If you were to say Inter Milan were going to win the Derby d'Italia, you wouldn't have been going out on a limb.
This match was a Scudetto decider—but not the one many thought before the season began. Inter had everything to lose against Juventus Friday night. Roma's unprecedented rise to the top of the table under Claudio Ranieri means that Inter now have a battle royal in Serie A's final five weeks.
Thanks to Momo Sissoko getting sent off in the 37th minute and Maicon's stunner, Inter did go back on the top of the table for at least the next 48 hours.
But it didn't look so bright for Inter to begin. Juve were the team that started off as the better side—something that had to happen if the Bianconeri wanted to have any chance to win. Vincenzo Iaqinta had the first shot on Julio Cesar's goal within 30 seconds—although it didn't trouble the Inter keeper at all. Moments later, Alessandro Del Piero also tested Cesar but Inter keeper palmed it away.
Inter struggled to really get anything going as Juve kept the pressure up. Thiago Motta tested Gianluigi Buffon but the Juve keeper was up to the task.
Minutes later Inter had a fantastic chance to open the scoring on the counter attack after Sissoko's lead feet caused a turnover. However, the Mali international came back on the dead sprint to prevent any kind of shot being taken.
But Inter were starting to get control of the game as the first half went on. The opportunities Juve had at the beginning of the half were starting to less frequent.
And then, the moment that changed the entire match.
Merely 20 seconds after a stupid foul at the top of the box on Diego Milito, Sissoko went hard into Javier Zanetti and was shown his second yellow in a matter of 17 minutes.
From then on, you could just tell that at some point, Inter were going to win the match. Four minutes after Sissoko was sent off, Alberto Zaccheroni took off captain Alessandro Del Piero in favor of Christian Poulsen.
One of Juve's few players who is an offensive threat was sent to the bench because Zaccheroni felt the need to do nothing but defend.
The teams went into the half scoreless, but in the second half, Inter were clearly the dominating team. They should have gone up 1-0 in the 54th minute when Samuel Eto'o had a clear chance at goal but blasted it over the crossbar.
Buffon was called upon again when substitute Dejan Stankovic rocked a shot towards the top of the goal. Moments later Maicon drilled one wide and Milito somehow missed a wide open header at the back post.
Juventus weren't doing anything to help themselves come away with any kind of points. When they did get the ball, it was quickly turned back over to Inter. There were few offensive chances as Cesar barely had anything do in the second half. And if he did have to make a save, it wasn't very tough.
Inter finally did get their goal—and what a stunner it was.
The resulting free kick from Giorgio Chiellini's foul on Stankovic wasn't cleared by the Juve defense and it came out to Maicon—who was waiting to clean up the garbage. The Brazilian defender controlled it three times with his knee, saw Amauri go storming by with an attempted clearance, and then unleashed a vicious volley to the back post past a diving Buffon.
Being down a man, Juve had little to do in terms of trying to answer Maicon's stunner. They were creating little before the goal, expecting them to create anything after would have been too much to ask.
Mario Balotelli could have made it 2-0 with 10 minutes left after he smashed one of the far post. But Inter did get the exclamation point courtesy of Eto'o in stoppage time after Sulley Muntari found him wide open in the box for a simple tap in.
For Inter, they can enjoy first place for now. For Juve, it's just one more defeat until a record is set.