Et was not just the 228th Derby della Madonnina between AC Milan and Inter Milan. It was not just the renewed clash between the alpha animals Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku, who had almost had a fight four weeks earlier in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia. It wasn’t just a duel between two traditional Italian clubs that have long been funded by financially strong investors from China. Above all, it was “il derby scudetto”, the derby of the championship, as the Italian media had already titled before the kick-off.
Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta, based in Rome.
The characterization should prove to be accurate. Not only because it was the clash between championship leaders Inter Milan and pursuers AC Milan – for the first time in ten years that the first met second at the Milan city championship. But because the fight on the lawn of the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium had the character of a veritable final.
Even before kick-off, AC Milan’s Tifosi had spurred their team on in front of the stadium with fireworks, smoke bombs and Bengali fire in a way with which they had obviously violated the relevant hygiene and distance rules in the fight against the pandemic. The minute of silence before the kick-off for Mauro Bellugi, who died on Saturday at the age of 71, was literally the calm before the storm: all players, coaches and referees remembered the former Inter defender and Italian national football player who was a Covid-19 Illness in December and the amputation of both legs as a result of the infection.
Lukaku prepares the 1-0
Inter got off to a better start in the championship derby, which lasted over 93 minutes with a lot of speed and struggle. In the fifth minute, the Argentinian Lautaro Martínez scored the opening goal with a header from five meters. Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma had no chance. The goal was preceded by the incomparable and irresistible preparatory work of the Belgian star striker Lukaku.
He had run over his opponent on the right flank, failed with the first attempt on the cross against Danish defender Simon Kjaer, before he literally put the ball on Martínez’s head with his left foot in the second attempt. Until the break, the Milan teams fought openly, with slight advantages first for Inter and later for AC Milan.
Immediately after the restart, in Milan’s strongest period of urgency, the Swedish Milan striker Ibrahimovic and the Slovenian Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic each showed world-class performances within a few minutes: Ibrahimovic with two placed hard headers, Handanovic with two reflexes on the line. With another shot by Sandro Tonali in the 48th minute, Handanovic prevented the possible equalization for Milan with another brilliant save.
Nine minutes later, in the middle of the Rossoneri’s assault, the Nerauzzurri instead decided the game. A ball combination of the Dane Christian Eriksen and the former Bundesliga professional Ivan Perisic closed double goalscorer Lautaro Martínez with a low shot into the left corner. When the outstanding Lukaku drove the ball over 35 meters in the direction of Milan goal in the 66th minute after winning the ball in the center circle and overcame goalkeeper Donnarumma to 3-0 with a left-hand shot into the near corner, the game was long decided.
Even Ibrahimovic, who had driven his team tirelessly and was replaced a few minutes after Lukaku’s goal, applauded his rival for his 17th goal of the season. Lukaku is now at the top of the scorers list, with one goal more than Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus Turin and three goals ahead of Ibrahimovic. Champions Juve and Ronaldo complete the 23rd matchday this Monday against promoted and bottom-up Crotone.
The Nerazzurri victory might have been one goal too high, but it was largely deserved for Inter’s superior athleticism and faster pace. The winner is now four points ahead of Milan and, thanks to Lukaku, can justifiably hope for the first championship title since 2010. Back then, the Nerazzurri under José Mourinho had won the triple and defeated FC Bayern Munich 2-0 in the Champions League final.
Lukaku has scored in all Milan derbies so far and can not only feel like the winner of the 23rd matchday, but also the season winner in the duel with Ibrahimovic. And while AC Milan and coach Stefano Pioli recently showed their weaknesses and failed with an embarrassing 2-0 away defeat against Spezia Calcio on the previous day, Inter, under coach Antonio Conte, won the important home game against Lazio with 3-1 and conquered First place. It will be difficult for all pursuers to push the black and blue Milanese city champions from this place on Sunday.