The Milan derby is without doubt one of the biggest and most eagerly anticipated football matches every season. Personally, I consider it the biggest game in Europe because of the city rivalry and the unbeatable atmosphere the both sets of fans produce at the stadium they both play at, a stadium which is possibly the most impressive in Europe. Add the usually restless nature of the match itself with passion, flowing energy and technical quality to marvel at and you might understand why I rate this derby so highly. The encounter on Sunday night between Luciano Spalletti’s Inter and Vincenzo Montella’s Milan proved no different from previous clashes as the game had absolutely everything. Here’s how it unfolded.
Inter set up in there normal 4-2-3-1 with Handanovic in goal, D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Miranda and Nagatomo in defence, Gagliardini and Vecino as the double pivot with Borja Valero as the number 10 flanked by Antonio Candreva and Ivan Perisic with Mauro Icardi up front. Milan have recently changed to a 3-5-2 (3-5-1-1, really) and Montella stuck with that formation for the derby. Donnarumma was in goal and the back three was Mateo Musacchio, Leonardo Bonucci and Alessio Romagnoli. Borini and Rodriguez started as wing-backs with Lucas Biglia the playmaker centrally behind Kessie and Bonaventura. Suso played just off Andre Silva up front. The two formations can be seen below.
Inter started strongly and started pressing Milan straight from the first whistle. Icardi lead the press, often pressing Bonucci or cutting off the option to play into the Italian quarterback-like defender. Romagnoli and Musacchio both struggled to cope with the pressure from Inter’s front four and sent their first passes long without a target which lead to Inter dominating possession early on and Milan having very short attacks. The poor distribution from Donnarumma certainly didn’t help either, as the marvellously talented goalkeeper gave away quite simple kicks early on. The clip below is one occasion when Inter angle their press towards Romagnoli and cut off any central passing option to force the longer pass which is intercepted and Inter can start a new attack.
When Milan could beat the press and progress up the pitch, Inter’s set up in a deeper 4-4-1-1 where the duo of Roberto Gagliardini and Matias Vecino dominated the midfield both technically and physically. Inter’s defensive shape can be seen below and the duo in midfield mixed man-orientated pressing high up the pitch with more positional coverage when deeper. Valero had similar instructions, but mostly stayed close to Biglia to prevent the Argentine playmaker from running the show.
As I’ve covered previously on this site, the big change in Spalletti’s Inter is their improved ball-circulation. The additions of Skriniar, Vecino and Valero has allowed Inter to be more confident and composed in possession, as well as the passing ability to be more vertical when the opportunity arises. Spalletti continued with his deployment of one central midfielder outside the oppositions two strikers in order to receive the ball in the half-space to attract pressure from an opposition central midfielder. In the video below, Kessie’s man-orientated defending is exploited as the movement of Gagliardini attracts the Ivorian which later sees Inter create a chance in the space Kessie otherwise would have defended.
The Slovakian Milan Skriniar is probably still unknown to fans outside Serie A, but make no mistake, this is a sublime footballer. Skriniar is very intelligent, both in terms of positioning, reading the game and in his use of the ball in possession. Inter carved Milan open down their right a few times and Skriniar’s passing was key in this regard. He fed passes that split Milan’s midfield line on a number of occasions, as in the video below as he exploits the poor positioning of Giacomo Bonaventura.
Inter deservedly went ahead when Mauro Icardi finished a well-worked move brilliantly. First of all, Valero wins the ball in midfield before a quick combination between Danilo D’Ambrosio and Candreva set the winger free down the right. Candreva’s early cross is superb and Icardi’s finish is brilliant, but Bonucci could have prevented the goal by adjusting his position by just a few meters to stop the cross. As you see, Bonucci is a few centimetres away from stopping the cross from reaching Icardi and by a few quick steps towards his goal before the cross was fired in would have seen him clear the cross comfortably.
In the second half, Montella made an almost desperate change when introducing teenage striker Patrick Cutrone in place of Kessie. Cutrone lined up next to Silva with Suso dropping to central midfield as Milan now went with two strikers and a midfield three with two attacking midfielders/wingers ahead of Biglia. The reaction was as Montella had hoped though, Milan started dominating possession and pushed Inter deep. When Suso equalised, the goal wasn’t in any way surprising.
The goal itself was courtesy of weak defending from Perisic. As the video illustrates, Perisic and Gagliardini had the situation in control with the Croatian tight to Suso and Gagliardini in support. Then Musacchio makes an overlapping run and Perisic points to Gagliardini to follow the run. Gagliardini duly does, thus leaving his covering position centrally. Perisic then still follows Musacchio’s run, leaving his midfield colleague stranded in no man’s land and Suso with a clear route towards goal. And his finish is great.
Inter reacted quickly though, when uncharacteristic sloppiness from Biglia saw him robbed by Icardi who then started a counter-attack with Perisic. The Croatian made up for his earlier mistake as he delivered a great cross to Icardi who finished emphatically after acrobatically adjusting his body shape when preparing to finish. World class finishing. Questions will be raised by Biglia’s positioning as Icardi shoots, he’s become desperate to make up for his loss of possession and is in support of Musacchio and has thus left the centre where he’s supposed to be. I’ve seen people blame Bonucci for this goal which is simply wrong as Milan’s positional penalty area defending has him in the right position. Same goes for Romagnoli at the far post.
A restless encounter wasn’t finished though, as Milan would equalise again after a prolonged spell of pressure following Icardi’s second goal. Inter had changed into a back-five by this point after Joao Cancelo replaced Candreva and moved into right-back with D’Ambrosio joining Skriniar and Miranda centrally and Nagatomo to the left. Rodriguez changes side with a cross-field pass to Borini. As you see below, Cancelo starts in the same position as Bonaventura but is slow to adjust his position as the ball travels. As Borini cuts in and crosses towards the back-post, Bonaventura nips in ahead of Cancelo and the ball is forced over the line by the unfortunate Handanovic who’s excellent save was undone by his trailing leg.
A superb derby still had one more twist, as D’Ambrosio was pulled down in the penalty area by Rodriguez and Icardi stepped up, sent Donnarumma to his right and placed the ball to the goalkeeper’s left. 3-2, hat-trick and Inter win the derby della Madonnina.
The derby was a great advert of Italian football as the tempo was insanely high at times, the technical quality great and the tactical battle between two bright coaching minds saw the experienced Spalletti beat his former player Montella. For Inter, the win means they are just two points behind Napoli as the top two go head-to-head next weekend at San Paolo. For Milan, a strong second half meant they deserved a point in a restless encounter. Unfortunately, they don’t have luck on their side right now, but Montella’s tactical changes saw a sharp rise in their performance in the second half and the attitude shown by the players to recover twice from going behind tells us that maybe Milan have turned a corner. Next week, they play Genoa at home and will desperately need a result. Going by this performance they will get it and then the future will look brighter for both Milan clubs who both impressed in a superb derby.