It’s that time again Milanisti…The Derby della Madonnina is upon us with a significance that has not encapsulated the fixture for years.
The anticipation is pulpable…The passions are hightened…The banter between the fans is intense and at times, quite funny…
No doubt every Derby is important, but this one that will take place on Sunday will potentially be the most impactful in a decade. So let’s look back at a clash from 10 years ago and reminisce.
The Milanese giants, just like now, were going head to head in battle for the Scudetto. Just like now, the Rossoneri won the first clash in the league that season. Just as now, a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in the red and black half of the city’s team.
Could it be deja vu?
The Nerazzurri had just come off their treble season under Jose Mourinho, while Milan had not won a trophy since the Club World Cup in 2007. There were new coaches on both benches, as Max Allegri was in charge of il Diavolo, while former Milan player Leonardo had the reigns of il Biscione. The Brazilian had replaced Rafa Benitez, after the Spaniard was fired in December.
Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani, remember them, had seen their city rivals create history and were not about to sit on their laurels and allow that to continue. They invested in the market, probably for the last time. They acquired the aforementioned Ibrahimovic, Kevin-Prince Boetang and by the time the Derby on the 2nd of April rolled around, Antonio Cassano and Mark Van Bommel.
On a cool spring Saturday night in Lombardia, the teams headed to the clash with Milan on top by two points over their cugini.
The Rossoneri had a significant absence though, as Ibrahimovic was serving the last of a four match ban he had incurred against Napoli. That Milan team, while dependent on the Swede for his goals and all-round play (he finished that campaign with 14 goals and 12 assists), were definitely not a one-man team.
And it was a proved case before even a minute had elapsed in the match!
The seven times European champions kicked-off proceedings and following what seemed like a training ground routine took the lead after just 42 seconds. Alexandre Pato dropped deep and collected the ball, played a one-two with captain Rino Gattuso, Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar rushed off his line, initially stopped the effort, but the Brazilian was there to finish off the move.
It sent most of the 80000 fans in the stands crazy with delirium, as Milan were the designated “home team”, plus those watching around the world in the homes, bars and where-ever else Milanisti gathered.
With the lead have been taken, how will Allegri’s team handle the rest of the match? The answer…Continue to attack.
Pato continued to be at the heart of everything that was good about the team, as his movement, both with and without the ball, his vision and his sprinter like speed, gave Inter all sorts of headaches. Milan should have had a penalty just before the 10th minute, as Clarence Seedorf’s shot seemed to have hit Maicon’s hands, which were clearly away from his body. Where is VAR when you need it?
Without a doubt, a goal being scored so early opened the game up and it was an exciting end to end encounter.
Christian Abbiati in Milan’s goal had to make two vital stops.
Firstly from Giampaolo Pazzini, who managed to wiggle away past Gianluca Zambrotta and Thiago Silva and hit a left-footed effort from just eight yards out. The goalkeepr from Abbiategrasso reacted abruptly to parry away the striker’s shot. Whew…that was close.
There was an even more heart-pumping moment for Milan fans…From a corner, Thiago Motta’s header seemed destined for the back of the net, until Abbiati somewhere, somehow, by an act of faith, stuck out his right hand and saved it. Not only, did he prevent the ball from passing him, he was able to send the ball away from any Inter players and Seedorf cleared.
Milan’s players knew that their rivals were not just going to sit back and let their title go by without a fight.
By that point, it was less than 10 minutes to go in the first half, and Milan main efforts were from outside the area. Inter coach Leonardo then was seen significantly animated, as if he did not want to give way to his former club. From one of those said efforts from distance, Mark Van Bommel hit the cross-bar from a deflected shot, that left Julio Cesar looking up in hope.
Following the resumption after the break, Milan dropped back ever so slightly in a need to protect what they had.
Unfortunately, Gattuso had to go off just six minutes into the second half and the captain’s armband was handed over to Seedorf. The Dutchman had at that point been with Milan for almost nine years and he fully embraced his role. The club’s number 10 could be seen directing orders, he gave out advice and he encouraged his teammates.
What a man.
Milan gained a man advantage after Rino went off, as Pato marauding run towards goal, Christian Chivu came in contact with the striker and was promptly dismissed.
Following that, Milan sensed blood, they sensed their arch-rivals were wounded, they sensed an opportunity to take advantage. And…they did!
That man again, Seedorf was the architect. He played a sumptuous pass to Ignazio Abate, the right-back had a scuffed shot that fortunately found it’s way to an all-alone Pato in waiting and he headed it home. Milan needed that two goal lead to allow the players that sense of calmness, that ease of mind, that leeway to play with freedom.
2-0 up, but with still 30 minutes left, maximum concentration was still required.
The central midfield combination of Flamini and Van Bommel bossed the game. Any and all of Inter’s attacks, whether that be on the counter or from the occasional pressing, were stopped with more than equal aplomb by the French-Dutch duo. Not only was their contribution counted on the defensive side, but also on attacks. When they won the ball back, their distribution was almost flawless and when in possession, they were precise with their passing. It helped Milan build pressure and wear Inter down.
Allegri made a substitution with 10 minutes left that sealed the deal.
Antonio Cassano came on. Soon after Pato left the stage to a rousing standing ovation. That was arguably the most memorable performance in the Brazilian’s time with Milan.
Cassano has always been one for the headlines and made his mark in that game. With just three minutes remaining, a long racking ball to the Bari born player by that man again Seedorf, was collected by the striker in the penalty area. He was brought down by Inter captain Javier Zanetti and the referee Rizzoli pointed to the spot. There was only going to be one player to take it…Cassano of course. He dispatched the penalty, took his shirt off, threw it in the air, went towards his team’s bench, soon joined by the rest of his teammates.
Cassano soaked up the adulation, Leonardo’s look was priceless and the celebrations began. The forward still managed to get himself sent off for two yellow card offenses, but it did not take the shine away from the victory.
Milan maintained their status atop the standings, moved further ahead of their bitter rivals, ran off four consecutive wins after and clinched the Scudetto in Rome.
Four months later, Milan would beat Inter in Beijing in the SuperCoppa Italiana to sweeten that victory in the league even more.