MILAN — Inter Milan took control of the all-Italian Champions League semifinals on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over rivals AC Milan at the San Siro stadium.
In a fearsome atmosphere, Simeone Inzaghi’s side were the away team but defied a hostile crowd to take a two-goal lead after just 11 minutes when Edin Dzeko opened the scoring with a stunning volley from a Hakan Calhanoglu corner before Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled benefit.
Inter continued to rage when Mkhitaryan hit the post before Ismael Bennacer was dismissed through injury in the 18th minute. The Nerazzurri thought they had received a penalty in the 31st minute when Lautaro Martinez went down for a foul by Simon Kjaer. Spain referee Jesus Gil Manzano initially conceded the penalty but reversed his decision at VAR review.
Milan improved after the restart when Braham Diaz turned a 20-yard shot just wide before substitute Junior Messias, who came on for Bennacer, flashed a shot wide from a promising position. Dzeko was denied at the other end by Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan before Sandro Tonali hit the post as Stefano Pioli’s side tried to close the gap.
Instead, they only managed to get a shot on target in the 81st minute and face a difficult task as Inter are firmly on the rise and aim to reach their first Champions League final since 2010.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga and more (USA)
– Read on ESPN+: What’s next for Messi? Analysis of its options
1. Inter take control in a majestic San Siro evening
The pre-game conversation centered on a game that might collapse under the weight of its own history and importance. Milan is a seven-time winner, Inter three-time champion. Both have deep roots in the history of the competition, playing a stunning semi-final in one of Europe’s most iconic stadiums – their 236th meeting in 114 years but the first Milan derby in the Champions League since 2005.
And with both sides struggling in Serie A this year, neither could say for sure when they’ll be back. After two years with the Scudetto – Inter in 2021, Milan last year – Napoli stole the limelight with their first Serie A title, but what a way to push them back with a game of this magnitude.
Some expected it would be low key as a result, but in the end the occasion only affected one team. Milan had conceded just one goal in their last six Champions League games, but here they were 2-0 down within 11 minutes. The stability of their defense faltered, which was shown by Inter’s second goal as Milan’s rearguard opened up like the Red Sea to give Mkhitaryan plenty of space to score the goal.
Inter have been in better form lately, winning their last five games in all competitions, but that alone didn’t explain the gap between these two sides, although Milan improved a bit in the second half.
Inter will have the advantage as the home team next Tuesday with the majority of viewers drawing for them. Strangely, perhaps, the rough atmosphere inhibited Milan. Before their recent success, locals spoke of “la maglia è pesante” – the weight of the shirt. Maybe it was just a night off. Or maybe the Rossoneri felt that weight a little.
On a grand evening at the venerable San Siro, Inter Milan emerged victorious over rivals AC Milan in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals. Piero Cruciatti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
2. Dzeko-over-Lukaku bet pays off
In addition to Marcelo Brozovic or Hakan Calhanoglu in midfield, the biggest selection dilemma for Inter coach Simone Inzaghi was to start Edin Dzeko or Romelu Lukaku alongside Lautaro Martinez in attack. Inzaghi chose Dzeko and what a decision that was.
Indeed, Calhanoglu and Dzeko combined brilliantly for Inter’s opening goal, a terrific volley that made Dzeko, aged 37, the second oldest player to score in a Champions League semi-final (after Ryan Giggs for Manchester United). 54 days.
Lukaku has a wealth of experience, but Dzeko’s achievements in the competition have shone through – he has now scored in each of the three Champions League semi-finals he has contested in his career. The combination of Martinez and Dzeko was too much for Milan early on. By half-time Inter had managed 11 shots – the highest tally Milan had at the San Siro against AS Roma since May 2017 when Dzeko scored twice in the opening 45 minutes of a 4-1 win.
Dzeko missed the golden opportunity to decide the tie when he made a clever save at his feet from Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan eight minutes into the second half, but the Croatian’s overall impact went a long way to deciding the tie in Inter’s favour.
Inzaghi has long earned a reputation as something of a cup specialist and this intelligent performance at Inter will only reinforce it.
