By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent
A Rodrigo Palacio wondergoal earned Inter the Christmas bragging rights in the city of Milan on Sunday night, but for the losers it was just the last in a long list of forgettable experiences in 2013.
There have been fantastically memorable Milan derbies over the years, but this was not one of them. Prior to the Argentine’s superb 85th-minute winner, there had been almost nothing to shout about from either side. If any game ever deserved to finish 0-0 it was this one, but Palacio ensured that Inter rubbed their rivals’ noses in the mud before saying goodbye to an equally disappointing calendar year for the Nerazzurri.
Fredy Guarin bought half a yard of space on the right from which to drive in a low cross. Running away from goal and marked tightly by Cristian Zapata, Palacio delivered a fantastic flicked shot with his right foot, fooling Christian Abbiati to win the derby with a skilful strike completely uncharacteristic of the game in which it had been scored.
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Inter probably should have had a penalty soon after when Zapata clipped Palacio in a tackle from behind, but referee Paolo Silvio Mazzoleni didn’t see enough in the incident to award a spot-kick. He also chose to overlook a horrific tackle by Sulley Muntari on Jonathan moments before half-time. The Ghanaian eventually got his just desserts, seeing red for charging into Zdravko Kuzmanovic during a melee in injury time.
But despite having the better of much of the general play, not being penalised for Zapata’s foul, and having seen Muntari given a reprieve, Massimiliano Allegri’s side had nothing of real note to throw at a side who had conceded seven goals in their previous two fixtures.
Walter Mazzarri had arguably got his tactics all wrong in deciding to allow Milan onto his Inter side, but the Rossoneri had nowhere near the required amount of quality or desire to punish the former Napoli coach.
Instead, Milan were left to suffer a sixth defeat this season. At the close of 2013, they have now collected four wins in 17 Serie A fixtures. Yes, FOUR! Last term, it took a superb run either side of Christmas for them to claim a top-three spot, but right now they face the task of earning 53 points – or 17 wins and two draws – in their remaining 21 games to match last season’s tally.
Even then, they would be left hoping that Roma, Napoli, Fiorentina and Inter suffer dramatic downturns in form for such a total to prove sufficient to send them to the Champions League. It is fair to say that they won’t be finishing third this time around.
“Here’s to future headlines” said Mario Balotelli and Puma in their pre-match advertising push, but the only news at Milanello right now is bad news. Now is the time to forget this season and start to build for next term. If the Italian newspapers are right and Milan are looking to replace Allegri in the summer, then they should get on with the change now. There is no longer any point in waiting.
While Inter have staged a mini-recovery since Mazzarri took over from Andrea Stramaccioni in the summer, their cugini are worse now than they were a year ago. Their supposed rebuilding is so far taking them backwards.
"I have never seen Milan being run in a less serious manner than it is now," blasted ex-Milan star-turned-pundit Zvonimir Boban in an angry post-match analysis on Sky Sport Italia. "It's the worst of the Galliani era.
Milan will be glad to see the back of 2013, but they must act now to ensure that 2014 doesn't go the same way.