Coppa Italia Derby of Despair Gives Milan New Hope

A lone goal by Patrick Cutrone during extra time pushed Milan past Coppa Italia Quarter Finals last night, as the Rossoneri beat city rivals Inter in an unusual post-Christmas Derby di Milano. Gennaro Gattuso caught the first significant success in his troubled tenure as Milan head coach, and will now face Lazio in the Italian national cup semifinal round, whereas Luciano Spalletti had to swallow the third defeat in a row for a side that seemed invincible only a few weeks ago. The most sensitive Derby della Madonnina in recent history therefore resulted in a new hope for the Rossoneri, and in an unexpected identity crisis for the Beneamata (The “Beloved,” as Inter is known among their historical fan base).

The first Coppa Italia derby since 19 years had an unexpected start for Milan when 41-year-old substitute goalkeeper Marco Storari got injured during the warm-up. With Gianluigi Donnarumma already out due to an adductor strain, the spotlight fell on his older brother Antonio for what looked like the beginning of the perfect fairy tale.

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Antonio Donnarumma, Milan’s underdog third choice goalkeeper, and hero for a night

The “goalkeeper with connections,” the king of summer memes, who landed a one million euro contract to be Milan’s third choice goalie as part of the deal to renew his much more famous brother’s contract with the club, was now being called to action in the most important match for a Rossonero. The Italian cup derby provided new chances also for midfielders Lucas Biglia and Manuel Locatelli, but those were given by coach Gennaro Gattuso in his 4-3-3 formation. Gattuso would have lineup himself if he could, but was forced to watch the game from the bench, and spent the full 120 minutes shouting and showing the garra he wanted his boys to display.

On the other side of the pitch, Luciano Spalletti decided to rely on Samir Handanovic rather than on his Coppa Italia goalkeeper Daniele Padelli – whom, by the way, had been the hero of Inter’s all-but-easy victory against Serie C club Pordenone in the Round of 16. The other changes in Nerazzurri’s usual starting eleven were due to injuries, with Andrea Ranocchia and Joao Cancelo replacing Joao Miranda and Marco D’Ambrosio. After two league defeats in a row following a flawless start, Spalletti showed that he was taking the stracittadina very seriously.

Milan started aggressive, taking advantage of Spalletti center midfielders’ difficulties in creating some play. Inter looked more dangerous when attacking from the flanks, with Joao Cancelo and Antonio Candreva pushing from the right side, and the duo Yuto Nagatomo – Ivan Perisic doing the same from the left. However, the first clear scoring chance was produced by the Rossoneri, with a header by Giacomo Bonaventura that called Handanovic to a difficult save.

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Milan striker Nikola Kalinic battles with Inter’s Yuto Nagatomo. The former Fiorentina forward didn’t make any significant impact on the derby

At the 23rd minute, the match risked taking a tragicomic turning point, when a corner kick by Candreva, corrected by Milan Skriniar, reached Ivan Perisic on the left side. The Croatian’s winger shot was clumsily deflected by Antonio Donnarumma into his own goal. Referee Marco Guida initially allowed the goal, but then corrected his decision after consulting the VAR: Andrea Ranocchia’s offside position saved Donnarumma Senior from a nightmare debut.

Milan’s reaction was all in a shot by Suso, well-served by a heel pass by Frank Kessie’, which called Handanovic to action again. Donnarumma then got a quick chance to redeem himself anticipating Mauro Icardi with a well-timed exit. As time passed, Inter progressively grew and took control of the operations. The Rossoneri felt the pressure, with Leonardo Bonucci continuing to go through his seasonal ordeal – failing even the simplest controls – and the three-man midfield failing to supply ammunitions to a lone Nikola Kalinic.

When Davide Calabria – who was just sent in to replace injured Ignazio Abate – closed a defensive action by conceding a corner kick rather than going for an easy clearance, Milan’s uncertainties became evident. But this is when the Devils found an unexpected hero in supporter-bashed Antonio Donnarumma at the 59th minute. A mistake by Locatelli generated a counterattack for Inter, with Icardi producing a flank play header for Joao Mario: The Portuguese “hit” Donnarumma with his shot, concluding a very poor performance, and giving the older of Milan’s goalkeeper brothers a good chance to shine.

