By David Mosse
Milan let two points slip away against Inter on Sunday, failing to capitalise on numerous opportunities to take a commanding lead before surrendering an equaliser to Ezequiel Schelotto in the second half. But the 1-1 final did little to alter the overall impression of two clubs headed in opposite directions.
The Rossoneri opened the scoring through Stephan El Shaaraway and Mario Balotelli was denied twice from point-blank range, all in a dominating first half that reflected the gulf in class between the two sides. Sulley Muntari, Riccardo Montolivo and Kevin-Prince Boateng repeated their strong performances from the win over Barcelona, while Antonio Nocerino returned from injury to provide his usual energy.
Indeed, the loss of Nigel de Jong in early December has proved a blessing of sorts with Milan now relying on brains over brawn in the centre of the park. Montolivo in particular is enjoying a sensational run of form, and it was Boateng who set up El Shaarawy’s goal with a perfect through ball, as Inter’s midfield trio of Walter Gargano, Esteban Cambiasso and Fredy Guarin proved absolutely no match.
Nocerino’s scuffed shot from inside the area midway through the second half was Milan’s last chance to widen its lead, however, as Massimo Allegri’s side switched off ever so slightly, allowing the Nerazzurri to turn the tide. Schelotto leveled matters with a well-placed header from Yuto Nagatomo’s cross, and though Milan piled on the pressure late, neither team looked like scoring in the closing minutes.
Andrea Stramaccioni was unquestionably the more pleased of the two managers at the final whistle, which is telling considering the last time these teams met in early October the Nerazzurri were literally looking down at their rivals from eight spots higher in the table. The gap was 13 points in mid-November before Allegri engineered this remarkable turnaround that all of Europe was finally witness to last week.
Inter now trails both Milan and Lazio in the race for the final Champions League spot, and finds itself 14 points behind league leaders Juventus. Samir Handanovic showed once again this weekend why former Champions League winner Julio Cesar was cast aside, and Rodrigo Palacio has performed admirably up front, but none of the other summer acquisitions have made much of an impact.
After a solid start to the campaign, Antonio Cassano has faded and looks foolish now for demanding a move across town. Inter lacks any creativity in the midfield, and Diego Milito has been ruled out for the remainder of the season. Massimo Moratti clearly expected more from this year’s team, and if they miss out on Europe altogether, the Nerazzurri could be another club in the market for a new manager.
Allegri, meanwhile, continues to strengthen his position by the day, and will be the toast of Europe if his side finishes the job in Catalonia. The emergence of El Shaarawy and arrival of Balotelli has given Milan the strongest strike pairing in Italy, and Allegri has uncovered solutions at several other positions. The two teams shared the spoils this time around, but momentum is all on one side.
The Rossoneri remain a long way from the top of the table, however, and Juventus took another step towards securing a second straight Scudetto by sweeping aside Siena 3-0 in Turin. The visitors did hit the woodwork twice, but were unable to contain the Bianconeri with Stephan Lichtsteiner and Sebastian Giovinco finding the back of the net before Paul Pogba produced another screamer from long distance.
Elsewhere, Sampdoria upped its unbeaten run to five league games with a 2-0 home win over Chievo. The Blucerchiati have gone from relegation candidates to the top half of the table in a matter of weeks, while Parma appears headed in the opposite direction. Roberto Donadoni’s side was beaten 2-1 at home by Catania, which continues to surprise and is very much in contention for European qualification.
Some Other Thoughts:
*Roma is back in business under caretaker boss Aurelio Andreazzoli after following up last week’s shock victory over Juventus with a thrilling, come-from-behind 3-2 win in Bergamo on Sunday. The Giallorossi exhibited their customary problems at the back against Atalanta, though snowy conditions were partly to blame, but their explosive attack came to the rescue this time around.
Marquinhos, Miralem Pjanic and Vasilis Torosidis supplied the goals, and the result was achieved with Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi both missing out through suspension. De Rossi’s absence afforded Michael Bradley an opportunity from the start, but Andreazzoli has already stated his preference for the Italian international who should be available against Genoa next weekend.
*Giuseppe Rossi is nearing a return after the 26-year-old began training with new club Fiorentina. Rossi joined the Viola from Spanish side Villarreal during the January transfer window, and is hoping to be back on the field sometime in March. He hasn’t played a competitive match since October 2011, but could provide a significant boost to Vincenzo Montella’s side in its quest for European qualification.
*Gennaro Gattuso has been named player-manager at Swiss side FC Sion. The 35-year-old only joined the club last summer after his contract with Milan expired. Gattuso was part of the off-season purge that saw other veterans like Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta and Gianluca Zambrotta depart as well, but he could be back in Italy in the future if he displays any knack for coaching.