Derby draw a fair result for Inter

Posted by Mike Whittaker

"Nerazzurri, you make my heart make me lose my breath" -- that was the message from the Curva Nord Ultras in the pre-game choreography put on Sunday, before the first Milan derby draw since 2004.

With the Inter anthem 'Ce Solo Inter' blasting around the Giuseppe Meazza, and the scene of the Interisti display filling my TV screen, I will admit I felt a tear of pride in my eye. That one phrase was especially poignant, as it sums up entirely what it means to be an Interista for me.

-- Inter salvages draw with Milan

We are so passionate about our club -- it is one of the most important things in our lives -- but watching them play often has us holding our breath due to the roller coaster of emotions we feel during the 90 minutes of a game.

The second Derby Della Madonnina of the 2012-13 season was no different, and I can honestly say I was so engrossed I found myself holding my breath several times as Inter fought to secure a point with their 1-1 draw. Interestingly, the last time the Milan derby was played on Feb. 24 was back in 1963, and also ended with both sides scoring one goal.

Sunday's game started with two surprise inclusions for Inter. The first was Andrea Ranocchia, who passed a late fitness test to be included into the squad after injuring his knee Thursday against CFR Cluj. The second was more of a shock for me than a surprise, seeing Antonio Cassano's name on the team sheet. After playing 90 minutes in the Europa League tie Thursday, the striker was not expected to start.

Again, Andrea Stramaccioni saw fit to play Cassano the entire game, and as I predicted in my post after the Cluj game, he failed to make any sort of real impression after just 15-20 minutes. He spent most of his time against Milan looking jaded and uninspired the majority of the game.

This in turn left Rodrigo Palacio stranded up front for the Nerazzurri. Stramaccioni's logic in doing this seemed as foggy as the San Siro pitch at the start of the second half.

I was pleased Ranocchia was fit, as he is an important piece in Inter's defensive line. This was evident Sunday, with the young Italian making several crucial tackles against the attacking plays from the Milan forwards. Ranocchia is proving himself to be an important player defensively for Inter, constantly is looking to cut out or block the opposition's advances.

Unfortunately, his yellow card in the 34th minute means he will miss Inter's next game against high-flying Catania, who are sitting in seventh place just three points behind the Nerazzurri. I just hope the Nerazzurri don't end up paying for his absence.

The decisive player for Inter Sunday, and the player who should be man of the match, is goalkeeper Samir Handanovic (five saves). In the first half especially he was called upon numerous times to keep the ball out of the Nerazzurri net. Apart from Stephan El Shaarawy's goal, he was an unbreakable wall in the Inter goal. He made world-class saves time and time again as the Milan attack bombarded him with strikes, much to the frustration of Mario Balotelli, who was denied the pleasure of scoring against his old team.

The game started well for Inter, with the squad looking focused and determined to take an important win against their bitter rivals. But after just 10 minutes their impetus faded and Milan took the upper hand. Following El Shaarawy's goal, Inter players started to look deflated -- much as they had during Fiorentina's 4-1 rout last week -- and again Stramaccoini seemed either unwilling or even unable to make the required changes to limit Milan's dominance.

This inability to change tactics or formation during play is a worrying trait the Inter coach is developing, and one that, as shown last week, has the potential to cost his team dearly. Luckily the weak link of Yuto Nagatomo at right back was rectified at half-time. Captain Javier Zanetti was much more solid in the role of covering the right side of Inter's defence in the second half, by not chasing El Shaarawy infield to leave a gaping hole for Milan to take advantage of.

The change with the biggest influence came when Stramaccioni substituted Ezequiel Schelotto for Esteban Cambiasso, which meant Fredy Guarin could move to a more suitable infield role. The difference was obvious, and three minutes after taking the pitch, winger Schelotto secured the equaliser by heading home a great cross from Nagatomo out on the left wing.

I'm not entirely sure removing Cambiasso was the right choice considering the midfielder was playing fairly well, but the change paid off so I can't complain too much.

Sunday's derby draw has done nothing to convince me that Stramaccioni is the tactical genius we thought he was at one time. For me, he is looking more like Claudio Ranieri than Jose Mourinho as a coach, constantly trying different tactics and decisions which occasionally pay off.

The only difference is Stramaccioni is still only in his first year as a professional coach and still has time to learn from his mistakes, unlike the tinkering type who is firmly set in his ways.

A bigger issue for me is the lack of passion and desire to win that the squad has been showing recently. I feel the two most influential Nerazzurri players, Zanetti and Cambiasso, should take some of the blame. As veterans with huge amounts of experience on all levels of top-flight football, these two should be giving their teammates the kick on the pitch that has clearly been lacking recently.

It pains me massively to criticise two of the most respected players at the club, but this is obviously a role that both should be embracing as captain and vice-captain of a squad that isn't playing to their full potential.

When all is said and done, I have to admit I'm happy with the result. I would even say it is a fair one given effort shown by both sides throughout the entire 90 minutes. Milan were the better side in the first half but Inter showed more determination in the second.

The result, however, is not a good sign for Inter's season, with them losing yet more ground in the race for a top-three finish, and my concerns of not achieving qualification for any European competition next season are still looking justified.

Inter did OK against Milan, but with Napoli, Lazio and Juventus still to play, will OK be enough -- especially when you consider the fourth-place Nerazzurri are just four points ahead of eighth place in Serie A.

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