Inter take control in Italy

IT’S NOT exactly the renaissance, but Italy’s Serie A promises to deliver an exciting climax with Juventus finally losing the crown that has become their personal property since 2012.

Inter Milan won the third derby della maddonina in the San Siro, deservedly so, even if their 3-0 victory was a little harsh on their co-tenants, AC Milan. Such a scoreline hints at blue and black bunting being flown throughout the city come the end of the season and also suggests Milan’s title bid may be flagging.

Inter have now won 13 of their last 16 Serie A games and have lost just twice in the league this season. They have kept five clean sheets in their last six fixtures and have scored 57 goals. All the pointers are positive for the Nerazzurriso Inter could be on the verge of winning their first scudetto since 2010. 

As for Milan, they have lost four times in their nine games since the start of 2021, including home defeats at the hands of Juventus (1-3), Atalanta (0-3) and now Inter. They were also beaten at lowly Spezia and they’ve failed to score in their last three games. 

Inter’s victory puts them four points clear of Milan at the top and 11 ahead of reigning champions Juventus, who are in sixth place. You cannot write Juventus off just yet, although they are clearly not the Juve of the past nine years having slipped-up several times in costly draws. Although Cristiano Ronaldo continues to score, others have struggled and their midfield looks lightweight. While Inter performed disappointingly in their UEFA Champions League group, Juve won through in a group that included Barcelona. However, Inter can now focus 100% on the title race. 

The Champions League money would have been useful as Inter have felt the financial pressure from covid-19. Inter’s revenues dropped by € 45 million to € 372 million in 2019-20. Losses amount to € 102.4 million. The pandemic and extension of football until the end of August meant that the club suffered a deferral of revenues from TV rights and sponsorship, amounting to more than € 50 million. Inter agreed player salary postponements for July and August 2020 to ease the situation as football went into lockdown. 

The club may yet be sold to private equity firm BC Partners, who have tabled a bid of around € 800 million for Inter. Owners Suning have been trying to secure a near-€ 200 million bridging loan to help Inter navigate the pandemic and have been talking to various finance companies. Suning want € 1 billion to sell Inter, but may eventually be forced to take BC Partners’ offer. 

On the field, things are looking positive for both Milan clubs, although Inter now look more likely champions than resurgent Milan. The latest derby was a scintillating game, the sort that packed stadiums are made for. Inter went ahead after just five minutes when Romelu Lukaku’s cross was headed home, textbook-style, past Gianluigi Donnarumma by Lautaro Martinez. It was Martinez’s 13th Serie A goal of the season.  

Milan came out with renewed vigour after the interval and two Zlatan Ibrahimović headers were spectacularly saved by Samir Handanović. The Inter keeper also pulled off an excellent stop from Sandro Tonali and then acrobatically tipped a Franck Kessié volley over the crossbar. 

But in the 56th minute, Inter produced some fine flowing football that ended with Martinez sweeping the ball home. Inter were not finished as in the 65th minute, Lukaku drove forward and sent a powerful left-foot drive inside Donnarumma’s right hand post. So impressive was the strike that Ibrahimović stood and applauded Lukaku’s effort. Inter had made their massive statement of intent and Antonio Conte was delighted, congratulating his team on their “beautiful victory”, noting that players like Ivan Perisic and Christian Eriksen had clicked into form at the right time. 

It’s been around a decade since Inter and AC Milan were battling away at the top together, but this derby demonstrated Milan’s youngsters are probably not ready for a sustained title bid. The starting line-up in the San Siro included six players under the age of 25, including Donnarumma and Davide Calabria. Inter, meanwhile, have their own promising talent, but their strength is in seasoned pros like Lukaku (still only 27), Perisic (32), Eriksen (29) and Stefan De Vrij (29). 

Inter coach Conte also has an advantage over his opposite number at Milan, Stefano Pioli, in that he knows how to win trophies having picked-up three scudettos with Juventus and the Premier League and FA Cup with Chelsea. Restoring Inter to the top of Italian football is why he was hired in the first place. The timing couldn’t be better for Inter, as they have caught Juventus at a somewhat weaker moment, a season in which they are still bedding-in a rookie manager in Andrea Pirlo.

Photo: PA Images