If you were a Milan fan at the 49-minute mark of their thrilling encounter against Napoli on Saturday night, you would’ve been forgiven for thinking this season has the promise to be one of the best in a truly turbulent decade.
Rino Gattuso’s men, through Davide Calabria, had just scored a finely worked goal to give Milan a two-goal cushion at the San Paolo. Their performance had deserved the lead, with Suso and Lucas Biglia hurting the Partenopei repeatedly.
Some half an hour later and the game had been completely turned on its head, with Dries Mertens completing the comeback to smash home a third and give Carlo Ancelotti a home debut victory. Milan had simply wilted at the first sign of Napoli pressure, something Gattuso was eager to point out in his post-match press conference.
Anything of course that Milan can do, Inter can always rival. Just 24 hours later and it was the Nerazzurri who threw away a two-goal lead at home to Torino. Ivan Perisic and new signing Stefan de Vrij had put Inter seemingly on route for three simple points. Inter were coasting, then came half-time.
Whatever Walter Mazzarri said during the half time team talk, it worked. Torino stormed out in the second half and Inter duly capitulated, conceding two goals in 13 minutes.
By the beginning of the season – the first one in what feels like an age – both of the Milanese duo felt quietly confident of being major antagonists again. Inter had a smart transfer window, whilst Milan cleaned their organization of all those involved in the Chinese debacle. No players departed, as was originally feared, and they undoubtedly got the better of the Gonzalo Higuain/Mattia Caldara/Leo Bonucci move.
Inter have been described as the ‘anti-Juve’ by many on the strength of their summer business, and yet they sit on a single point after two games. This isn’t a new phenomenon for Inter under Spalletti, as it happened towards the end of last season. At home to Juve, they contrived to blow a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 loss inside two minutes that essentially killed Napoli’s title challenge.
It speaks to a mental fragility in both sides that they so easily wither under the first real dose of pressure from the opposition. A little leeway could be given to Milan given the relative lack of Serie A experience in many of their defenders and the precociousness of Donnarumma.
Inter, however, can’t be afforded the same courtesy. It’s also fair to say there is quite the difference between being two ahead away to Napoli, and racing into a two-goal lead at home to Toro.
A change of formation could be in order for Inter; you get the impression Spalletti is still unsure about how to get the best from his newly assembled squad. Gattuso will be hoping for more of the opening 45 minutes against Napoli than the second.
With expectation rising in Milan, and the extra caveat of one Antonio Conte now available, both Spalletti and Gattuso know they can ill afford further mental lapses from their respective sides.