There is something gloriously infuriating about the would-be revivals of these Milanese giants. Every time you think one of them is on the road to recovery, they suffer a setback that undermines all the good work they have done. This was meant to be the derby that emphasised the Rossoneri’s resurgence - and the continuing crisis of their city cousins. We should probably have known how it was going to end.
The Nerazzurri surprised their most bitter rivals with a snarling, snapping start that - following their supine submission in the Europa League - possibly shocked their own support as much as the opposition. This was an in-your-face, up-and-at-them Inter that we had not witnessed for a good while. If they wanted rid of Luciano Spalletti, his team did a good job of concealing that desire.
Within minutes they had the lead against what had been - up until that point - one of the most miserly defences in Europe for this calendar year. Rino Gattuso’s side have built their league recovery on a most sturdy defence, but it looked brittle as an overcooked breadstick.
Matias Vecino regularly found more space to roam in than the South American Pampas. And when Stefan de Vrij doubled Inter’s lead early in the second half, we could have been duped into thinking it was game over. But there is nothing that either of these outfits likes better than stumbling when they look set up for success. As Michael Corleone might have said - just when you think they are out of trouble, they drag themselves back in.
Milan clawed their way into contention in a manner their Coach must have appreciated, but a VAR-confirmed, who-made-the-contact, maybe-it-was-not-a-clear-error penalty restored the “away” team’s two goal lead. But that didn’t last long either, as another gutsy strike gave their rivals hope and provided a grandstand finish. It felt, at times, this was as much about who would throw away their chance least as it was about who would seize it best.
There must be praise for the boys in blue and black for ripping up the expected script of recent months. It is a classic cliche to say the form book goes out the window in a derby, but somebody still had to open it up and toss those pages into the air.
Spalletti - sent to the stands for his latest in an ever-growing collection of histrionics - got more right than wrong on the night. It may not save him his job in the long term but, for a few days he can sleep soundly - at least until the next San Siro saviour comes along.
As for Gattuso’s team, they didn’t go bad overnight, but they seemed to get hustled out of their stride too often and their biggest players failed to deliver. Krzysztof Piatek was well shackled, Suso sparkled only sporadically and Lucas Paqueta was snuffed out and subbed before the game got past its midway point. They can still bounce back, but this was a wake-up call that - for all their recent progress - there remains much work to be done.
Indeed, the same could be said for both teams, as has been mentioned before. It is worth remembering the heights these great clubs have scaled in the past before getting too carried away with any talk of revivals right now. Sunday night’s clash was great entertainment, but there was still a nagging feeling that it underlined as many things wrong with both sides as it did things right.
The cast - especially without the missing Mauro Icardi - was not of the quality that once graced the Stadio Meazza turf for either outfit. This was more of a decent, gripping made-for-TV movie than it was an Oscar-winner.
That, of course, is part of the trouble on either side of this great divide. Fans of both Milan and Inter have been used to having a seat reserved at Europe’s top table and are uncomfortable and impatient when asked to wait in a queue at the drive-thru. But their demise did not happen overnight and nor will the recovery.
It is worth remembering just how far these two teams finished off the Scudetto pace last season and both remain on course to be well adrift again this term. The Rossoneri’s improvement has probably been the more significant, but only because they had fallen further. Bridging the gap to become genuine title contenders still looks some way off.
There are some signs that they are both - finally - on the right path, but they will need time, investment and sensible planning in order to get anywhere near Serie A’s standard-setters Juventus. The supporters have a right to expect them to be up there, but it needs method - not madness - to fulfil their aspirations.
However, it would be churlish to end on a downbeat note about a Derby della Madonnina that delivered five goals, a penalty debate and a reviewed and rescinded red card.
You only had to look at the faces of both sets of fans during this pulsating clash to see what it meant and the emotions it delivered. The choreography, drama and setting of San Siro is still spectacular and that is surely something to build on. Then these two giants can finally construct a fitting future on more solid foundations instead of watching their hopes sink in quicksand time and time and time again.