By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
The end of Juventus’ 49-match unbeaten run may have surprised some, but the architect surely shocked nobody at all. Diego Milito, the man who scores big-game goals like nobody else in Serie A, did it once again for Inter on Saturday night.
‘El Principe’ scores four goals every time the Nerazzurri step out at San Siro. As the two sides leave the tunnel to enter the field of play, Inter’s club anthem ‘C’e solo l’Inter’ is blasted out of the PA system, with the accompanying video shown on the Meazza’s big screens.
The latest version includes images of the Argentine’s marvellous May of 2010. The winning goal in the Coppa Italia, the title-winner against Siena, and then those two superb finishes which capped everything off in Madrid. Whenever people talk of the tripletta, they talk of Milito.
But for a long time afterwards, it appeared that the crescendo to 2009-10 would be the only peak in his Inter career. The following season he netted only five times in Serie A, and just eight in total in 36 games. Inter even signed Giampaolo Pazzini in January 2011 to plug the gap left by the goals Milito was failing to score, and for a while it worked. The problem for Inter was that Pazzini couldn’t sustain that form. It turned out he wasn’t the ‘nuovo Milito’, nor were Diego Forlan or Mauro Zarate.
Instead, the new Milito has turned out to be Milito himself, and his amazing run in 2012 has reminded many of the heady heights of May 2010. Sure, the big games have come in very different guises this year, but that can take nothing away from his achievements. His 27 goals have put him among the best finishers in the sport during the current calendar year, with only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scoring more. But, unlike the two big stars of the modern game, his record has been strung together for a side struggling to have the effect they had been so used to having on the top end of the game.
|MOST LEAGUE GOALS SCORED IN 2012
His goals have come in big occasions too. Three in the Derby della Madonnina in May ended AC Milan’s hopes of back-to-back Scudetti and instead handed the title to Juventus. And in Saturday’s Derby d’Italia, the 33-year-old grabbed two more to throw the Bianconeri’s reign into doubt for the first time. After netting 20 goals in the second half of last season, he could easily have found the summer break to be divisive in his attempts to reach the top of the game once more, but instead he has become an even better player.
With Andrea Stramaccioni looking to build a new, more effective Inter after a sensational 24-month nosedive out of contention at home and abroad, Milito has become a more all-round forward. Much more than before, he is showing an appetite for work; dropping back to help build attacks for a midfield which is slower and less creative than in times gone by. The Nerazzurri now look to bring in their forwards earlier and deeper than has previously been the case, and the Argentine has shown a real willingness to be a part of that. But the bonus is that it has changed his ability to grab the goals not one iota.
As Inter’s nine-match winning run has developed, Milito has continued to bang in the goals. He has now scored four over the past seven days and, for the fourth time in 2012, he has netted in three successive league fixtures, boasting at least one multi-goal game in each run. In a 49-match streak that will never be forgotten by Juventus fans, the one thing that will stick out is their lack of a prolific finisher in that time, with Alessandro Matri leading the way on just 12 goals. Milito, meanwhile, hit 13 in his first 13 games of 2012.
The historic victory at Juventus Stadium suddenly throws the Beneamata into the spotlight, with new expectations to deal with for the first time in the Stramaccioni era. But if there is one man they can rely on to step up to the plate and do the business on a regular basis as they look to build a Scudetto challenge of real note, it is Milito.
He is the one thing Juve have lacked and the biggest single weapon that Inter can rely on come rain or shine. Milito continues to make the difference when it matters.