The Derby della Madonnina came early in a season with two new Coaches, but Inter are already leaving Milan in their dust.
The Nerazzurri had a clear plan in mind from the very first minute. They gave the impression of certainty in everything they did. As Milan looked to keep possession and build from the back every single time, Inter launched an aggressive press on them. And it became obvious from the first 10 minutes that Marco Giampaolo had fielded some players who were too static for what is supposed to be a dynamic system on and off the ball.
Nicolò Barella and Stefano Sensi, who had excellent games, pressed along with the front two. They were right at Lucas Biglia’s back whenever he had the ball, and while Stefano Sensi did more of a job on the Argentine, Barella often shuttled wide to close down Ricardo Rodriguez when he got possession.
Hakan Calhanoglu and Suso too were being dealt with very physically. Barella was snapping at everything that looked to pass through midfield and Suso was either kept away from the ball or outmuscled by Marcelo Brozovic and Kwadwo Asamoah.
As Milan struggled to build from the back every single time, they too often pressed with the front three of Rafael Leao, Krzysztof Piatek and Suso. They virtually played with a 4-3-3 instead of a 4-3-1-2, as Leao looked really bright whenever he got on the ball and unleashed a burst pace on the Nerazzurri backline.
Inter kept a very high line to restrict Milan from playing out from the back, forcing Piatek, Suso and Leao to almost play on the halfway line. Whenever Leao got on a Gigio Donnarumma long ball, Diego Godin was always on his back trying to keep him down. But the Milan summer signing showed a good turn of pace to get away from the Uruguayan and provide some sparks in the first half.
Inter looked like a proper unit. They forced Milan into playing backpasses and closed down midfield passing lanes that could’ve helped Giampaolo’s cause. Conte’s men did everything in near-perfect cohesion. The backline and the wing-backs moved about like a well-oiled engine and the midfield pressed in wonderful fashion in the first half.
Having said that, Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez often seemed to be on different wavelengths. The regulatory, Conte-esque short passes from the wing-back to the front two often broke down due to that. But when they worked out, Milan had problems.
The lack of balance in midfield was again seen whenever Inter came forward. While Biglia didn’t have too bad a game, he was sometimes too static and immobile. Franck Kessie had to cover up a lot at the back, but was forced into playing few forward passes. This lack of balance saw Donnarumma save his side twice, but the young Italian was sometimes too hesitant to take the direct route and always preferred to keep the ball on the ground. Especially on a day when Leao was looking good, long balls towards him could have been an option.
Having come close in the first half, Inter broke the deadlock in the 49th minute. It was a normal set-piece routine which saw the free-kick being taken short to Brozovic. The Croatian was not closed down properly by a single Milan player despite being in acres of space to take a punt at goal. Taking a deflection, the shot went in.
From then on, it was a proper Conte game and the 1-0 scoreline played into his hands.
Inter backed away from pressing too much after the first goal and came deeper, allowing Milan to come forward. As much as a normal Giampaolo side would relish the prospect of being handed possession, the Rossoneri looked short of ideas and resorted to sideways passes.
There seemed to be little penetration for Milan until Theo Hernandez came on for Ricardo Rodriguez (who seemed too slow and was defensively poor) and Lucas Paqueta replaced Calhanoglu.
As expected, Conte decided to stretch the Milan backline with the introduction of Matteo Politano in the last 15 minutes. Inter converted to a 3-4-3 shape, with Barella oscillating between the left side and No 10. It was from the left that Barella floated in a cross for Lukaku’s looping header to end the game.
Ante Rebic too came on, but it became another familiar lesson for Milan. The substitutes had made more impact on the game than the starting XI combined and Giampaolo really needs to get his selection right against Fiorentina.
Milan had only a single shot on target and the lack of balance is making it easy to play through them at the moment. There is no cohesion and there is a need for more dynamic players like Ismael Bennacer, Paqueta, Theo Hernandez, Rebic and Leao to start.
For Inter, they already look like a side that can win the Scudetto. Diego Godin had an impressive game. He did look short of pace sometimes, but he was immense when playing deeper. His presence alongside Milan Skriniar and Stefan de Vrij has made Inter the best defensive side in the league. There seems to be a sense of collectiveness about this team already.
It has only been four games and Conte has made Inter look like a machine. Quite the opposite is the case for Giampaolo, as the grinding of the gears when Milan try to build moves is positively painful.