STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA (Milan) – Always one of the most anticipated games of the season for both Milan’s sides, the Derby della Madonnina often provides an opportunity for the underdog of the moment to upset the odds and get back on track with an extra motivational boost.
It was the case last season, when a combative AC Milan fought back from 1-0 down to surprisingly beat Inter and light the spark that would lead them to clinch their first Serie A title in years.
The chances are many Rossoneri fans were hoping for a similar outcome on Sunday night after watching their side play a miserable first half with no shots on goal, as Inter were left free to dominate and keep more than 70% of the possession, with Lautaro Martinez scoring to earn his side a 1-0 victory over the city rivals.
Pioli’s role in AC Milan’s collapse
Such a fearful approach, especially after conceding 12 goals from their last three games, was arguably the worst news AC Milan supporters could expect from their outfit, and coach Stefano Pioli should account for this.
He tried to shake his team by making some bold decisions, which included leaving Rafael Leao on the bench and opting for an unprecedented 3-5-2 formation, an attempt to mirror Simone Inzaghi’s Inter and prevent them from finding space too easily while helping his side stay more compact defensively.
However, Pioli’s tweaks backfired, resulting in a timid and uncomfortable side that completely gave up their trademark intensity and pressure, patiently waiting for Inter in their own half, as if their only realistic goal was to pose a threat on sudden breaks and counterattacks.
What’s even worse, is that the Rossoneri coach conceded in a post-match interview that his side “would’ve struggled even more if we played our football, as we’re not as defensively solid as we were”. Put in other words, it seems like Pioli is running out of solutions to rebuild Milan’s compactness to the point that he’s neglecting what have been their major strengths in order to find the old certainties back.
As the referee blew the whistle at half time, there was a sense of bewilderment among the journalists in the press box, as the feeling was that Milan were “not even trying to play”, as they only seemed focused on limiting the damage.
Inter almost paid for their lack of intesity
Despite a crucial win that saw them consolidate their second place in Serie A, Inter should blame themselves for having kept this kind of game open for so long, proving they have learned little from last season’s mistakes.
After mustering an impressive nine shots (two on target) from the opening 45 minutes and deservedly finding the lead, the Nerazzurri somehow looked more and more relaxed with the passing of minutes, gradually easing their pressure on the visitors. It took a single moment of distraction to see Leao sprint his way up the pitch and play in Olivier Giroud, whose heavy touch on the ball just a few steps from André Onana‘s goal allowed Francesco Acerbi to clear the danger.
Conceding an equaliser to Milan after almost 60 minutes of absolute supremacy would’ve been a mortal sin for Inter, as well as a dangerous booster for the visitors, who could’ve gone in search of a late turnaround after being rejuvenated, in the same fashion as happened last year, when Giroud’s brace in the space of three minutes was enough to win the Rossoneri a game that the hosts had been controlling for long stretches.
All of this can’t take anything from Inter, whose confident and mature display is definitely good news for Inzaghi. A key feature was the way the players of the Nerazzurri’s midfield trio repeatedly switched positions, which made it extremely challenging for their opponents to keep track of their movements, creating further disorganisation in a system that the Diavolo already knew very little about.
The Biscione once again proved to have countless weapons to rely on when they’re inspired: Federico Dimarco‘s polished left foot, Nicolò Barella‘s relentless energy, Edin Dzeko‘s smartness and experience, not to mention the meteoric growth of World Cup winner Lautaro Martinez, now an all-round striker whose spirit and determination are a constant inspiration to the whole team.
However, they’ve already paid dearly in the past for having let their guard down when things seemed in control, a trait they should lose if they want to have a chance in the upcoming Champions League round of 16.
On the other side, the clock is ticking for Pioli, who has picked up his third consecutive Serie A defeat. With Torino, Tottenham, Monza and Atalanta coming next in Milan’s fixture list, the coach has little time to prove that the title-winning team is not just a fading memory.