Inter Milan vs. AC Milan: Scoring the Key Matchups at the San Siro
When the firework smoke cleared at the San Siro on Sunday, not only were Inter Milan the 4-2 victors of a thrilling derby encounter with AC Milan, but Juventus were celebrating their first Serie A scudetto since the 2002-03 season.
Diego Milito scored three goals, the first hat trick in the Milan derby for Inter since István Nyers did it in 1953. His second-half penalty shots were the difference after Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored either side of halftime to give AC Milan a brief 2-1 advantage and an opportunity to extend the Serie A title chase into the final week of the season.
The game lived up to every bit of hype that customarily builds before the city rivals, and San Siro co-tenants, face off. Fluid, attacking football and individual brilliance on both sides was on display for the nearly the entirety of the 90 minutes, the teams combining for a total of 36 shots on goal.
Inter were the deserving winners on the night. In defeating their neighbors, they handed the title to their other bitter rivals. Juventus went out 2-0 winners against Cagliari in a match that was being played a few hundred miles east of Milan, in Trieste, due to an ongoing dispute the Sardinian club has with its city officials.
Reviewing the pivotal matchups from this, the 157th Derby della Madonnina, it's even more evident how Inter got the win on what became the deciding night in Serie A.
Match entertainment quality: 9 out of 10
Wesley Sneijder V. Mark Von Bommel
Two Dutch midfield stewards who control the action in different ways were always going to be key indicators of their respective teams success. Sneijder for Inter, applying constant pressure on a defense as an orchestrator of passes, a set piece threat or a shooter from distance. Van Bommel, a hard man in the middle, always living on the fine line between fair and foul as a tackler and Milan's main ball winner.
From the early going, this appeared to be Sneijder's day. His free kick in the 14th minute dropped perfectly over Milan's high line to Walter Samuel, who simply deflected the ball into the path of Diego Milito for the first goal of the evening.
While he allowed Van Bommel to control the middle of the park, Sneijder moved more to the left and did all of his damage from that side. He led nearly all of Inter's attacks from that side (46 percent to be exact, according to whoscored.com), combining effectively with Ricardo Álavrez, Fredy Guarin and Yuto Nagatomo. Sneijder cleverly worked with the numerical advantages against the only defenders Milan committed to that side, midfielder Antonio Nocerino and right back Ignazio Abate.
Van Bommel maintained his central position, goal side of Sneijder, overly concerned with any attempt his countrymen might make to cut into the middle. It was an ineffective position defensively. Van Bommel looked slow all night long, either in closing out in the middle or when he drifted out to the flanks. Additionally, Van Bommel was unable to cut out any of a number of passes Sneijder threaded square across the middle to Zanetti, who always found room on the opposite side or further out wide to Inter's overlapping fullback, Maicon.
Milan's Dutchman did find some rhythm in the second half, feeding long balls up to the front line but his offensive presence was limited to a deflected shot he got off midway through the first 45 when he stepped up on a Milan counter.
Also, Van Bommel's uncharacteristically sloppy play led to the first of the two Inter goals in the second half that put things away for good. He gave away a header with no one around him, which went right to Zanetti, who passed out to Maicon on the right wing, leading to Nesta's handball.
Inter's No. 10 was in 2010 form. He looked very comfortable on the ball, operating down the left side and controlling Inter's attack from there. He pulled Milan's midfield and back line out of position and could easily initiate the switch of fields, finding Maicon with acres on the right via Zanetti in the middle.
Van Bommel: 5.0
Van Bommel was never close enough or engaged enough to bother Sneijder (or anyone else, for that matter).
Lucio V. Milan Forwards
Lucio in tandem with Walter Samuel were faced with the imposing task of containing Milan's trio of talent rich forwards. The two stalwarts of Inter's central defense versus the dangerous attack of Robinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
For the most part, Boating played behind the two front men, his pace in the final third a real problem for Inter's defending midfielders and back line. Robinho was effective in switching positions, drifting wide and coming in on both sides while Ibra maintained more of a central stand up presence. Zlatan often found space between Lucio and Samuel or a bit further wide between either central defender and the wide full back.
