46 mins: After Hakimi wins a free-kick on the right, Eriksen swings a ferociously paced ball to the ball post where Skriniar rises highest. The header is good but there’s just too much on it and the ball lands on the roof of the net.
43 mins: A chance from nothing for Milan. Bastoni’s clearance is charged down and from the byline, Ibrahimovic pulls back to Calhanolgu on the penalty spot, but after sitting the defender down with a great dummy he fails to execute a simple ball to Rebic. He sinks to his knees in despair He should have gone for goal himself.
42 mins: Slowly but surely, Milan are feeling their way back into this. The last five minutes or so have taken place almost entirely inside Inter’s half, but so far the hosts have not shown the creative spark to open them up. Calhanoglu, probing for an opening, gives the ball away twice in a minute.
39 mins: Ibrahimovic gets his first proper sight of goal, a left-foot volley from 15 yards zipping just wide. But the Swede is soon brought back down to earth when he collects a short pass only to be clattered by De Vrij – a firm but fair tackle that leaves the Swede on his knees.
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36 mins: Great chance for 2-0! Perisic cuts inside Calabria and fires a shot at Donnarumma’s near post. The keeper gets down well but the ball spills out to Martinez, virtually underneath the crossbar, and the strike can only prod the ball over! Simon Kjaer, with a desperate last-minute challenge, did enough to put him off.
Some correspondence from Bogdan Kotarlic: “My favourite Milan derby moment is from the late 90s, I don’t remember the year exactly but the result was Milan 0-3 Inter. Diego Simeone, then of Inter, scored a bullet header after a corner kick. A great goal, one of the best headers I have ever seen.”
32 mins: Hakan Calhanoglu has not done much yet to prove he is a worth successor to Gullit, Boban, Rui Costa and Seedorf in Milan’s No10 shirt – he’s barely touched the ball so far. In the meantime, Theo Hernandez comes within inches of equalising after pouncing on a loose ball inside the Inter box and reversing a low shot towards the far post. The ball trickles inches wide.
More Zlatan love from Redmond Grimes: “To echo Mary Waltz, I saw Zlatan score a wondergoal vs TFC in Toronto. The man is marvellous.”
26 mins: Ibrahimovic wants a penalty after being bundled over by Skriniar. Then a glorious first touch by Martinez ignites another lightning break from Inter, the Argentine picking out the onrushing Perisic on the left, whose first-time ball fizzes across the six-yard box towards Lukaku – who can’t make meaningful contact. Great chance.
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25 mins: Saelemaekers floats in a cross from deep that Handanovic rushes out to collect, before hurling the ball out early to to Brozovic to start a great counterattack. He finds Lukaku peeling off on the right and the striker cuts inside to unleash a shot … which is blocked.
22 mins: A wince-inducing collision between Hakimi and Theo Hernandez results in a booking for the former. It was a bodycheck that left both men flattened.
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21 mins: Christian Erikson, who has always looked 36, is still only 29. He swings in a free-kick from deep that Milan clear unconvincingly. Then Brozovic find Lukaku in the box, who scuffs his shot wide of the far post.
18 mins: Perisic wins the ball in the left-back position and surges past Tonali, who blocks his path. Somehow It is given as a Milan free-kick. Perisic looks to the heavens, Conte seethes.
15 mins: Milan put together their first attack of note and it sparks a defensive meltdown from Inter! a couple of harmless crosses go uncleared in a crowded box but the ball, ricocheting around the area, never quite breaks to a Milan attacker. Eventually Ibrahimovic tries to backheel towards goal and Handanovic gathers. Inter’s defending inspired no confidence.
14 mins: Martinez exchanges passes with Eriksen and zips clear down the right. He belts in a cross to the back post, which Calabria does well to divert behind with Perisic lurking.
12 mins: The irrepressible Martinez escapes his marker again, turning Kjaer in the centre circle and being brought down cynically to earn the Dane an early booking.
Mary Waltz writes: “Out in California I got to watch Zlatan for two years with the Galaxy and assumed it was just a paycheck grab. But when he was inspired he was amazing and the fact that at his age he can still play at the highest level is stunning.”
