After years of watching Inter dominate Serie A and following the historic treble last season, Milan were finally able to overcome the Nerazzurri achieving a psychologically important 1-0 victory. The scoreline does not reflect the fact that the Rossoneri were not troubled by Inter, with the exception of two long-range strikes by Wesley Sneijder, despite being a man down after Ignazio Abate was sent-off for shoving Goran Pandev. Both Pandev and Abate should have been sent-off as the Macedonian was the aggressor but Abate deserved the yellow card for his retaliation. Regardless of the incident, Inter proved toothless and it was more about Inter’s alarming lack of firepower as opposed to Milan’s solid defensive performance. The Rossoneri’s Coach Massimiliano Allegri seems to be intent on relying on two attackers while using four midfielders, three of whom are renowned for their physical prowess in addition to one with playmaking skills in veteran Dutchman Clarence Seedorf.
The morale boosting triumph does not guarantee the Scudetto but certainly provides hope for wrestling the title away from Inter. While Lazio are currently second in the standings, it is the Nerazzurri who must be feared the most due to their vast experience and deep squad which has been depleted by injuries. Milan were not troubled by their opponents even after Abate’s sending-off, yet the victory does not erase the troubling signs which could see the club’s season end in tears of disappointment. Allegri has recently attempted to rectify the team’s inability to track back and provide protection for the defensive line by removing an attacker and replacing him with a midfielder in the starting line-up, but this alone might not suffice. Age might be one reason why the Rossoneri struggle to track back when they are under attack as Gennaro Gattuso, Seedorf and Massimo Ambrosini are all on the wrong side of 30. Andrea Pirlo is only getting older while Mathieu Flamini has yet to establish himself as an undisputed starter despite being at Milanello for the last few years. Summer signing Kevin-Prince Boateng provides fresh legs and much in terms of endeavour yet he is not on the same talent level as Pirlo or Seedorf while he is lacking when compared to the combative Gattuso in his heyday.
Quicker and more aggressive teams will expose Milan’s frailties as shown by both Real Madrid and Juventus. Even Bari managed to score twice to expose how resorting to a pressing game, restricting space for creative players and using the wings to attack the full-backs can be the ideal blueprint to overcome il Diavolo. The long-term injury to Filippo Inzaghi, sidelined for the rest of the season, and Alexandre Pato’s absence, likely out until early 2011, as well as Ronaldinho’s well-documented struggles have left Milan alarmingly short on the attacking front. Allegri has recently preferred to bench Ronaldinho and did not even bother to introduce him as a second-half substitute on Sunday, adding further fuel to rumours about the Brazilian’s potential departure in January. While some argue Milan will need Ronaldinho after the injuries to Inzaghi and Pato, those same critics fail to realise there is a need for a goal scorer to complement Ibrahimović as opposed to an attacking playmaker in the mold of Ronaldinho. The Rossoneri have Robinho who is different to Ronaldinho but remains more of a creator than a finisher. Robinho continues to struggle whenever presented with scoring opportunities and considering the season is almost one-third completed, this could be a sign of things to come from the enigmatic forward.
Allegri will be desperate to add a goal poacher during the transfer window because he cannot afford to rely on Ibrahimović. Against the Nerazzurri, the big Swede not only earned and converted the winning penalty, but was also at the centre of almost every dangerous move with his teammates often looking for him. Ibra has helped turn around Milan’s fortunes but he could also signal their downfall if the over-reliance on his talent continues since an injury or suspension could effectively destroy the Rossoneri’s ambitions to win the Scudetto. Furthermore, the former Inter star cannot lead il Diavolo to a Champions League triumph without some considerable help from his teammates as the European competition has little room for error with teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Milan must not overlook the Nerazzurri, who are still one of the main challengers once Lazio lose their early momentum, while once giants Juventus are still a few players short of being serious contenders. The league is a marathon and not a short race which is precisely why Inter cannot be disregarded. For Allegri, the satisfaction of beating Inter must be immense, particularly after the disappointing draw with Real Madrid and the home defeat to Juventus. Vice-President Adriano Galliani hinted beating the Nerazzurri would pave the way to winning the league title yet he overlooked the 26 remaining fixtures.