Inter have one foot in a first Champions League final since 2010 after a statement performance and 2-0 win over city rivals AC Milan in a huge semi-final first leg at San Siro.
Early goals from veteran pair Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan made the difference on the night, but it could easily have been plenty more. Either way, Milan have work to do when they meet again for the second leg next week.
Milan were caught cold with only eight minutes on the clock when Dzeko showed every bit of guile, experience and quality to hold off Davide Calabria at Hakan Calhanoglu’s in-swinging corner and connect with a left-footed volley into the net.
Inter struck again while the iron was hot. This time it was a counter down the left that saw Federico Dimarco send the ball into Mkhitaryan’s path. The defence in front of him seemed to part and the Armenian only had Mike Maignan to beat for double the lead.
It could have quickly been three for the Nerazzurri when Calhanoglu, of the Rossoneri until 2021, sliced across the ball and struck the inside of the post. Inter kept the chance alive and Mkhitaryan hit a shot at the feet of Maignan, while Barella blazed the rebound over.
Milan took another hit when Ismael Bennacer was forced off injured inside 20 minutes, but seemed to be settling and gaining a foothold until the electric Lautaro Martinez sat Fikayo Tomori down and appeared to be clipped by Simon Kjaer. A penalty was originally awarded but then bizarrely revered following a VAR intervention. Inter then seemed to up the tempo again and Milan were briefly on the ropes until again warming into things by the time the half-time whistle sounded.
Brahim Diaz went close for Milan with a curling effort soon after the restart. Junior Messias then missed the target with a glorious chance after being put through on goal by Sandro Tonali. But, defensively, they remained suspect and Alessandro Bastoni was allowed to waltz through all the way from the back, feeding Dzeko who was only denied by a top save from Maignan.
Tonali hit the outside of the post after a good Milan move in the closest the ‘home’ side had come. The atmosphere inside San Siro was building and building, but Inter also continued to have chances, with Francesco Acerbi stinging Maignan’s hands from distance and Matteo Darmian denied by an outstanding block from substitute Malick Thiaw.
Rade Krunic walked the tightrope and survived a possible red card in a clash with Acerbi.
Milan’s trouble was that even when they did get the ball into good areas, there was a real lack of quality when it mattered. As such, it was stoppage time at the end of the game before they registered a meaningful shot on target. Even then, it was a comfortable save for Andre Onana after substitute Tommaso Pobega hit the ball straight at him.
GK: Mike Maignan – 7/10 – Made a great save to stop Inter going three ahead in under 20 minutes. Might have given his team a fighting chance in the second leg.
RB: Davide Calabria (c) – 4/10 – Outmuscled and outwitted with disastrous consequences in the opening quarter of the game.
CB: Simon Kjaer – 5/10 – Arguably fortunate that VAR intervened when he appeared to trip Martinez.
CB: Fikayo Tomori – 4/10 – Surprisingly poor given the good season he has had.
LB: Theo Hernandez – 5/10 – Was getting frustrated when Inter were bossing the first half.
CM: Rade Krunic – 4/10 – Didn’t offer the back anything like enough protection. Could have been sent off on another night.
CM: Sandro Tonali – 5/10 – Poor off the ball and lazily lost track of Mkhitaryan when Inter made it 2-0. Did a much better job of getting on the ball and affecting the game in that way in the second half.
RM: Brahim Diaz – 6/10 – Had Milan’s first real chance of the game early in the second half.
AM: Ismael Bennacer – N/A – Injury ended his night after 18 minutes.
LM: Alexis Saelemaekers – 6/10 – Grew into the game as the first half progressed and seemed to be the most likely source of creativity. But withdrawn after an hour.
ST: Olivier Giroud – 5/10 – Starved of meaningful service all night.
SUB: Junior Messias (18′ for Bennacer) – 6/10
SUB: Malick Thiaw (59′ for Kjaer) – 7/10
SUB: Divock Origi (60′ for Saelemaekers) – 6/10
SUB: Tommaso Pobega (82′ for Diaz) – 6/10
SUB: Pierre Kalulu (82′ for Calabria) – 6/10
Stefani Pioli – 6/10 – Will be scratching his hed at the first half performance in particular. Things improved after the break and the subs made a decent impact.
GK: Andre Onana – 6/10 – Mostly a spectator, despite Milan growing into the game.
CB: Matteo Darmian – 6/10 – Could have been safer in possession, but only denied a second half goal by a great block.
CB: Francesco Acerbi – 7/10 – Contained Giroud and even tried his luck from distance.
CB: Alessandro Bastoni – 7/10 – Carried the ball out of defence really well, like an extra midfielder.
RM: Denzel Dumfries – 6/10 – Didn’t see that much of the ball.
CM: Nicolo Barella – 7/10 – Put the hard yards in and was consistently invovled in Inter attacks.
CM: Hakan Calhanoglu – 8/10 – Controlled things from the middle of the pitch and unlucky not to score himself with a thunderous strike that hit the post.
CM: Henrikh Mkhitaryan – 8/10 – Rolled back the years with the way he took his goal.
LM: Federco Dimarco – 7/10 – Pace made him a great outlet and he made the Inter second.
ST: Edin Dzeko – 8/10 – Showed his strength when he broke the deadlock. Always a danger.
ST: Lautaro Martinez – 7/10 – Looked sharp darting in and around the Milan defenders and midfielders.
SUB: Marcelo Brozovic (63′ for Mkhitaryan) – 6/10
SUB: Romelu Lukaku (70′ for Dzeko) – 6/10
SUB: Stefan de Vrij (71′ for Dimarco) – 6/10
SUB: Joaquin Correa (78′ for Martinez) – 6/10
SUB: Roberto Gagliardini (78′ for Calhanoglu) – 5/10
Simone Inzaghi – 8/10 – Played it right and his team executed the gameplan perfectly.