The Derby della Madonnina was an energetic display Sunday as the return of Roberto Mancini gave Inter enough of an edge to carve out a 1-1 draw with AC Milan in front of a loud San Siro crowd.
The atmosphere of this match between historic rivals was set early when both sets of fans unveiled incredible tifos that were each aimed at antagonizing the other set of fans. The two sides took that same spirit from the first whistle, each driving and aggressively attacking in early minutes, and both sides had early penalty shouts. Mauro Icardi was dragged down by Philippe Mexes, but the contact came outside of the box and referee Marco Guida wasn't interested. Guida also didn't seem to care when a challenge in the air involving a high boot from Juan Jesus sent Michael Essien spinning down in Inter's box.
It was Inter who had the first clear chance of the match, when a terrible error by Sulley Muntari set Icardi free on goal. Somehow the Argentine striker fluffed his shot, sending it straight in to Diego Lopez from point blank range when any small amount of elevation on a shot or chip would have seen the nerazzurri score the first goal of the Derby.
The next moment of drama was also focused on Inter, but it wasn't good. Young left back Dodo was sprinting in to the box when he ran straight in to the outstretched arm of Muntari, laying him out and causing a cut by his mouth that bled profusely. It took a couple minutes to get Dodo back up and moving, and then he had to spend several more minutes on the sideline getting attended to by the trainers to get the bleeding stopped and his wound patched up.
What's a derby without a little spilled blood, eh?
It was AC Milan who snagged the first goal, with Stephan El Shaarawy working the ball down the left before crossing in to Jeremy Menez, who struck a right-footed volley to the far post that left Samir Handanovic hanging in goal. The rossoneri attacker made it look easy, but volleying a driven cross like that is anything but. El Sharaawy deserves a lot of credit, too; he had to put that ball on a platter for Menez if Milan were going to score there, and he couldn't have sent in a better cross.
Things settled in to a more terse affair from there, with Inter desperate to score an equalizer and Milan content to show more patience and wait for their opponents to make a mistake. That saw things through to the first half, and the second started with Inter sprinting out on the front foot, but still unable to find that breakthrough in the final third to level the score.
Inter very nearly found their chance when Icardo and Mateo Kovacic both scrambled after a ball pinging around in the 6-yard box in the 53rd minute, but neither could get a clean shot off. Adil Rami was finally able to hoof it clear, and though the ball fell to Fredy Guarin just outside the penalty area, his try from range soared well high.
Inter kept pushing and pushing and pushing for that equalizer, but Milan were able to absorb their attacks ... until just after the hour mark. That was when Joel Obi found an inch of space at the top of the box and fired a worm-burning shot that scuffed along the pitch, proving tough for Milan goalkeeper Diego Lopez to read before it squirmed in to the far corner of goal to bring things level at 1-1. It was the Nigerian's first Serie A goal in 54 league matches for Milan, and it couldn't have come in a bigger moment.
Milan's first good chance to go back up came just minutes later, when Juan Jesus went in to the book for Inter after hacking down Fernando Torres at the top of the box. Menez tried the shot from there, but couldn't get the ball down as his effort sailed well high of the bar. The changes started to ring shortly after, with AC Milan's leading scorer Keisuke Honda subbing in for a woeful Torres, and Hernanes coming on for Inter Milan in place of their goalscorer Obi.
Those changes sprung a chance shortly after for Milan, when El Shaarawy was sprung in from the left side with tons of space to work with ... but his shot over the top of Handanovic had too much power, and it cracked off the crossbar instead of nestling to the back of the net. Just minutes after that, Icardi had a chance on a half-volley, but his shot too pinged off the crossbar and out of play.
Milan had the better of the chances as the last minutes of the match wore on, but neither side could find that final ball to unlock the other team's defense. Even a series of corners for AC Milan couldn't do the job, nor could a breakaway run going the other way from Guarin that was cut out by a crunching tackle from Cristian Zapata.
The aftermath of that stop took the match to the end of 90 minutes, and the four added ticked away with neither side able to get a shot on target, though both had chances to. Substitute Andrea Poli probably had the best chance when a loose ball in the box found its way to his feet, but he didn't get a strong shot off at all, and it was deflected past the goal. In the end, a 1-1 draw was probably a fair result, but neither fanbase will be happy with the scoreline.
AC Milan: Lopez; Rami, Zapata, Mexes, De Sciglio; Essien, Muntari (Poli 76'); Bonaventura, Menez, El Shaarawy; Torres (Honda 72')
Goals: Menez (23')
Inter Milan: Handanovic; Nagatomo, Ranocchia, Juan Jesus, Dodò; Guarin, Kuzmanovic, Obi (Hernanes 72'); Kovacic (M'Vila 90'+3); Icardi (Osvaldo 89'), Palacio
Goals: Obi (61')
Three Things We Learned
1. Mancini's Inter still aren't very good - While the 4-3-1-2 that Mancini started Inter off in was probably the best shape for the players at hand, it still didn't work out very well. In theory, having Guarin and Obi as shuttlers to support Kovacic and the strikers keeps the side fluid and tough to predict. In reality, Inter congested the center of the pitch for themselves and too often had players all but tripping over one another trying to work with the ball. Obviously the squad is still adjusting to a new manager with very different tactics than the boss they had in their last match, but Inter have a lot of work left to do if they want to be a good side again.
2. Inzaghi's Milan aren't that great either - To be fair, any side with Fernando Torres up top is going to struggle, but the Spanish striker is far from the only underwhelming player for Milan. The Muntari-Essien midfield pairing struggled to stay effective, especially when Inter pushed forwards in numbers. Giacomo Bonaventura was essentially a passenger for most of the match, and of Milan's defenders, only Mattia De Sciglio was particularly good. If this was a one-game blip for those problems, that'd be fine, but it wasn't. It was, essentially, business as usual. Filippo Inzaghi needs to figure out how to get his side clicking soon if he wants to make a real, sustained threat at a European place in the table.
3. Even when the clubs aren't good, the Derby della Madonnina is still the best show in Italy - No matter how amazing or how poor these two teams are, Milan and Inter will always, always spend 90 minutes going at each others' throats. It leads to wonderfully entertaining matches, complete with crunching tackles, gorgeous passing, desperate scrambles, and a pell-mell pace of action that leaves fans wanting more. Add in two passionate fanbases that inject an incredible atmosphere, and you have the perfect recipe for a match that everyone needs to watch, no matter what club you pledge loyalty to.