Edin Dzeko’s early goal set the tone for Inter Milan against AC Milan. Piero Cruciatti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
3. Leao’s spark was missing when Milan struggled
Rafael Leao was sidelined with a muscle problem but the club tried to appease his spirit by announcing just hours before kick-off that the Portuguese star had ended months of speculation by signing a new five-year deal. Alexis Saelemaekers was given the difficult task of replacing Leao, who has recorded 13 goals and 10 assists in all competitions this season.
There was a moment just before halftime that included Saelemaekers’ performance. He picked up the ball on the left flank, drove into the field, frolicked one way and then the other, but at the point where he needed to produce an end product, he lost the ball to Denzel Dumfries. The moans in the stands said it all. Leao was pictured head in hands on the touchline at a point during a torrid first half where Milan struggled to create a sustained attacking threat.
Although they improved in the second half and hit the post through Sandro Tonali just after the hour, Saelemaekers was already substituted by then. The lack of flair wasn’t entirely his fault but that performance only underscored – if necessary – how desperate Milan will be to ensure Leao is fit for next week’s second leg.
Best and worst actors
BEST: Edin Dzeko, FW, Inter Milan
The excellent opening goal put Inter on course and looked dangerous all evening.
BEST: Lautaro Martinez, FW, Inter Milan
A constant dynamo who caused problems with possession and pressed hard without him – his five tackles were a game high.
BEST: Alessandro Bastoni, DF, Inter Milan
Calm presence in defense and an excellent push forward that created a good chance for Dzeko.
WORST: Fikayo Tomori, DF, AC Milan
Beaten with embarrassing ease in the first half hour by Dzeko and Martinez and never regained his poise.
Worst: Alexis Saelemaekers, FW, AC Milan
Completed just 11 passes out of 20 and was replaced by Divock Origi just before the hour.
WORST: Olivier Giroud, FW, AC Milan
Didn’t serve much in fairness but won just 46.7% of his tackles and completed nine passes out of 15.
Highlights and notable moments
The San Siro looked incredible ahead of Wednesday’s marquee game.
The San Siro is ready. pic.twitter.com/29Uy4DV6Uu
— James Olley (@JamesOlley) May 10, 2023
Edin Dzeko, aged 37, again silenced the Curva Sud for just eight minutes with this acrobatic feat.
“A GOAL THAT WOULD MAKE THE MOMENT!”
37-year-old Edin Džeko with a stunning finish. 🍷 pic.twitter.com/RpbKtJiTcS
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 10, 2023
Another veteran star with 34-year-old Henrikh Mkhitaryan giving Inter a commanding lead with that smooth finish.
TWO GOALS IN THREE MINUTES.
INTER FLY. 💥 pic.twitter.com/9K6yD4wZsu
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 10, 2023
After the game: What the coaches and players said
Inter Milan’s Edin Dzeko on BT Sport: “It feels very good, especially because it’s a derby. We played away on paper. It’s a great result for us.”
AC Milan’s Fikayo Tomori on BT Sport: “It took us a while to get back into the game. There was a bit of fear in the team. You can’t do that in a game like this.”
Key Statistics (provided by ESPN Stats & Information Research)
– Inter Milan now have three wins in a row over AC Milan via shutout for the first time since 1979-80. Wednesday marks Inter’s first win against their rivals in European competition (W1-L2-D2).
– Edin Dzeko has scored in all three Champions League semi-finals he has played in: on Wednesday against Milan and once in each first leg of the 2018 encounter against Liverpool.
– Milan conceded multiple goals in the first 15 minutes of a Champions League game for the second time and for the first time since the 2010/11 group stage in an away game against Real Madrid.
AC Milan: Fifth in Serie A, they play in Spezia on Saturday stay on the lookout for a top 4 spot. Back at the San Siro as a visitor on Tuesday for the second leg against Inter.
Inter Milan: They retain their fourth place in Serie A and host Sassuolo in the league game on Saturday ahead of next Tuesday’s decider against the Rossoneri.