By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
As confidence boosters go it was not the biggest shot in the arm, but Inter’s 1-1 draw with AC Milan in the latest Derby della Madonnina is the closest thing they have had to a giant leap forward in quite some time.
But it was not only the fact the Nerazzurri earned a point against Serie A’s form team that will have given them reason to hope, it was also in the way that it happened. Because at half-time, Milan were not just leading, they were dominating. Stephan El Shaarawy had put the Rossoneri in front on 21 minutes, but by that time they had already missed a couple of good chances.
With Inter’s right showing no resistance at all, Mattia De Sciglio and El Shaarawy were having a field day. De Sciglio himself could well have finished off his own marauding run early on, then he whipped in a cross for Mario Balotelli, who somehow slipped just six yards from goal and allowed Samir Handanovic to collect the resulting loose ball.
After El Shaarawy fired home a shot with the outside of his right boot to give Milan a deserved lead, the Rossoneri should really have gone to town on their neighbours. The fact that the score remained 1-0 for so long was largely down to a mix of Balotelli’s continued profligacy and Handanovic’s heroics.
First, the Slovenian produced an astonishing save to keep out the former Inter front man, throwing up a strong hand to prevent Balotelli’s header from doubling the Diavolo’s lead. It was one of the better stops you will ever see in a local derby anywhere in the world. Within minutes though, Balotelli should have buried a chance from another De Sciglio cross, but fired his instinctive effort straight at Handanovic. Then when the striker had another effort from a free kick 30 yards out, the ex-Udinese keeper was again equal to it. As one-on-one contests go, it was becoming enthralling.
|MATCH FACTS | Inter 1-1 Milan
The feeling at half-time was that Milan were deserving of at least a second goal, such was their dominance, but Inter gave a much better account of themselves after the interval. After the smoke from the flares of the Curva Nord had finally passed in the second half, it was the home side who were starting to really press. Andrea Stramaccioni’s decision to switch Yuto Nagatomo and Javier Zanetti in order to give them greater protection on De Sciglio’s flank helped to quell some of Milan’s threat, while they also attacked with more purpose themselves.
Finally they were asking questions of Massimiliano Allegri’s side, and it was not much of a surprise when they equalised. Antonio Nocerino allowed Nagatomo to cross from the left, and the flight of the ball was completely misjudged by Philippe Mexes, who allowed substitute Ezequiel Schelotto to head home just three minutes into his Milan derby debut.
Having superbly kept out an earlier volley from Fredy Guarin, Christian Abbiati was then called upon to keep Milan in the game as Schelotto looked to notch again late on, but while Inter would not record all three points they did at least show the fight that is in this squad.
They have won just two league games in 2013, and have near-relegation form to show for their past 15 Serie A fixtures, but this was proof that they still have something. While against Fiorentina last week they showed no inkling as to how to defend a threat, they were able to manage to quell the problem posed by Milan’s left-hand side which had threatened to overwhelm them. What is more, where recently they have looked short of ideas on the ball, they offered enough in the second half to be worthy of their equaliser.
Yes, were it not for Handanovic they would likely have been dead and buried long before. Yes, if Balotelli had been that little bit sharper Milan could well have been out of sight. But the reality is that Inter showed the kind of character to get back into the game that they will need to get back into a position to challenge for a Champions League spot.
Third place remains a long way off, but if the Nerazzurri can continue to fight against the odds as they did on Sunday night, then their participation in the race for third place will at least be alive for a little while longer.
- Juventus extended their lead at the top of Serie A to seven points ahead of Napoli’s trip to Udinese on Monday night thanks to a 3-0 win over Siena at Juventus Stadium. Goals from Stephan Lichtsteiner, Sebastian Giovinco and Paul Pogba pushed them one win closer to a second successive Scudetto, but perhaps more encouraging than the result or the performance was the return of Giorgio Chiellini, who played his first 15 minutes of first-team football in 2013 after recovering from a torn calf muscle. The big defender’s absence coincided with a poor run for the Bianconeri, and his return to action ahead of some key fixtures will be seen as a massive boost in Turin.
- Palermo did what Palermo do best this weekend. They sacked yet another coach. The 19-day reign of Alberto Malesani was ended after a 0-0 draw with Genoa which saw the Rosanero stay rooted to the bottom of the league six points from safety. The recall of former coach Gian Piero Gasperini less than three weeks after his dismissal marks the 26th change of leadership in less than 11 years during Maurizio Zamparini’s presidency. To some, the madcap patron is a figure of fun who makes football interesting, but the Sicilians’ supporters must now be wondering how many more sackings there will be before the inevitable relegation at the end of the season.
- Cagliari’s clash with Torino provided a thrilling climax to a testing week on the island of Sardinia, with the 4-3 victory only being clinched deep into stoppage time after the Rossoblu had managed to throw away an earlier lead against nine men. While so much else has gone on behind the scenes at the club this term, the wonderful job done by Ivo Pulga since he took over is worthy of significant recognition, and his team added three more points thanks to Daniele Conti’s 95th-minute winner against the Granata. But that only came after Davide Astori had handed Roland Bianchi a penalty equaliser moments earlier, despite Torino having been reduced in numbers thanks to red cards for Angelo Ogbonna and Abou Diop. Nothing is ever straight-forward for Cagliari!