The game continued to be a fun one to watch, with continuous changes of play. A defective clearance by Handanovic sent the ball on Bonaventura’s head, but the Rossoneri winger’s correction ended out of target. Then the two trainers tried to shake the match up with some changes: Borja Valero replaced an unpresentable Joao Mario, Gattuso answered with Hakan Calhanoglu for Manuel Locatelli.

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The Coppa Italia Derby was a tough one, with Milan Skriniar – here guarded by Frank Kessie – more nervous than usual: the Slovak center back got a yellow card and injured Nikola Kalinic

Indeed, the most important substitution was a forced one, happening when a nervous Milan Skriniar drove his shoe studs into Nikola Kalinic’s ankle. The former Fiorentina striker had leave the pitch, for Patrick Cutrone to take his place. Spalletti also pulled out Roberto Gagliardini, and left room to Marcelo Brozovic to take his usual place on the right side of the three-man line behind Icardi.

With 12 minutes only to go, Suso tried his trademark “move,” curving inwards to hit the ball with his deadly left foot, but his shot hit the crossbar, thanks to a deflection by Skriniar. The Nerazzurri replied with a combination between Brozovic and Perisic, neutralized by a Bonucci living up to his fame in the occasion. Another long range shot by Perisic was easy work for Donnarumma Senior, and that was the last chance in a vibrant match, before referee Guida sent the two teams for a new break.

Extra time began with Milan attacking and changing the match’s inertia in their favor. However, the Rossoneri’s offences kept being disorganized and confused, and produced nothing more than a series of ineffective corner kicks. The decisive goal came with just one minute to go in the first extra half, and was indeed the consequence of an invention by Suso. Yes, the Spaniard did it again: Curving inwards on the left, and bending the ball to deliver a perfect pass to Patrick Cutrone, with the 19-year-old ready to put it past Handanovic.

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The decisive moment of the match, with Patrick Cutrone converting a pass by Suso for Milan’s 1-0 goal

Cutrone was in awe in his post-match interviews: “This is like a dream. Yesterday I was playing for the Primavera (the Youth Club), and now I’m scoring in a derby.” Fair enough, but the 19-year-old home grown striker has already collected nine goals this season, and is the club’s top scorer. This is a solid reality, and a ray of light in Milan’s disgraceful season.

This is where the Rossoneri need to restart from: A Coppa Italia gained semifinal, a young talented forward, and a renewed team spirit – as shown by the players grouping together to charge themselves up before the last 15 minutes of the game. For what concerns organization and play, those are still far to come, but at least Gattuso saw his boys playing with the passion he was asking for.

Conversely, Inter’s third loss in a row is a red flag on the other bank of the Navigli (the rivers crossing Milano). Luciano Spalletti seems to have lost his magic touch, the first defeat with Udinese opening cracks into Nerazzurri’s certainties that quickly widened. Captain Mauro Icardi appeared concerningly out-of-play last night, and the full squad evidenced clear difficulties with constructing some play. With Scudetto being the only trophy left for Inter to pursue, it will take much more than what seen in the Coppa Italia derby to scare top contenders Juventus and Napoli.


MATCH REPORT

December 27, 2017 – Coppa Italia 2017-18 Quarter Finals
MILAN-INTER 1-0

SCORER: 104′ Cutrone

Logo_Milan_2017 MILAN (4-3-3): A. Donnarumma; Abate (53’ Calabria), Bonucci, Romagnoli, Rodriguez; Kessie, Biglia, Locatelli (73′ Calhanoglu); Suso, Kalinic (75’ Cutrone), Bonaventura (G. Donnarumma, Soncin, André Silva, Borini, Zapata, Montolivo, Musacchio, Paletta, Antonelli)  Coach: Gattuso.
Logo_Inter_2017 INTER (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; Cancelo, Ranocchia, Skriniar, Nagatomo; Vecino, Gagliardini (75′ Brozovic); Candreva (101’ Eder), Joao Mario (67′ Borja Valero), Perisic; Icardi (Padelli, Berni, Karamoh, Santon, Dalbert, Lombardoni, Pinamonti) Coach: Spalletti

REFEREE: Mr. Guida from Torre Annunziata
NOTES: Attendance: 48721; Yellow Cards: Locatelli, Biglia, Cutrone (M), Skriniar, Vecino (I)

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