Inter Milan finally have a much-needed win -- and they've got it against their bitter rivals, Milan. It'll be a nervy Christmas for Max Allegri, whose rossoneri slip down into 13th, remaining just five points above the drop zone.
The first half may have been scoreless, but, befitting of a derby, it certainly wasn't boring. Despite Inter having a nine-point lead over their rivals, it was the rossoneri that had the better of the chances. Milan took advantage of the fact that Inter's back line has looked nothing but shaky since Hugo Campagnaro fell to injury. The Argentine may have returned, but under just the merest hint of pressure, the nerazzurri back line simply goes to pieces.
Mario Balotelli did his best to exploit the Inter weakness, but the forward just couldn't get a shot on target, despite being given plenty of room. Instead it was Andrea Poli who had the best chance of the first half. Samir Handanović, whose normally flawless form has slipped as of late, came flying out of goal to flap ineffectually at the ball. Poli fell on the loose ball but, despite being only 12 yards out, sent the ball spinning into the atmosphere rather than into the open goal.
Inter did little to trouble Christian Abbiati, but they did have a legitimate shot for a penalty waved away. A ball from Fredy Guarín set Rodrigo Palacio free on goal, but Cristian Zapata barged in behind him, sweeping the forward's legs out from beneath him. The referee waved play on as Inter continued to hunt for their first penalty of the season.
After spending the majority of the first half watching his side get pinned back in their own half, Walter Mazzarri elected to make a change early in the second half, bringing off Saphir Taider for the more attack-minded Mateo Kovačić. The Croatian's introduction did make Inter more lively, but they still had troubles carving out clear-cut chances.
Mazzarri's counterpart in the rossoneri dugout, Massimiliano Allegri, who's no tactical genius at the best of times, had no real means of introducing new ideas to his Christmas tree formation. About all that could be done was to replace the youthful Riccardo Saponara with Alessandro Matri, who has but one goal this season.
It was Inter that came the closest in the second half, with Abbiati forced to fingertip away a close-range shot from Palacio, and then managing to gather the Argentine's reflexive second shot. Shortly thereafter, Mazzarri put on yet another attacker, replacing Esteban Cambiasso with Mauro Icardi.
But in the end it was Palacio with the game-winning goal. The cross came in from Guarín and Palacio easily gave Zapata the slip, turning to flick a lovely backheel past Abbiati.
And, just to make a derby of it, in the dying minutes of stoppage time, a small scuffle broke out. No punches were thrown, but Sulley Muntari was rewarded with a straight red card.
Inter Milan: Handanović; Campagnaro, Rolando, Juan Jesus; Jonathan, Taider (Kovačić 57'), Cambiasso, Zanetti (Kuzmanović 68'), Nagatomo; Guarín; Palacio
AC Milan: Abbiati; De Sciglio, Bonera, Zapata, Constant (Emanuelson 45'); Poli (Pazzini 87'), De Jong, Muntari; Saponara (Matri 76'), Kakà; Balotelli