9 mins: Eriksen whips in a vicious inswinging corner which Donnarumma fists away, Superman-style, at full stretch. Then Lukaku finds some space on the right to win a throw. I’m not sure if Ibrahimovic has touched the ball yet.
7 mins: That was terrific old-fashioned strike-partnership play from Lukaku and Martinez – one drifting wide to hold up and picking out the other in the middle. And they link up again straight after the restart, before Martinez beats Calabria on the left. They are electric.
GOAL! Milan 0-1 Inter (Martinez 5)
Tonali looks to play one over the top for Ibrahimovic, who’s come short. Inter break fast, with Lukaku escaping down the right. Kjaer cuts out his first cross but he recovers the ball, looks up, and floats in a beauty on to the head of his strike parter, who has drifted between the two centre-back and nods home from close range. Game on!
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4 mins: Hakimi finds Lukaku and steams into the box like a 100m sprinter looking for the return ball. It’s cut out, but that’s wonderfully positive from the wing-back. Lukaku already the clear focal point of Inter’s attacks.
1 min: And we’re off. Incredibly, this it’s the first time in a decade these two cubs have met as the top two. An early scream of frustration from Ante Rebic after an attempted flick fails to come off. Lukaku gets his first sniff of the ball and nods towards Martinez. It comes to nothing but Milan’s defence look unnerved.
The teams are out, and everyone to a man ensures they like they mean business as the anthem plays.
And your final nugget of pre-match reading. Jonathan Wilson sets the scene for a game that symbolises the new competitiveness across Europe’s top leagues:
Elsewhere in Italy today, Udinese have battled back from a two-goal half-time deficit to salvage a 2-2 draw away at Parma (another name to warm the nostalgics’ hearts). Former Watford man Stefano Okaka kickstarted Parma’s comeback – and our very own Will Unwin spoke to him earlier this month. More here:
To jog your memory, here’s Sam Brookes with a rundown of the best goals from this fixture in the last two decades (my pick: the Seedorf screamer):
The last meeting of these sides, last month, gave us one of the great Milan derby images, since immortalised in a mural outside San Siro (see below). And for the sake of nostalgia, here’s another. What’s your favourite Milan derby moment?
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To be continued…
Milan: G Donnarumma, Hernandez, Romagnoli, Kjaer, Calabria, Kessie, Tonali, Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Rebic, Ibrahimovic. Subs: Tatarusanu, A Donnarumma, Dalot, Gabbia, Kalulu, Tomori, B. Diaz, Krunic, Hauge, Meite, Castillejo, Leao.
Inter: Handanovic, Bastoni, Skriniar, De Vrij, Perisic, Barella, Eriksen, Brozovic, Hakimi, L. Martinez, Lukaku. Subs: Radu, Padelli, Ranocchia, Darmian, Kolarov, Young, Vidal, Vecino, Gagliardini, Sanchez, Pinamonti
Here’s a tricky task. Try to look at the current Serie A without a warm fuzzy glow of nostalgia rushing through your veins. It’s not easy, chiefly because that top four has a delightfully retro feel to it. Inter, Milan, Roma, Lazio: four simple words that will, for football nerds of a certain generation, conjure endless wistful memories: of irreverent Sunday-morning telly, of gelatos being served in cobbled small-town squares, of baggy-sleved Diadora shirts, of Batistuta and Boban and Baggio.
But that was then. This is now, and while Serie A no longer has the mystique or the unrivalled wealth of yesterday, it has recently rediscovered plenty of the old excitement. Largely because the unrelenting dominance appears to have, er, relented. They sit fifth, making way for the two giants of the capital to rouse themselves from a decade in the doldrums, which they have done with zeal.
Inter and Milan sit first and second, separated by a single point, ready to duke it out like the good old days. Big-spending Inter, top of the pile, enter today’s game as favourites having put in-form Lazio to the sword last weekend to leapfrog their rivals – a youthful Milan side spearheaded by the Benjamin Buttonesque Zlatan Ibrahimovic – whose last outing was a shock loss to lowly Spezia.
They will of course be desperate to recover their dignity, and top spot, with a win today. Antonio Conte’s side will be equally keen to put clear daylight between themselves and the chasing pack. Plus there’s every chance that Zlatan and Romelu Lukaku may resume the hostilities of last month. Strap in!