Rossoneri dreams of beating the Nerrazzuri and opening up a four point lead over them were shattered to a million pieces, as Inter Milan defeated AC Milan 4-0, in what was, perhaps, the most one-sided derby this great city of Milan has ever seen in recent years.
Milan were heading into this game with an advantage, having beaten Siena 2-1 quite impressively, last Saturday. On the other hand, Inter had a disappointing 1-1 draw against the newly promoted Bari.
Milan Coach Leonardo Araujo knew that this game was going to be a completely different affair. But the side was pumped up and ready to avenge the preseason losses on the American tour and in the TIM trophy.
Leonardo didn't tinker with the side and used the same 4-3-1-2 formation. Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva at the back, with Gianluca Zambrotta and Marek Jankulovski as the fullbacks. Gennaro Gattuso, Mathieu Flamini and Andrea Pirlo in the midfield with Ronaldinho playing just behind Alexandre Pato and Marco Boriello.
Though new signing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was available for this crucial game, Leonardo decided to keep him on the bench and use him later as an impact player.
Inter Milan went in with the expected side as well, importantly though, Wesley Sneijder played the side, playing right behind Diego Milito and Samuel Eto'. Keeping this front trio quiet was always going to be a tough task for the Milan defense.
Milito made his intentions quite clear when he took a shot at the Milan goal, but Marco Storari watched it go wide.
Two Inter players had an exceptional game today. One was Maicon and other was Sneijder. And it was Sneijder who forced an early first save out of Storari.
After getting yellow-carded in the seventh minute, Flamini made a slick move down the left hand side, only to be stopped in his tracks by Maicon.
It was quite an open game for a derby. For the next few minutes, while Sneijder tried to find Milito and Eto' at one end, at the other end Ronaldinho's header and Pirlo's free-kick were dealt with relative ease by the Inter defense.
Eager Rossoneri eyes spotted Gattuso in discomfort. It seemed as though he had aggravated his old injury again, from which he had just recovered. But he returned to the field shortly.
Finally the deadlock was broken in the 29th minute, when Eto' and Thiago Motta played a nifty one-two combination and Motta drove in the ball past Storari to put Inter in the lead.
Milan were barely recovering from that setback, when Gattuso conceded a penalty in the 35th minute. Eto' was served a long ball from the back by Maicon which was chased down by Gattuso right to the penalty area. But Eto' went down to the ground at the slightest of contact and a penalty was awarded.
Whatever maybe one's view on the validity of the penalty, the execution of the penalty kick by Diego Milito was stunning. He fired one in straight down the middle, while Storari leaped to his right. Inter were up by two goals.
Things went from bad to worse in the 40th minute. Gattuso committed an unnecessary foul on Sneijder near the halfway line. Not just that, his response after committing the foul was also not taken kindly by the referee. Gattuso, who had already earned a yellow card, now was shown the red.
If beating Inter with 11 men was going to be difficult, with 10 men and two goals down, it seemed impossible now.
Just when thoughts of calming things down and getting back to the dressing room to regroup may have entered the Milan minds, a swift move by Inter caught Milan unawares. Milito fed a sweet pass to Maicon who made no mistake putting it past Storari.
Halftime arrived, with Rossoneri three goals down to the Nerrazzuri.
Leonardo decided he needed some calm heads and experience in the middle. He took off Flamini and Boriello, and brought on the old warriors Clarence Seedorf and Massimo Ambrosini. The plan was to let Pato play up front with Dinho, close down the midfield with Ambrosini and let Seedorf make runs from the midfield to assist the forwards.
That plan would have worked if Milan had actually managed to keep any decent possession.
But Milan looked scrappy, and every time the ball made an entry into the final third, some Inter player got to it before a Milan one.
Around the half hour mark, Jose Mourinho also made his first change of the night bringing on Sulay Muntari instead of Motta who seemed to have pulled his calf muscle minutes earlier. A couple of minutes later, Huntelaar made his Milan debut in the Serie A, replacing Ronaldinho.
Inter continued to mount wave after wave of attack. And then finally came, what can possibly be termed, as the best goal of the night. In the 67th minute, Dejan Stankovic was served a ball right in his path, which he gave his everything with his right foot and the ball thundered into the top corner. Storari had no chance of saving that one.
Milan were genuinely facing a drubbing here. Leonardo looked disappointed and unenthusiastic; the players looked unmotivated and drained. Many fans wearing their precious red and black shirts were seen leaving the stadium early.
It was Stankovic again, who in the 78th minute, took another massive shot at the Milan goal, which was blocked by Storari. Eto' was quick to get to it and hammered it at the Milan goalkeeper, but Storari blocked it again, though by then the assistant had flagged for offside for Eto' anyway. That double save was probably the only positive thing for Storari tonight.
The game got a bit mundane from then on. Both sides seemed to have settled for the result. Inter still looked in control. But Seedorf looked impressive going forward.
Huntelaar showed a little something of what has made himself the prolific icon he is today. He got to the end of a long cross into the box and tried his luck with his left foot, only to be denied by Julio Ceasar.
But the misery ended, as the final whistle blew. Inter had defeated Milan 4-0. A resounding victory for Inter indeed.
It was a disappointing and frustrating game for Milan. Perhaps a tough, bitter lesson for Leonardo. Rebuilding isn't yet complete.
Perhaps, the next time these two teams meet, the result will be different. But for tonight, the Rossoneri hearts were truly broken.
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