Jose Mourinho’s Inter find themselves on the brink of a 4th straight Scudetto following a narrow victory over derby rivals Milan. First half goals from Adriano and Dejan Stankovic ensured the Nerazzurri left the San Siro not only with the city’s bragging rights, but a nine point cushion at the top of Serie A.
In an enthralling evening in Milan, both sides played their part in what was an incredibly open and entertaining affair, completely void of any signs of the high stakes on offer. The tone was set in just the first minute when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was left unmarked in the area, only to head over from eight yards out. To be fair to the lanky Swede, Esteban Cambiasso’s inswinging free kick was perhaps a bit too high for the striker.
But for that early chance, the Rossoneri had the better of the opening exchanges with Gianluca Zambrotta and Alexandre Pato both threatening Julio Cesar’s goal with early attempts, as Carlo Ancelotti’s side proceeded to play some neat football. But the game’s first clear cut opportunity fell to il Biscione. A flowing move resulted in Cambiasso squaring for the on rushing Stankovic who, with just Christian Abbiati to beat, hesitated on the ball leaving Massimo Ambrosini to make a desperate last ditch tackle. As heroic as the dynamic midfield man had been in preventing a sure goal, Inter’s Serbian playmaker wanted way too much time and should have got his shot away before Ambrosini’s heroics.
But again il Diavolo pressed the league leaders and when Ronaldinho began to find his range, the side in red and white started created opportunities. The brilliant Brazilian sent a ball through for his compatriot Pato, who after rounding Julio Cesar found the angle far too tight to muster any kind of attempt on goal. Pato was again gifted another chance thanks to Dinho’s sublime delivery, this time the former Barcelona man curling in an inswinging cross only for Pato’s faintest of touches to fall safely into Cesar’s grateful arms.
However, Inter took the lead against the run of play thanks to a superb cross from marauding full back Douglas Maicon. The Brazilian found space on the right and bent in a beautiful cross that teased the Milan keeper leaving Adriano with the simplest of headers. Yet controversy surrounded the goal, as Adriano’s header seemed to strike his flailing arm on it’s way in. Abbiati’s protests were to no avail and the Rossoneri were right to feel hard done by.
Milan regrouped well and Pato had yet another effort, this time only finding the side netting with Ronaldinho the creator once more. But il Diavolo were hit with a sucker punch just minutes before the break when lazy defending lead to Stankovic lashing home on the volley following Ibra’s flick on. Andrea Pirlo was the guilty party as he failed to track the midfield runner while Ibra was able to win his header far too easily in what was the definition of a simple goal – although it was extremely well taken by the Serb.
The half time score line was harsh on Ancelotti’s side and it became clear Stankovic’s goal had really knocked the stuffing out of the visitors. The Rossoneri returned for the second half looking like wounded soldiers – a root back into the match (and the championship) looked as good as impossible with defeat seeming all but inevitable. Kakha Kaladze misjudged a high ball, leaving Adriano racing in on goal with just the keeper to beat – only to fire wide, proving how hurt and disorientated the Rossoneri were. Moments later the Nerazzurri had another chance to put the game out of sight, with Ibrahimovic’s low cross proving just too heavy for his strike partner.
Ancelotti tried to rally his troops after their out-of-sorts start to the half and his side began to force their way back into the match. Ambrosini went over in the box from pressure by Stankovic but the referee waved away Milan’s penalty claims before the Milan midfielder was lucky to stay on the pitch when he felled Maicon on the edge of his own penalty box – much to Mourinho’s disgust. 57 minutes saw the departure of the tireless but ineffective David Beckham – a largely disappointing showing from the England man who departed with a worrying thigh strain adding further woe on a painful night for Becks. Fillipo Inzaghi replaced the former England skipper as il Diavolo reverted to 4-4-2 in the search for a way back into the match.
But it was la Beneamata who were creating the better openings with Ibrahimovic forcing a smart save from Abbiati which was quickly followed by Adriano’s ambitious bicycle kick from the resulting corner. Inter continued to slice through the Rossoneri backline but the game was placed back in the balance – largely down to Ronnie’s brilliance. A delicious reverse ball turned Maicon inside out and Marek Jankulovski fed Pato who slotted home from eight yards.
Milan started to believe now, and Ronnie’s craft sent Inzaghi hurtling through on goal only to be foiled by Cesar as he raced out of his goal. At the other end Adriano found himself bearing down on goal with just the keeper to beat but his shot was beat away by the Milan stopper as the Nerazzurri again let slip a chance to bury the game. The game became breathless and frantic as both sides proceeded to carve out openings and Milan found themselves celebrating as Inzaghi’s stunning volley nestled high in the net – only for it to be disallowed (correctly) for offside.
