Inter paid the price for another dismal performance as they lost the derby 1-0 against AC Milan. An early goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave Rossoneri a crucial victory as they defeated Nerazzurri to overtake Lazio at the top of Serie A.
The writing was on the wall for Inter. Rafael Benitez amazing decision to start with Marco Materazzi as centre back alongside Lucio, gave AC Milan a psychological edge. And a technical advantage too. Materazzi featured only in 5 of the last 50 games played by Inter - the 37-year old defender inclusion showed without a doubt that Inter coach was afraid of Ibra aerial prowess. So afraid to prefer a nearly retired pro over Cordoba for the centre-back position, and the Colombian over Davide Santon as right full-back. A mess.
Four minutes into the match were enough to realise how wrong he was: Clarence Seedorf released Ibrahimovic down the right wing, inside the penalty area the Swede was brought down by Materazzi's reckless tackle. Ibra felt obliged to thank the former teammate blunder, firing the penalty past Julio Cesar's substitute Luca Castellazzi. Ibrahimovic kept leading the show and exposing Inter defense's weaknesses. The nightmare for Nerazzurri fans was just beginning. At the minute 36' Coutinho replaced the injured Obi. Everygame Inter lose a different player due to muscolar problems. Fact.
Benitez then shifted some positions and changed shape to his midfield - the initial diamond made room to a line: Zanetti-Stankovic-Sneijder-Coutinho. Things got better. Even if the only danger for AC Milan came when Wesley Sneijder curled a freekick into the side netting in the 38th minute. The Dutchman long range shots were the only threats to Abbiati even in a even more frustrating second half. The Champions of Europe misery was evident as they failed to exploit the man-advantage after Ignazio Abate's 60th minute dismissal. With half an hour still to play and AC Milan down to 10 men Inter never looked capable to draw.
Next month Inter will go to Abu Dhabi not sure to win the FIFA Club World Cup. The winning mentality seems gone. This side could struggle against anyone and Rafa Benitez is not untouchable anymore - missing the Intercontinental trophy could seal his fate. Guus Hiddink, Turkey manager, and Luciano Spalletti, who won the Russian title with Zenit, are Moratti first options to replace the Spaniard.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Marco Materazzi. At 37 he proves to be still decisive. For the wrong side.
Serie A 2010-11 / Day 12
INTER-MILAN 0-1 (0-1)
INTER MILAN: Castellazzi; Cordoba, Lucio, Materazzi (67’ Biabiany), Chivu; Zanetti, Stankovic, Obi (36’ Coutinho); Sneijder; Milito (46' Pandev), Eto’o. Coach: Benitez
AC MILAN: Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Zambrotta; Gattuso (46' Pirlo), Ambrosini, Flamini; Seedorf (73' Boateng); Ibrahimovic, Robinho (62' Antonini). Coach: Allegri
Scorer: Ibrahimovic 5' pen
Sent off: Abate 60'
Yellow cards: Gattuso, Ibrahimovic, Ambrosini