It has often been said that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not a man for the big occasion and we've seen little this season to dispel that theory. He was once again totally ineffective in the Champions League and, having seen the 3-0 domination of Inter, I can't shake the feeling they play better without him.
This was something that Jose Mourinho learned when he exchanged Ibra for Samuel Eto'o, a bargain if ever there was one. Milan have great quality in their squad and excel at playing the ball to feet, quickly and crisply. When the giant Swede is up front, there is the temptation to punt long balls in his direction and it makes the team painfully predictable.
He was sorely missed against Palermo because the ban took them by surprise, but with two weeks to train and prepare over the break for international duty, Massimiliano Allegri crafted a side for the Derby della Madonnina that doesn't factor in Ibrahimovic at all. What's more, it works. Alexandre Pato and Robinho can out-pace any striker in Serie A, while Antonio Cassano and Clarence Seedorf have the vision to thread through those passes. Even Gennaro Gattuso has learned to place an incisive ball, as he did in the build-up to the opening goal.
Kevin-Prince Boateng is a crucial key to all this, too. By sitting in the trequartista role, he represents both an attacking figure and great strength to win back the ball in the final third. Too often we have seen Milan succumb to the counter-attack when their ineffective midfield filter was run through, but Boateng with people like Seedorf and Mark Van Bommel behind provide the protection this defence needs.
Ibrahimovic's two-match ban expires this weekend, so he'll be back against Fiorentina in the next round. I hope Allegri can make him fit into the team we saw in the Derby della Madonnina rather than the other way round. It might also be an idea to glue the shirt to Cassano's back, just in case he has another brain freeze moment.
As for the Scudetto race, I wouldn't say it's all over yet. Look at the run-ins and you'll see Milan have a few minefields to manoeuvre, including against desperate relegation scrappers Brescia and Sampdoria, plus trips to Roma and high-flying Udinese. After all, if Inter were able to close the gap, it was thanks to dropped points against the likes of Lecce, Bari, Genoa and Palermo.