By David Rodich
It was said by the announcer that AC Milan came out early for an intense warm-up before the match, while Inter barely had one at all. This showed as the Rossoneri went forward from the whistle, leaving Inter in a daze. Milan’s positive play was quickly rewarded with an early penalty when Ibrahimovic was taken down in the box by Materazzi. Ibra made no mistake about it and scored from the spot, right in front of the Inter supporters.
The Nerazzurri’s bad fortune continued. In the 35th, Obi came off with an injury, spurring Benitez to bring on Coutinho and switch formations to their standard 4-2-3-1. At halftime Milito came off as well with a thigh strain, and in response, Pandev was called upon, and Eto’o was moved to the center, where he has done most of his damage this season.
A quarter of an hour into the second half the defending champions got an opening back into the match. AC Milan went down to 10 men after Abate received his second yellow in a scuffle with Pandev, who was also booked. The final thirty minutes saw Inter possess the ball well and push forward, only to be thwarted by missed chances and a determined Milan defense. As the time ticked away, Benitez wore a look of anxiety, and it seemed as if his nervous energy had radiated throughout the team, as they were always slightly off the mark.
For Milan, on the other hand, the 1-0 victory was a continuation of their recently improved form. Managing Director Adriano Galliani made a light-hearted prediction before the match, saying, “If we win this, we will win the Scudetto.” For now, the victory moves the Rossoneri atop of the table, pushing Inter into fifth – six points behind their cross-town rivals
The injury-induced shuffle of personnel has been a constant for Benitez this year. Interestingly though, he has sometimes found better results with his adapted line-ups, causing uncertainty in player choices. Take his striker dilemma, which granted, most coaches would be more than happy to have: In the 4-2-3-1 formation, a healthy Milito lines up as the lone striker with Eto’o on the wing, even though he prefers the center. When Milito was injured early in the season, Eto’o moved into the striker position where he more than out shined the Argentine. The Cameroonian now leads the Serie A in goals, and his movement and attacking intensity in front of goal add excitement to a team that has otherwise looked quite dull this season. With Milito back, the coach has chosen to put them both up front in a 4-4-2 with a diamond. It remains unclear if this will work, as the team seems to function more naturally with five in the midfield. Time will tell. For now, Inter fans are just hoping to get their team back to full strength. They would rather have a line-up dilemma than an injured Milito, who scored 30 goals last year.