A pulsating Milan derby saw Inter Milan come from two goals down to rally in an incredible second half to come back from the dead and rise to the summit of Serie A.
The derby was billed as a potential classic, and would eventually deliver on that potential, but for the home side at the shared San Siro stadium, a half to forget kicked off this most memorable of matches. Inter were insipid in the first 45 minutes, negated by Milan’s defensive rallying and energy in midfield. By comparison, I Nerazzurri looked pedestrian, and when Zlatan Ibrahimovic assisted Ante Rebic for the opener, it was no less than the Rossoneri deserved. When Ibrahimovic himself headed in from close range right on half-time, it looked like the death knell for Inter’s hopes in both the game and, by extension, the title race.
Momentum is everything, after all. But instead of the clanging chime of doom to Inter’s ambitions, the two-goal deficit inspired them to ring the changes and turn the game on its head. Six minutes into the second half, Marcelo Brozovic volleyed a goal back, and when Matias Vecino equalised two minutes later, the comeback was on.
If there was a period of uncertainty, neither side wishing to concede, then it always looked likely to end, and when Stefan de Vrij headed home for 3-2, it was the Dutchman’s first header since the corresponding fixture a year earlier. Now A.C. Milan needed to push for an equaliser, and they went for it with everything they had, Ibrahimovic not content with becoming the oldest player to score in the Milan derby.
Alexis Sanchez was replaced by recent signing Christian Eriksen, and both teams struck the woodwork in a frantic end to the game. The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder hit the bar from one of his trademark free-kicks. Zlatan saw his header rebound off the post, and a stunning Calhanoglu’s effort slammed against the post too.
The onslaught turned the match into one where the next goal was everything, in not too dissimilar a manner to Liverpool’s win against Manchester United at Anfield last month. Either Milan would equalise or Inter would score a decisive fourth goal. In the 93rd minute, the latter happened when former Everton and Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku nodded in at the back post to send black and blue scarves waving into the evening air, and the man himself into ecstasy, a huge goal in a massive game signalling his importance to Antonio Conte’s side. Lukaku would wallow in the moment of victory, raising his shirt on a corner flag like a symbol of who owned the city.
On Monday morning, the most popular Italian sports newspaper, Gazzetta dello Sport, called the result Realtà romanzesca a San Siro or to translate, ‘A fairy tale at the San Siro’.
Whether the fairytale will end with Conte’s side as champions may depend on just how consistent another former Chelsea manager, Maurizio Sarri, is in Turin. As it stands, however, only goal difference separates the two sides after Hellas Verona’s shock win over The Old Lady at the weekend. Lazio, under Simone Inzaghi, are just a point behind the pair of them.
The best title race this season is clearly in Italy, and may well go the final game of the season. For Juventus, that is a home tie against Roma. Lukaku may well be looking for help from his former United teammate Chris Smalling in preventing Juventus and helping I Nerazzurri to what would be a phenomenal title win.