Feature Photo: Massimo Paolone/LaPresse
With a stunning second-half comeback, Antonio Conte’s Inter won 4-2 a thrlling Derby della Madonnina, likely the most exciting seen in years. The Nerazzurri thus managed to gain three points versus Scudetto-contenders Juventus in view of their shocking loss in Verona. It was a real battle at the San Siro Stadium, however, mostly because Milan finally managed to measure up to the cross-town task despite wasting a two-goal lead.
Stefano Pioli indeed read the game perfectly and came up with a line up that put Conte’s men to the ropes for the full first half. Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic suffered Hakan Calhanoglu’s accelerations. Theo Hernandez devastatingly run up and down the left flank as usual, and Ante Rebic served as a perfect attacking partner for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big Swede was absolutely dominating in the air game, showing once again how much his simple presence has rejuvenated the Rossoneri.
Ibra won his first airborne battle in the 2nd minute, when a cross by Samu Castillejo triggered his head conversion, anticipating Diego Godin. Target missed. Pioli’s side kept pushing and found another chance with Ante Rebic, served by Hakan Calhanoglu, five minutes later. Inter’s defense cleared the ball not without some apprehension. The Turkish winger confirmed to be the most dangerous from his side, producing a sharp right-foot shot which hit Daniele Padelli’s right post in the 9th minute.
Antonio Conte understood that something was going wrong and urged his side to use long-range passes to serve Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian, however, remained mostly isolated – at least until he decided to take the matter in his own hands. In the 24th minute, Lukaku protected the ball in Milan’s box, dashed past Alessio Romagnoli and served Matìas Vecino with a ball that only asked to be pushed in the net. The Uruguayan midfielder shot centrally and allowed Gianluigi Donnarumma to push it back. That was Inter’s clearest chance in the whole first half.
Marcelo Brozovic looked absent-minded, and in the 33rd minute lost a ball to Hakan Calhanoglu. It took Stefan De Vrij’s last-minute clearance to prevent the Turkish to wrap Milan’s first goal – which, however, came only a few minutes later. Samu Castillejo crossed from the left, Zlatan stood once again over Diego Godin (perhaps he must have watched some Mark Hateley old tape?) to serve Ante Rebic on the far post. De Vrij’s intervention was imperfect this time, and so was goalkeeper Padelli’s – making it a child play for the Croatian international to put the ball in the net and tally his 4th Serie A goal.
De Vrij’s confusional state persisted as the Dutch defender risked an own goal in the 45th minute to deflect a cross by Theo Hernandez. From the subsequent corner, however, the Rossoneri lifted themselves up at 2-0, courtesy of a flank play by Frank Kessié which found Zlatan Ibrahimovic all alone on the left post. The way Milan Skriniar “lost” Ibra and failed to mark him must have given Antonio Conte much to think about.
Daniele Padelli failing to block Ibra’s header – though seeing it coming from point-blank range – also triggered some mumbling on the Nerazzurri management’s part. With Samir Handanovic kept at bay by a hand-injury for an indefinite period of time, Inter are on the lookout for a replacement goalkeeper – likely in the person of former SPAL number one Emiliano Viviano.
No changes were made during half time, but the momentum changed fast after the break as the Nerazzurri managed to rebalance a match that seemed lost in the space of two minutes. The first goal happened almost casually, with Marcelo Brozovic pouncing on a cross by Antonio Candreva deflected by the opposition defense, and finding the lucky spot on Gianluigi Donnarumma’s right with a stunning right-foot volley.
Two minutes later, Diego Godin served Alexis Sanchez with a filtering pass on the right flank. The Nino Maravilla went one-on-one with Donnarumma but was wise enough to pass back for Matias Vecino. The Uruguayan international didn’t miss this time and brought the score at 2-2. Zero a zero e palla al centro, as we say in Italian – but now the game was in balance and the morale definitely on the Nerazzurri’s side.
Ibrahimovic tried to reanimate the red-and-blacks with a free kick from 25 meters which ended its run close to Padelli’s left post. Romelu Lukaku saw his shot deflected past the end line in the 70th minute in what turned out to be a key episode in the match. From the subsequent corner, Alexis Sanchez served Stefan De Vrij and the Dutch international came up with a superb twisting-diving-header (remotely relatable to a similar feat once performed by his fellow Countryman Marco Van Basten at the Santiago Bernabeu…) that left no chance to Donnarumma.
Antonio Conte smelled blood and pulled off Alexis Sanchez to replace him with new signing Christian Eriksen, then also replaced Antonio Candreva with Victor Moses. Stefano Pioli’s answer was adding another pure striker – Rafael Leao – in place of Samu Castillejo. It was Inter’s Danish international, however, to come closer to hit the mark with a wonderful free-kick shot from 30 meters: Gianluigi Donnarumma’s crossbar is still rattling…
Pioli threw Lucas Paquetà and Giacomo Bonaventura in the mix, but the Rossoneri didn’t have it anymore. Inter’s Nicolò Barella came close to deliver the finishing blow and saw his shot blocked by Donnarumma after a half-pitch coast-to-coast. Zlatan kept fighting like a lion – the last one to raise a white flag – and saw his header on a cross by Lucas Paquetà denied by the post.
That was the last chance for the Rossoneri, which also conceded the fourth goal during stoppage time. Romelu Lukaku did an excellent job in protecting the ball with his body, then triggered a counterattack wrapped by Matias Vecino and Victor Moses – with the former Chelsea midfielder offering him an easy header conversion.
Pazza Inter served the specialty of the house – a crazy comeback from a two-goal deficit – and regained contact with the top of the table, together with Juventus and one point ahead of a Lazio side which is not stopping to surprise. Inter will pay a visit to the Biancocelesti next Sunday – You’d better watch for this one!
February 9, 2020 – Serie A 2019-2020 Round 23
SCORERS: 40′ Rebic (M), 45′ Ibrahimovic (M), 50′ Brozovic (I), 52′ Vecino (I), 60′ De Vrij (I), 92′ Lukaku (I)
|INTER (3-5-2): Padelli; Godin, De Vrij, Skriniar; Candreva (80′ Moses), Vecino, Brozovic, Barella, Young (94′ Biraghi); Sanchez (72′ Eriksen), Lukaku (Handanovic, Stankovic, D’Ambrosio, Ranocchia, Asamoah, Borja Valero, Agoume, Sensi, Esposito) Coach: Conte
|MILAN (4-4-1-1): G. Donnarumma; Conti, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Castillejo (80′ Rafael Leao), Kessié (81′ Paquetà), Bennacer, Rebic (84′ Bonaventura); Calhanoglu; Ibrahimovic (Begovic, A. Donnarumma, Musacchio, Gabbia, Calabria, Laxalt, Saelemaekers, Biglia, Brescianini) Coach: Pioli