Milito 10, Pandev 66
Sometimes on the big occasion, what is just as important as the impact of the result is what it tells you about the two teams involved. This proved to be the case on Sunday evening as Inter beat their arch-rivals to move nine points clear at the top of Serie A.
The failure to turn the match around despite having a man advantage for over an hour, and a missed penalty with the prospect of a grandstand finish against nine men tells its own story. Much-improved as they have been in recent weeks, the Rossoneri are not yet Scudetto material. The absence of Alessandro Nesta was telling against quality opposition. Giuseppe Favalli looked every moment of his 38 years against the Nerazzurri’s vibrant front-line. Defending deep as a result, Inter’s Macedonian maverick Goran Pandev tormented them with direct running from withdrawn positions. Never was his danger more evident than when he supplied Diego Milito, who opened the scoring early on.
Even a moment of petulance from Wesley Sneijder was not enough to spur Milan on to greater things. Their greater share of the ball was not equating to clear-cut openings. A calico equivalent of writer’s block seemed to engulf them in the final third. In contrast to their rival’s telepathic strikeforce, Ronaldinho, Marco Borriello and the advanced David Beckham played with a lack of cohesion and collective guile. Their more energetic start to the second half was ended when a breakaway saw Pandev first nine-iron one on to Dida’s near post, then produce an exquisitely flighted free-kick – Favalli again dragged out of his comfort zone and making the fatal encroachment.
The last half hour saw a demoralised Milan side knocking the ball sideways. This writer noted it was a tacit admission by the Rossoneri they had exhausted their already limited set of ideas. Like a pugilist a mile behind on points near the end of a fight, they were throwing tired, telegraphed punches that the deep-lying Inter defence were reading easily. The injury-time penalty miss from a peripheral Ronaldinho felt like an epitaph to Milan’s Scudetto challenge. It may well turn out to have been. What will most alarm followers of the Rossoneri is the way their team failed to engage and take the game to their opponents. To continue the earlier analogy, a contender must decisively wrest the belt away from the champion. Milan did not look like a side who genuinely believed they could do this on Sunday evening.
The Nerazzurri have not looked themselves in recent weeks. It is noticeable that Esteban Cambiasso’s return made such difference, providing them with additional balance and resilience in midfield. Milan looked lightweight in that area and on a night when they needed a big performance from the Gennaro Gattuso, their midfield enforcer was uncharacteristically lethargic. This gave the Nerazzurri the chance to enforce their superiority. With their arch-rivals short in terms of both personnel and mentality, it’s theirs to lose now.