfield and advanced from the wings to add width to the attack while Inter were in possession in Milan’s half of the pitch.
Wesley Sneijder was the chief source of creativity for the virtual hosts and he did exceedingly well in the role. He always appeared dangerous with his marauding runs and unlike the corresponding fixture last year, this time he did have an answer or two for Mark van Bommel’s physicality in the centre. Sneijder operated from the hole behind the lone forward and primarily restricted himself to collecting a pass from a considerably deep midfield, holding the ball long enough for the opposition full backs to be forced out of their position and then directing the play wide with a decisive pass to the flank to Nagatomo or Maicon. At the same time, Sneijder himself too pushed wide to draw the defenders along with him and free Milito from Milan’s defence that held a pretty tight line around him.
Inter full backs quite actively participated in the attacking moves but the experienced centre back pairing of Lucio and Samuel ensured they never kept the line too high for Milan to unleash a quick counter – a lesson they learned from the game against Parma where Giovinco, despite his apparently lesser physical attributes, caused Inter defence troubles aplenty. Maicon’s defensive shortcomings this season are no secret and so is the Brazilian’s tendency to be outrun while tracking back. Though Muntari could pose no real danger from the left flank, Lucio drifted to the right as a precautionary measure the moment Maicon made an attacking move.
Despite their game being much more fluid than it usually has been all through the season, Inter failed to convert the chances they created. Only half (10) of the total opportunities they created met the target but failed to leave their mark on the scoreline. Apart from the goal Maicon scored, the other three can be attributed to Milan’s languid approach while defending and also to the lack of discipline showed by players inside the box.
Inter skipper Javier Zanetti, who started from the right in the midfield, concentrated much more on shielding the defence as Sneijder was beautifully pulling the attacking strings off. In company of Cambiasso, Zanetti maintained an average position near the half line and both worked like tireless engines to track the movements of Milan’s midfielders – primarily Nocerino and Boateng who aimed at breaking through the vulnerable looking defensive wall of Inter. The experienced Argentine midfielders measured the game pretty accurately and never failed to provide cover to Maicon when he made an offensive run. Boateng often ran to the left to expose the space left behind by Maicon, but to little avail as more often than not, by the time he’d win possession, that channel would have already been blocked by either of Zanetti and Cambiasso.
Inter majorly threatened to attack from the left – quite naturally so with a player of Alvarez’s flair having been deployed there. Alvarez often cut inside once going distance in the Milan half and allowed Nagatomo to overlap. Sneijder also tended to move to the left allowing Alvarez more space in the middle and extending his passing options. Milito remained in a fairly close range to both Sneijder and Nagatomo and the attacking quadrangles that Inter created time and again were pretty hard to deal with for Abate and Nesta.
Inter were physically the superior side of the two and it only explains Milan’s problem in defending the set pieces. Inter created few highly dangerous looking opportunities from corners and free kicks in tandem but Milan were fortunate not to concede on anyone of those but for the opening goal that Milito scored. In the hindsight, Milan would have preferred not to offer the space and time on ball that they did to Sneijder.
In terms of substitutions, Obi came in for Guarin in the second half and more or less performed a similar role despite his natural position being much wider and higher up the pitch. Pazzini replaced Alvarez which was a tactical move since the game was still tied at 2-2 then. With the introduction of the Italian forward, the shape typically changed to 4-3-1-2 which was an improvisation over the attacking quadrant that Inter had devised till then. However, once the lead was achieved, Stramaccioni withdrew Sneijder and added Cordoba to defence to ensure it is protected till the final whistle – little did the young manager know what Maicon had thought of.
Tactics Talk: Milan
How they started: Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Yepes, Bonera; Nocerino, van Bommel, Muntari; Boateng; Ibrahimovic, Robinho
Throughout the season, Milan have been criticized for the narrow shape that they maintain in midfield that is deemed too stagnant and teams relying on quick counter-attacking game can easily catch them off guard. One more time Massimiliano Allegri started with the midfield trio of Nocerino, van Bommel and Muntari which made it fairly apparent that there will be close to no creativity on offer from the midfield since two of these three players’ natural game is disruptive rather than creative while the third one is more of a workhorse who may outrun the opposition but outwitting them is not his forte.
Milan held good possession in the middle of the park since the Inter centre midfield chose to remain deep. Possession was never a bone of contention for Inter as they were sure of outmuscling the Milan midfield once they were on the break. Stramaccioni’s plan was simple. The build-up always remained slow and once the ball was diverted to the right flank, he was sure of his wide players – Nagatomo and Alvarez winning the battle with Nocerino and move the ball quickly from the flank in the Milan half. Nocerino himself tended to push more into the centre to be involved in the attacking move and hence the area more often than not remained unmanned since Abate was unable to read the quick exchange of passes that Inter’s attacking quadrant made on the left wing.
Nesta did push pretty wide to extend a helping hand to Abate but Alvarez quite swiftly moved near the centre to widen the passing scope for Sneijder from the left and that created troubles for the likes of Mario Yepes whose understanding with Nesta is far from top notch and it was evident with his cluelessness when his veteran partner in defence forced himself wide on the flanks to defend. Daniele Bonera started as left back for Milan and the Italian seldom engaged into any attacking build up which should have ideally allowed Muntari to make forward runs but the intimidating presence of Maicon running up and down the right flank kept the Ghanaian in good check.
Milan attack showed much more flexibility than it usually does and while in possession it pretty easily switched to a 4-3-3 with both Robinho and Boateng shuttling between the two flanks trying to release Ibrahimovic in the centre but once again dealing with the physicality of Samuel and Lucio was too much to ask. However, Ibrahimovic did succeed in beating both of them on pace with one single move of sheer brilliance that led to Milan’s second goal early in the second half. Boateng who pushed himself wide on the left flank to force Maicon to cut inside prematurely was essentially aiming at winning the ball and initiating a quick counter movement but seldom succeeded in doing so. However, Boateng’s movement allowed free space for van Bommel to exploit and the Dutch skipper did play far more forward than he usually does.
Two of the three substitutions were pretty much the demand of the situation since both Bonera and Abbiati lost the fitness levels to compete any further that brought the young Mattia Di Sciglio and Marco Amelia on the pitch during the first half itself. Di Sciglio however did involve much more in the attacking moves but left a lot to be desired in terms of his crossing abilities, positioning and decisiveness inside the final third.
Cassano arrived a little too late for Milan fans’ liking and as he replaced Muntari; Boateng was expected to drop back in the midfield. However, only a minute after his introduction, Milan conceded a rather soft penalty and Inter regained the lead. Milan had no choice but to chase the game and could never really formulate the intended 4-3-1-2 shape. Committing a man too many forward, Milan left a lot of space inside their own half which allowed Maicon to score a contender for the goal of the season.
The result confirmed Milan shall end the season trophyless and gives Inter a glimmer of hope to qualify for the Champions League playoff next season, provided Udinese and Napoli drop points on the last matchday. Regardless of its impact on the table, the derby, after a long time, did justice to its billing as one of the most ferocious and competitive football events around the globe.