AC Milan were left to rue the fact they could not call upon injured star Rafael Leao as they fell 2-0 to bitter rivals Inter Milan. This Champions League semi-final ended up as a question of depth. Inter were able to call upon names as glittering as Romelu Lukaku from their bench, while Milan stars like Leao and Zlatan Ibrahimovic watched from the sidelines.
In the crackling atmosphere of the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, the San Siro to you and me, this 236th Milan derby kicked off. Any concessions to caginess were quickly cast aside. These are two teams that know far too much about each other to bother with a feeling-out process.
Instead, the two historic components of the Derby della Madonnina went straight at each other. It was the blue-clad side that came off best. Just eight minutes in, Hakan Calhanoglu’s corner was volleyed home with feeling by Edin Dzeko. The 37-year-old outmuscled Davide Calabria before clattering the ball with utter ferocity. First blood.
The Nerazzurri didn’t have to wait long for a second. Just three minutes in fact. Federico Dimarco’s pass was artfully dummied on by Lautaro Martinez. Ex-Arsenal and Manchester United man Henrikh Mkhitaryan collected the ball and left Sandro Tonali standing before lashing it into the net. A lightning passage of play finished in style by the 34-year-old.
Inter continued to pile on the pressure, taking this derby by the scruff of the neck and playing like the home side despite nominally being “away” for administrative purposes. Calhanoglu hit the post with a screamer from afar. Mkhitaryan drew a good save with his rebound before Nicolo Barella stuck it behind.
The most controversial element of an exciting first period came when Inter had a penalty given and then denied. Lautaro Martinez had left Fikayo Tomori sliding in his wake before Simon Kjaer brought him down. The decision was originally a spot kick but a VAR check saw it overturned. Martinez was impeded but the officials deemed the contact too weak to bring him down.
AC Milan looked brighter at the advent of the second half. A composed move saw Brahim Diaz curve a decent strike just outside Andre Onana’s goal. Tonali then carved up the Inter defence with a superb ball before Junior Messias misplaced his shot. Manager Stefano Pioli hadn’t engaged damage limitation mode just yet, with Milan playing their best attacking football of the game.
The Rossoneri had left the door open at the back though and Dzeko nearly burst through it again. The veteran striker caught Tomori and Kjaer napping, latching onto a fine ball by Bastoni and forcing Mike Maignan into a top save.
From the verge of 3-0 to the verge of 2-1. Substitute Divock Origi, who knows a thing or two about this competition, created a fine chance for Tonali. He leathered his shot against the same upright Calhanoglu hit in the first half. There was life in the seven-time Champions League winners yet.
This tie is far from over. The teams will return to this same ground, albeit with a different seating configuration, to renew hostilities next Tuesday. Milan could have Leao for that one. They’ll need to have a stronger defence for it too. This could have been a massacre tonight but Milan have kept themselves in it. Now they need a hell of a performance to turn it around in six days time
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change