There was still plenty of late drama to unfold with the wily Inzaghi at the centre of most of it. Firstly ‘Pippo’ was left screaming for a penalty after Christian Chivu had rather blatantly pulled him to the ground and in stoppage time the 35-year-old was sent clear only for his low, angled effort to be poked away by the outstretched foot of Julio Cesar. It proved to be the last action of an excellent game, which will all but end the Rossoneri’s challenge for an eighteenth Scudetto, while Inter will surely be celebrating a fourth successive title as Mourinho looks back on possibly his greatest night at the San Siro thus far – a truly memorable 270th Derby della Madonnina.
With such a massive derby taking place at the top of the table, you could have been forgiven for forgetting there were 18 other teams in action this weekend.
Both Milan sides were given a boost earlier on Sunday when Juventus were held at home by Sampdoria. Antonio Cassano slid a beautiful pass through for Giampaolo Pazzini who coolly opened the scoring on ten minutes. Claudio Ranieri’s side huffed and puffed for the remaining 80 minutes but could only muster a second half Amauri header to save their blushes, despite hitting the woodwork on three occasions.
Elsewhere, in form Roma were thumped at Atalanta, reminiscent of Inter’s heavy reverse in Bergamo earlier last month. Cristiano Doni was the hero then and he proved his quality again bagging a brace in four second half minutes. This following Daniele Capelli’s first Serie A goal as the Giallorossi collapsed after the break.
With Luciano Spalletti’s side slipping up, the game at the Marassi became even more priceless as both Genoa or Fiorentina could cement fourth spot. And what a game it was. The Rossoblu taking an early lead thanks to Thiago Motta’s clever goal with the home side’s joy turned quickly to despair as Giuseppe Biava’s silly lunge earned himself a second yellow and his marching orders. However, unbelievably the Grifone were three up before the hour mark as Raffaele Palladino’s tap and Diego Milito’s penalty set up what looked like a precious win. But up step Adrian Mutu – a penalty, a free kick and a stunning injury time strike earned the Romanian the match ball and la Viola a sensational point.
Elsewhere, Cagliari continued their fine 2009 form as they comfortably dispatched lowly Lecce to move up to seventh, courtesy of goals from Michele Fini and Alessandro Matri.
Lazio again endured a miserable weekend, culminating with the Biancocelesti being jeered off at the final whistle following their draw with Torino. Sebastiano Siviglia’s late header cancelled out Ignazio Abate’s 36th minute rocket but it’s six without a win for Delio Rossi’s men as they stay 11th.
Meanwhile, Napoli’s terrible slump also continued as they were held at home by Bologna, with Marco Di Vaio netting his 16th of the season to cancel out Christian Maggio’s opener. Di Vaio still stands at the top of the scoring charts but his latest strike was courtesy of some horrendous defending as following two failed clearances the Napoli goalkeeper let slip a Sergio Volpi effort, affording the former Valencia man a simple tap in.
Elsewhere, Antonio Di Natale forced a share of the spoils at Siena, equalising late on after Massimo Maccarone’s second half rebounded penalty, leaving both sides languishing in mid table.
The clash of two relegation rivals Chievo and Catania played out a score draw at the Stadio Bentegodi, with former Rossazzurri man Giuseppe Colucci heading in the equaliser in second half injury time. This after Pablo Ledesma had put Walter Zenga’s men on their way with an early penalty. The last-gasp equaliser ensured Ceo’s unbeaten start to 2009 and their fourth consecutive 1-1 draw.
Palermo’s goalless draw at rock bottom Reggina did little for either side in terms of their season’s respective aims, but it was all about the big derby on Week 24 in Serie A.
Come May we will almost certainly be looking back to Sunday 15th February as the day that saw Jose Mourinho effectively clinch the Scudetto crown at the first time of asking.
Nine points is surely too much, especially while Ranieri and Ancelotti continue to slip up while the unspectacular juggernaut that is Inter Milan rolls on.
Inter 2-1 Milan
Juventus 1-1 Sampdoria
Atalanta 3-0 Roma
Genoa 3-3 Fiorentina
Cagliari 2-0 Lecce
Chievo 1-1 Catania
Lazio 1-1 Torino
Napoli 1-1 Bologna
Reggina 0-0 Palermo
Siena 1-1 Udinese