Lucio showed some signs of his advancing years, losing his marker of both of Milan's goals. Credit to Robinho, who dispossessed Zanetti just outside Inter's own 18-yard box, and Nocerino, who perfectly weighted the ball to Boateng so he could get a touch before Julio Cesar tackled him in the box. But Lucio didn't show enough urgency when the ball was turned over deep in his end to get back in position to prevent the eventual penalty.
Milan's trequartista combined beautifully on the second goal, which came a minute into the second half. From the right sideline, Robinho skidded a pass towards Boateng's position just outside the 18-yard box. Both Lucio (behind Boateng) and Cambiasso (facing Boateng) were a good four yards off the man. Lucio lunged forward, tricked by Boateng's masterful dummy, and Ibrahimovic was able to immediately exploit the space left open by Lucio to charge in and chip over on Cesar.
Robinho twice found more room later in the second half behind Inter's defense when the score was tied at two. Assisted by Boateng, Robinho got behind Nagatomo, but he shot directly at Cesar on one occasion and blasted a left foot strike into the stands after a nice diagonal run lost his marker on the other.
Zlatan was close to his menacing best, constantly creating opportunities from the space Samuel and Lucio afforded him. Ice-cold at the penalty spot, would you want anyone else taking penalties for your squad?
Robinho was also solid, more so on the right than on the left, where Maicon was more effective dampening his fellow Brazilian's creative flair.
Good pace charging forward to pressure the defense, dragging the central defenders out of position.
Key intervention early in the game when Ibra received a Robinho cross in the penalty box may have saved a goal.
Out of position on a number of plays, including the two Milan goals. Ibra could have scored a third when he rose higher than Lucio to head a second-half corner towards goal. Unfortunately for Milan, Muntari clumsily got in the way of it and nudged harmlessly into Julio Cesar's hands.
Stramaccioni V. Allegri
The battle of the touchlines was viewed as one of youth versus experience, rising coaching star versus established philosopher.
In truth, Allegri was playing with a forced hand due to a spate of injuries. He started with defenders Luca Antonini and Thiago Silva unavailable for action and couldn't count on Clarence Seedorf or Urby Emanuelson in the midfield either. Mario Yepes partnered with Alessandro Nesta in central defense, and Daniele Bonera moved to the left fullback spot.
Unfortunately, Bonera, substituted at 21 minutes, was one of two of Allegri's starters to go down with injury early in the proceedings. The other was goalkeeper Christian Abbiati, who left after 35 minutes with a knee injury.
Both managers' formations were functional and straight forward, a 4-4-1-1 for Inter, a 4-3-1-2 for Milan with Boateng playing behind Robinho and Zlatan. But in actuality, and this is where the young manager showed up his more experienced colleague, Inter were much wider on the pitch, especially down the left side where they did most of their damage. Sneijder combined superbly with Álvarez, Guarin and Yuto Nagatomo on the left. They formed passing triangles, even boxes, that stretched Milan's narrow midfield out of position.
Allegri's one unforced substitution came too late and produced no opportunities for his team. Sulley Muntari should have been benched much sooner, so the insertion of Antonio Cassano late in the second half failed to produce the intended results as Cassano was barely involved.
Stramaccioni, on the other hand, inserted Pazzini for Álavarez in the 75th minute and only five minutes later, the Italian striker was led in behind Milan's defense by a nicely weighted Maicon pass. Pazzini's attempt to head over the closing Nesta resulted in a hand ball in the box and the awarding of the decisive penalty.
In a classy move that will further endear the young manager to the Nerazzuri faithful, Stramaccioni sent on Ivan Córdoba for Sneijder in the 84th minute. The 35-year-old Colombian is leaving the club after 13 seasons at the San Siro and received a handsome ovation from the supporters.
His revival of Inter is no accident. The game plan to concede possession to exploit weaknesses elsewhere was an astute strategic calculation, and it paid off. He's also got a personal energy and enthusiasm that the players seem to respond and thrive upon.
Injuries in this game, and all season long, were his undoing, so it's unfair to pin the loss on him. I actually thought the 19-year old Mattia De Sciglio, who replaced Bonera, did a nice job in only his fifth Serie A match. He should have slid Van Bommel over to the right and had Abate making runs up the sideline earlier in the match.