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Milan derby: hollow victory

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It was billed as one of the least anticipated derbies in recent memory in large part due to AC Milan’s struggles this season, and Walter Samuel’s early header did indeed sink the Rossoneri further in the standings. But whatever football was played at the San Siro on Sunday came mostly from Massimo Allegri’s side, which was extremely unlucky to suffer a fourth Serie A defeat.

Inter’s problems continue to be camouflaged by the plight of their crosstown rivals with Christian Abbiati and referee Paolo Valeri conspiring to give the Nerazzurri three points they hardly deserved. Abbiati even attempted to gift Inter a second goal shortly after allowing Samuel to find the back of the net, as his lazy pass was easily intercepted by Diego Milito who somehow failed to capitalize. 

Valeri, meanwhile, disallowed Riccardo Montolivo’s first-half equalizer following a collision between Urby Emanuelson and Samir Handanovic, and denied numerous penalty appeals from the Rossoneri who piled on the pressure for most of the match. Inter wasn’t helped by Yuto Nagatomo’s dismissal early in the second half, but the Nerazzurri produced very little even with 11 men on the field.

Afterwards Inter president Massimo Moratti acted as if his side had put forth a great performance, even comparing Andrea Stramaccioni to Jose Mourinho. Stramaccioni has provided some degree of stability since taking over last March following the disappointing tenures of Gian Piero Gasperini and Claudio Ranieri, but more was expected this season from a team hoping to challenge for the league title.

Wesley Sneijder is still unable to solve his fitness issues and missed out on Sunday with a thigh injury, while Philippe Coutinho squandered a golden opportunity to stake his claim to regular first-team football with a dismal 45 minutes before being replaced at halftime. The lack of inspiration from midfield hindered both Milito and Antonio Cassano who seemed distracted by all the abuse he was subjected to from Rossoneri supporters.  

Handanovic earned his third clean sheet of the campaign, but Inter’s back line remains vulnerable against more dangerous opponents. Juan Jesus was expected to be nothing more than a fringe player in his first season with the club, but has emerged as a fixture in the center of defense, and the Brazilian showed all his limitations at the Olympics this past summer.

Inter figures to earn enough points against lesser teams in Serie A – a group AC Milan now comprises – to stay within striking distance of the top of the table. But the Nerazzurri are pseudo contenders incapable of toppling Juventus, while both Napoli and Lazio look to be superior as well. For all his joy this weekend, Moratti might find his club denied a Champions League spot for the second straight season.

The Biancocelesti continue to benefit from the return to health of Miroslav Klose who bagged a brace on Sunday in the 3-0 win at Pescara, while Hernanes added another magnificent goal to his collection with a free kick from long distance. The Brazilian is the exact sort of player Inter is lacking, and could tip the balance in favor of Lazio in the battle for third place.

Klose has already scored five times, and trails only Edinson Cavani who failed to find the back of the net this weekend in Napoli’s hard-fought 2-1 victory over Udinese. Cavani did play a part in Marek Hamsik’s opener and attracted enough attention from the Bianconeri back line to help Goran Pandev notch the winner late in the first half just two minutes after Giampiero Pinzi had equalized for the visitors.

The Partenopei have higher ambitions than third place, but will need Juventus to stumble, which is less likely now with Andrea Pirlo rediscovering last season’s form. The 33-year-old has contributed two outstanding performances in a row, and delivered another free kick goal in the 2-1 win over Siena, while Claudio Marchisio finally broke his duck for the campaign late in the second half.

Elsewhere, Roma notched an encouraging 2-0 home win over Atalanta behind goals from Erik Lamela and Michael Bradley, while the sensational Stevan Jovetic helped Fiorentina claim another three points with a cheeky flick in the 1-0 victory over Bologna. Jovetic is among the league leaders with five goals and should be in line for a move to a bigger club in the near future.

Some Other Thoughts:

*Cagliari became the third club in Serie A to make a coaching change with Ivo Pulga replacing Massimo Ficcadenti this past week, and Pulga is off to a promising start with the Rossoblu claiming a 1-0 away win over Torino. The breakthrough came from the penalty spot 15 minutes from time, as Nene stepped up to convert the only goal of the match.

The next task for Pulga following the international break will be to overcome all the distractions Cagliari faces at home given the controversy surrounding Is Arenas Stadium. Provided the Rossoblu don’t forfeit any more matches, the improved defensive solidity on display this weekend should serve as a genuine source of optimism in Sardinia.

*The first managerial sacking took place at Palermo, of course, and the question now is how long Gian Piero Gasperini will last under lunatic president Maurizio Zamparini. The Rosanero have gained four points from the last two games, following up last week’s 4-1 victory over Chievo with a 1-1 draw at Genoa on Saturday, so Gasperini should be safe for the time being.

*Sampdoria has enjoyed an impressive start to the campaign, and the Blucerchiati seemed poised to earn another valuable point away from home against Chievo on Saturday thanks to a moment of magic from summer signing Enzo Maresca that canceled out Cyril Thereau’s opener. But goalkeeper Sergio Romero faltered in the closing moments, fumbling a simple David Di Michele effort into his own net to hand Eugenio Corini a win on his debut on the bench for Chievo.