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The Nerazzurri were too strong for their rivals last week and this match could end with a similar outcome.
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Before the first leg last week, most observers predicted a tight and cagey encounter - particularly in the first half. In fact, the opening 20 minutes of the match proved to be the most eventful part of it.
It was a dream start for Inter and a nightmare one for Milan. Goals from Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan gave the Nerazzurri a 2-0 advantage after just 11 minutes. Their opponents and arch-rivals were stunned; Simone Inzaghi was delighted.
The Inter boss will have spent the last few days ensuring his players do not think the job is done yet. The Champions League knockout phase has seen more than its fair share of dramatic comebacks down the years.
“We worked as a team this evening and it was a great performance, but it was just the first step as we look to accomplish something big,” Inzaghi said after the match.
Yet it is clear that Inter are now in pole position to reach their first Champions League final since 2010, when they won the tournament - as well as the Serie A title and the Coppa Italia - under the management of Jose Mourinho.
Under Inzaghi, Inter have developed a reputation as a cup team. They won the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana last season and retained the latter trophy this term. Meanwhile, they will contest the final of the Coppa Italia 2023 against Fiorentina later this month.
Needless to say, winning the Champions League would be this team’s greatest achievement yet. The best online sportsbooks would have them down as massive underdogs against either Real Madrid or Manchester City in the final, but you never know in soccer.
Before then, Inter must ensure they complete the job on Tuesday. Supporters can dream of the Istanbul showpiece, but the players and management must not think beyond this upcoming game.
Milan will not only have been disappointed with the result last time out. Their principal reason for annoyance will be that they did not give a true account of themselves when the pressure was at its highest.
There were two major shortcomings. Stefano Pioli’s men made a dire start. The central defenders, Simon Kjaer and Fikayo Tomori were exploited by Inter’s frontline. But the Milan duo did not receive much in the way of support from the midfielders in front of them.
The Rossoneri also fell short in attack. Granted, without Rafael Leao they were never going to carry the same threat in the final third. The probable return of the Portugal international for the second leg is a boost for Milan, although there must be concern about whether he is fully fit.
Still, Milan had 79 minutes to try and at least halve the deficit in front of a San Siro that predominantly contained their own supporters. However, Inter held them at arm’s length and Milan were unable to build up a head of steam. Put simply, they looked shell-shocked.
Things did not exactly improve at the weekend. Needing to win to keep their hopes of a top four finish alive, Milan slumped to a 2-0 defeat by a Spezia team that is in the relegation zone. Angry fans made their feelings known to the players and staff after the final whistle.
Milan have lost form at the worst possible time. They have won just one of their last five fixtures in all competitions. That is a worry, not least because Inter are in the precise opposite situation - a 4-2 victory over Sassuolo on Saturday was their seventh on the bounce.
Milan must nevertheless believe that they can still go through. Without that, they have zero chance of overturning their two-goal disadvantage.
It will be interesting to see how Inter approach this game. Given the fact they are already 2-0 up on aggregate, they will probably not come flying out of the traps as they did in the first leg. But nor would it be advisable to simply sit back and allow Milan to get into their rhythm.
The task is clearer for the Rossoneri. Conceding the first goal would probably be fatal to their chances of progressing, so Milan will have to go on the attack.
They too must find the right balance, though: throwing men forward with abandon is a risky tactic that could easily backfire.
There are only five points separating these two teams in the Serie A table. After 35 rounds of fixtures, there is little to choose between them. But in a one-off game, there is reason to favor Inter.
The Nerazzurri have won 75 percent of the derbies they have contested this season, with Milan’s last win coming back in September. Inter are in full control of this tie and their superior individual quality could make the difference once again.
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Teams: Inter vs AC Milan
Location: San Siro, Milan, Italy.
Date and Time: May. 16, 2023, 3 p.m. ET
How to Watch: CBS, Paramount+
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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