AC Milan and Inter Milan faced off in an early-season version of the Milan Derby.
Inter, hosts on the night, came out on top 1-0 courtesy of a Fredy Guarin strike. It was well deserved. Inter were the better team from start to finish and now have three wins out of three. Milan suffered their second loss of the season and have plenty to ponder.
A summer of upheaval in both camps generated some much-needed excitement before the season began. Rather than rebuild from the ground up, both Milan and Inter waded into the transfer market to speed up their recovery. The fact that neither team will take part in European competition didn’t dissuade the likes of Carlos Bacca, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Stevan Jovetic from joining.
While both sides made some solid moves, it remained to be seen just how well they would work out. Inter, it seems, are ahead of their rivals.
The home side were better in all thirds of the pitch. The match was generally controlled by an Inter midfield fielding three new signings in Felipe Melo, Ivan Perisic and the aforementioned Kondogbia. Elsewhere on the pitch, Jeison Muirillo stood tall for Inter in defense and Stevan Jovetic was again a menace in attack. The same couldn’t be said for most of their opponents. For the third game running, Milan’s midfield were second best, and the attack and defense suffered as a result.
A mixture of questionable selections, substitutions and under-performances from new signings played a part in all that. With the two sides playing a similar formation, the battle for control in midfield was even more important. That makes some of the personnel decisions even more baffling for Milan.
An injury to new midfielder Andrea Bertolacci meant one change was necessary, but Nigel De Jong stayed on the bench for Milan when his physicality and defensive nous was needed. Instead, Sinisa Mihajlovic chose the trio of Riccardo Montolivo, Juraj Kucka, another new signing, and Gaicomo Bonaventura. That group didn’t have the requisite power to match Inter’s midfield, and the fact that Inter’s Melo controlled the game says it all. Kucka and Bonaventura both tried to make things happen, but both came up short in their individual duels, or failed with their end product.
Montolivo spent more time trying to track the movements of Jovetic and Perisic than being the creative force Milan needed from deep. That problem was exacerbated by the fact that Keisuke Honda was almost non-existent in the attacking midfield role. The lack of defensive protection Montolivo provided was evident as Guarin was sent on his way to score the eventual winner. Montolivo didn’t put himself in a good position to intercept the pass to Guarin and failed to catch up to the Colombian before he unleashed his shot.
With the lack of service from midfield, newly signed forwards Luiz Adriano and Carlos Bacca were left to fend for themselves. Bacca, surprisingly, took on the role of creator with two great passes for his partner. Adriano then contrived to miss those chances and was otherwise anonymous minus some tireless running. Those things considered, it was strange to see Adriano last the full 90 minutes while Bacca was substituted.
All these issues meant an easier time for an Inter side also adjusting to new players. There was one positive for Mijhalovic, though.
Mario Balotelli‘s introduction midway through the second half almost turned the game for Milan. The enigmatic forward immediately became Milan’s biggest threat. A couple of skillful dribbles and a few rasping shots to test Samir Handanovic led to increased interest from Inter’s defense. Balotelli showed in his cameo that he could be the man to play behind the two forwards, even hustling defensively a few times. If this is the Balotelli that Milan are getting, then he will be key to their hopes of success.
With no Europe to contend with, and added time to prepare in between games, the midfield issues should be rectified. According to WhoScored, Milan has an average of 47.6 percent possession each game. That needs to be fixed. Mihajlovic may continue to experiment, but some decisions will be easier than others. What to do with Balotelli will be one of those tough questions. If he can keep him engaged, then it’s possible he has the man he needs to spark the attack. It won’t make a difference if the midfield doesn’t work though.