Not since 2011 had both Milan teams gone into a Derby della Madonnina fixture occupying the first two spots in Serie A.
After what’s been a challenging last few years, Lombardy’s famed warring neighbours are now dreaming of Scudetto riches and consequently ending Juventus’ unprecedented decade-long reign, which for a while seemed unbreakable.
Inter Milan, the designated away side in their shared-ground meeting this afternoon, recently usurped Milan to lead Italy’s top division but their gap was a volatile one point, meaning either side could be heading into the next round of fixtures on top.
In an expected close affair, littered with chances at both ends of the field, this much-anticipated fixture was ultimately decided by Inter’s irresistible deadly attacking duo of Lautaro Martínez and Romelu Lukaku, who combined for the sixth time as they ran out 0-3 winners.
Naturally, there were individual winners and losers. Here are three of each from this encounter.
Winner: Romelu Lukaku
For so long, many simply dismissed Romelu Lukaku as nothing more than a ‘flat-track bully’. His record against Manchester United’s nearest rivals while representing the record English champions didn’t help matters and we know it takes a lot to change someone’s perception. To his credit, the Belgian marksman has been gradually changing minds since joining Inter Milan by often playing a key role in the biggest games.
And for every Inter supporter, there’s no game more important than facing their city rivals. Lukaku, in a short space of time, has owned this fixture. Today’s goal, an effort from distance, was his fifth in as many games. But this one had an historical context behind it as not since Romeo Benetti (1972-1973), then representing AC Milan, has a player scored in four consecutive Milan derbies in Serie A.
Loser: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Lukaku’s effort is a potential ‘goal of the season’ contender and someone who immediately gave it his seal of approval was the Inter man’s opposite number Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who previously enjoyed time with him at Old Trafford. Once the ball settled, the enigmatic Swede was seen applauding. It was a frustrating afternoon for the evergreen striker, who was more often than not either prostrating or left to rue a missed opportunity. In a 75-minute spell, Ibrahimovic attempted no fewer than five shots on target, which proved to be two more than his teammates combined and the most by a single player on the field. Not one to show his emotion, today felt the first time he looked powerless and lacking an answer.
Winner: Lautaro Martínez
Ever since joining from boyhood club Racing Club in 2018, there’s been a level of expectation placed on Nerazzurri marksman Lautaro Martínez’s young shoulders and to some extent he’s been the real deal. This afternoon, the diminutive Argentine further reminded everyone why Barcelona wanted him for so long. Inter’s opening goal was a testament to his aerial prowess as Martínez powerfully headed a sweet Lukaku cross past Gianluigi Donnarumma, who today became the youngest Serie A player to reach the milestone of 200 appearances.
But he wasn’t done. After surviving Milan’s onslaught soon after half-time, the native of Bahía Blanca tapped home a well-worked team goal that set Antonio Conte’s coaching staff into raptures. His first Milan derby brace moved Martínez to 13 league strikes. Not quite yet in the race for this season’s top-scorers prize, but he’s undoubtedly taken another step towards becoming a club legend.
Loser: Sandro Tonali
All eyes were on boyhood Milan fan Sandro Tonali, who turned Inter down last summer. He missed the Rossoneri’s last two Serie A fixtures and only made a three-minute cameo when these sides previously met in this season’s competition. This was a chance for the midfielder likened to Andrea Pirlo to flex his muscles but it was fair to say the game may have come too early as it completely passed him by. Sure, there were moments of attacking intent shown, but Tonali always seemed to run into a wall and it came as no surprise that he was the first Milan player hauled off just minutes after the hour mark.
Winner: Samir Handanovic
Remember us mentioning Ibrahimovic being left frustrated in front of goal? Well, that was all down to Inter captain and veteran shot-stopper Samir Handanovic, who stood tall in the opening moments of the second half when Milan threw everything but the kitchen sink at his goal.
He truly rolled back the years this afternoon, cementing an eighth clean sheet of the season. But to say he worked for it would be an understatement. Handanovic produced eight saves including two stunning efforts one after the other to leave a usually aloof Ibra crestfallen.
Loser: The chasing pack
It’s starting to feel ominous. This was a statement victory by Inter Milan against, let’s not forget, a side that commandingly led the championship before the wheels recently came off. Last season Conte’s men pushed Juventus all the way only to agonisingly finish a point behind Italy’s first among equals. After committing to another campaign (there were reports the former Chelsea boss was headed for the exit door), there’s now a sense of purpose. A year older and stronger, that experience of near success is certainly driving this Inter side on and we’ve often seen in the past that it takes a painful failure before everything falls into place. Having opened up a four-point lead over Milan and with the other teams having been left in their wake, this season’s championship is essentially now Inter’s to lose.