Milan overcame rivals Internazionale 1-0 in a feisty derby at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza despite being reduced to 10 men, as they reclaimed top spot, displacing Lazio in the Serie A table.
In what was the first Derby della Madonnina for both Rafa Benitez and Massimiliano Allegri, the visitors knew they could leapfrog Lazio to the top of the league table with a win over their local rivals, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s fifth-minute spot kick gave them what was exactly required.
The Nerazzurri have won the past three Milan derbies under Jose Mourinho, but even after Ignazio Abate was sent off for Milan after a petulant second yellow card in the second half, Rafael Benitez’s side could not muster a response, as the champions saw their 52-match unbeaten home run ended by their rivals.
Both sides had injury setbacks, with the hosts without Walter Samuel, Maicon, Sulley Muntari, Thiago Motta,and keeper Julio Cesar, while Milan missed the services of Daniele Bonera and Massimo Oddo.
Milan were straight on the attack from the outset; Seedorf had a great chance in the third minute to head home from seven yards off a cross from Abate, but the Dutchman put the header over the bar much to the relief of the Inter faithful. Yet, it wasn’t too late before the visitors capitalized, when Ibrahimovic was hauled down by Marco Materazzi just inside the Inter box. The Rossoneri were presented a golden opportunity to open the scoring, which Ibrahimovic seized and dispatched with aplomb, before declining to celebrate.
The former Inter striker almost doubled his tally in the 20th minute as he lashed a sweetly-struck volley beyond Luca Castellazzi, only for the ball to dip narrowly over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Robinho had the ball in the back of the net after finding a composed finish from Ibrahimovic’s incisive through ball, but the Brazilian was greeted with the offside flag as he wheeled away to celebrate.
Zlatan haunts his ex-team Inter
Joel Obi was forced off with a hamstring injury for Inter eight minutes before the break, and after initially deciding to introduce Esteban Cambiasso into the mix, Benitez swiftly changed his mind and threw on the youngster Coutinho in his place.
Milan could easily have been reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half time, as Gennaro Gattuso, who had already been booked earlier in the half, scythed down Wesley Sneijder cynically and could only thinly veil his relief at the referee’s leniency.
The Interisti thought their side had restored parity four minutes before the interval, but Sneijder’s free-kick had only crashed into the side-netting and thereby ensured that the visitors would take a one-goal lead into the second half.
Both sides made half-time changes, with Massimiliano Allegri taking the opportunity to replace Gennaro Gattuso, who was walking a tightrope after an early booking, with Andrea Pirlo, while Rafael Benitez threw on Goran Pandev in place of the ineffectual Diego Milito.
The Nerazzurri continued where they left off in the first half, with Sneijder firing in a couple of testing long range drives in the first ten minutes of the second half. Sneijder went closer still in the 56th minute, with a powerful 35-yard free-kick which Christian Abbiati did well to bat away with a strong double-handed save.
Milan made life extremely difficult for themselves just after the hour mark, as Abate engaged in a petulant and entirely unnecessary bout of handbags with Goran Pandev halfway through; both players earned a yellow card – a second in the midfielder’s case, and he was dismissed.
Sneijder had yet another strike from distance saved by Abbiati, while Dejan Stankovic failed to hit the target with a similar effort six minutes later.
With Inter throwing everything into attack, Milan almost added to their lead with a quick counter in the 68th minute, but Seedorf’s snap-shot finished inches wide of the top right corner post.
But Allegri’s side were undeterred by their numerical disadvantage, and Inter were unable to break their opponents down in a scrappy and frustrating finish to the match for the home side.
The defeat sees Benitez’s side fail to build on their fifth-place, while rivals Milan assume a one-point lead at the top of the Serie A table above Lazio.
With plenty of injuries at stake, Inter fans will be hopeful of a turnaround after this defeat, with Rafa Benitez hoping he can get something out of the January transfer window to strengthen his already fragile squad.
TheHardTackle’s Player of the Match:
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Milan)
The Swede was a thorn for his former side throughout the match, as he scored the all important penalty after being bought down by Materazzi. He also set up a number of chances for his teammates, who couldn’t capitalize on the same. The ex-Inter man released Robinho beautifully in the 22nd minute only for the Brazilian to be flagged offside after he had put the ball into the back of the net. He also held up the ball brilliantly at times, keeping the possession for the Rossoneri, which was more so important for them after being down to 10 men shortly after the hour mark. His name went into the referee’s book after a high boot challenge on Materazzi after 65 minutes, but there is no doubt he was the star man of the show, for all his finesse and hard work.
TheHardTackle’s Referee Report Card:
Paolo Tagliavento : Grade – B+
The Italian referee had a tough match to keep up with, as he along with his linesmen was bound to make several crucial decisions in the fiesty derby; all the three of them got it right a number of times. One such decision came as early as the 5th minute when Ibrahimovic was bought down by Materazzi, and the Italian pointed to the spot. His linesman was correct to rule out Robinho’s goal for offside in the 22nd minute after the Brazilian was sent through. But his toughest decision of the lot came on the eve of the hour mark after petulant acts by both Abate and Pandev, and he was right to send off the Milan man. One more crucial decision was to allow Gattusso to stay on the pitch, whenthe Italian made a ragged challenge on Sneijder, after already being booked on the 19th minute. Inter fans argued against the referee, but the referee got it right to warn Gattusso for the last time.
Inter 0-1 Milan
Venue: Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Internazionale line-up: Castelazzi; Cordoba, Lucio, Materazzi (Bibiany 68′), Chivu, Zanetti, Obi (Coutinho 36′), Sneijder , Stankovic, Eto’o, Milito (Pandev 46′)
Manager: Rafael Benitez
Cautions: Goran Pandev (60′)
Sent Off: None
AC Milan line-up: Abbiati, Abate, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Zambrotta, Flamini, Ambrosini, Gattusso (Pirlo 46′), Seedorf (Boateng 73′), Robinho (Antonnini 62′), Ibrahimovic
Manager: Massimiliano Allegri
Cautions: Abate (11′, 60′), Ambrosini (80′), Gattuso (19′), Ibrahimovic (65′)
Sent Off: Abate(60′)
Scorers: Ibrahimovic(5′ PK)