Milan dominated the first half, but Mario Balotelli was twice denied by Samir Handanovic, so Ezequiel Schelotto came off the bench to give Inter a 1-1 draw in the Derby della Madonnina.
There were so many layers to this showdown, as it was about city pride, the head-to-head for third place and figures like Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano facing their past. The Rossoneri were beaming after Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Barcelona, while Andrea Stramaccioni was under pressure following a 4-1 defeat to Fiorentina.
Alvaro Pereira was suspended for Inter, joining the injured Diego Milito, Matias Silvestre, Walter Samuel, Gaby Mudingayi, Joel Obi and Luca Castellazzi. Andrea Ranocchia had been ruled out, but made a lightning fast recovery after spraining his knee against Cluj on Thursday. Milan missed Robinho, Mathieu Flamini, Daniele Bonera and Nigel De Jong. Mario Balotelli, Sulley Muntari and Antonio Cassano faced their former teammates.
Javier Zanetti wore a special armband wishing Milito a speedy recovery after knee ligament surgery. Inter fans in the Curva Nord released a statement, flyers and posters warning racist abuse against Balotelli would not be tolerated – though they were welcome to jeer. The Inter choreography in the stands read: ‘You make my heart flutter… You take my breath away…’ Milan’s Curva Sud read: ‘Red like the fire… Black like your fear.’
Mattia De Sciglio had the first real chance after six minutes, running on to a Stephan El Shaarawy flick to drill just wide of the near post. Philippe Mexes was crucial in closing down Rodrigo Palacio for a corner as he tried to pull the trigger. De Sciglio skipped past Fredy Guarin to whip in a cross, but Balotelli tried to take a touch and wasted from six yards.
Palacio found space down the left from a long ball over the top, but his angled drive was so far off target it went out for a throw-in.
Milan broke the deadlock with El Shaarawy’s first goal in a month after Cassano gave the ball away in midfield. He sprung the offside trap on a smart Kevin-Prince Boateng through ball and smashed the finish under the bar at the near post with the outside of his boot. It was a wonderful finish.
Ranocchia’s decisive challenge blocked off El Shaarawy getting a second moments later, but Samir Handanovic needed an amazing save to deny Balotelli on 27 minutes. He somehow got a hand to the bullet header from a corner as it was going under the bar, then was fortunate the ball bounced off the line back into his hands.
De Sciglio was tearing Inter apart down their left flank and his cross found Balotelli at full stretch, but again Handanovic performed a fine save on his volley.
Balotelli hit one free kick at the wall, then the second stung Handanovic’s palms at the base of the far post.
After the restart, Boateng’s diving header from a Riccardo Montolivo free kick whistled wide. Inter were more aggressive and had a fantastic chance when Guarin’s volley from six yards forced a stunning one-handed save from Christian Abbiati, turning it on to the inside of the post.
Handanovic dived to intercept an Antonio Nocerino pass across for Balotelli, who accidentally clipped him on the head with his shin-pad. Nocerino had a good scoring opportunity only to horribly shin his volley off target.
Ezequiel Schelotto came off the bench and immediately got an equaliser, his glancing header from a Yuto Nagatomo cross down the left slotting into the near bottom corner, as two Inter players were left unmarked in the box. The Italian-Argentine was so moved by his goal that he burst into tears.
Muntari drilled a screamer just wide of the upright, but the Nerazzurri’s tails were now up and they seemed stronger in the closing stages.
From a corner, El Shaarawy’s chest and volley was charged down by Schelotto, then Cambiasso intercepted the loose ball before it could reach M’Baye Niang. Handanovic was at full stretch to parry a Niang angled drive, while Abbiati flapped away a dangerous Cassano cross.