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May 4, 2014

Inter disappoint in Derby della Madonnina defeat

ESPN FC's Steve Nicol recaps the final Milan derby of this campaign.


A very poor Inter side lost 1-0 in the Derby della Madonnina on Sunday as a Nigel de Jong header gave Milan the bragging rights in the city.

Inter were so poor that they made the dysfunctional Milan side look good by comparison as Walter Mazzarri was outcoached by Clarence Seedorf.

The derby also signaled the end of an era at Inter as Walter Samuel, Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito all made their final Derby della Madonnina appearances. Somehow Mazzarri failed to get Inter legend Javier Zanetti onto the pitch for what would have been a fitting end to his career.

The sight of Samuel, Cambiasso and Milito (plus Zanetti) all saying goodbye on the biggest stage in Italian football showcased was a poignant moment for Nerazzurri fans. Between the four of them, these Inter legends have amassed 1,400 appearances for Inter and collected a combined 51 major winners medals. Two incredible numbers. It is not easy to replace that much experience and winning tradition and their departure highlights what a difficult rebuilding effort Inter have ahead of them this summer.

Sunday’s derby once again left Inter fans shaking their head at Walter Mazzarri's tactics, whose game plan appeared to be to settle for a 0-0 draw before a ball was kicked. This was the 2014 AC Milan we were facing, not the 1990s version. This was a Milan team that was awful a week ago against Roma, with a rookie coach under a great deal of pressure. But instead of going on the attack early and putting the pressure on Milan, Maazzarri was content to sit back and soak up the pressure, allowing Seedorf's side to build up confidence and momentum as the game progressed.

What frustrates me about the Inter game plan on Sunday was that because of the way results had gone elsewhere, Inter needed to pick up all three points. Wins by Torino and Parma meant that they had moved within three points of Inter before kick-off, while a Milan win would move the Rossoneri within three points of Inter also. With two games to go, that Europa League spot that Nerazzurri fans thought they had locked up suddenly looks a little precarious as now four teams are battling for three European places.

The players positions chart from WhoScored.com illustrates how conservative Mazzarri was with his line-up.

The Milan players are on the left and the Inter players are on the right. Notice how tightly compact the Inter players are, as Mazzarri's game plan was to obviously play a high line and flood the middle of the field with bodies. It was as conservative an approach as I have seen from Inter all season, and one that you would typically see against one of the best teams in Europe -- not against someone lying 10th in Serie A at kick-off. Another way to look at it is via the heat map from Squawka.com, which shows the action areas in the first half. That empty area on the left is the Milan penalty box!

Inter and Mazzarri seemed to be totally taken by surprise by Seedorf's decision to a go with a 4-3-1-2 system where Adel Taarabt was behind Riccardo Montolivo, Kaka and Mario Balotelli.

The diamond formation pushed Taarabt towards Cambiasso, a battle that the Milan player clearly won. From an Inter standpoint, the move made it difficult for Inter to make the connection between midfield and attack. Consequently, Rodrigo Palacio and Mauro Icardi were isolated for large portions of the game, touching the ball less than 60 times between them.

Where was the tactical change from the bench in response to Seedorf's tactics? There wasn't one. The only time Mazzarri changed their tactical approach was after they went behind, but by then it was too late. It is unbelievable to me that in a derby, the biggest game of the season to the fans, that Inter could not manage one shot on target all game. Not one.

None of the seven shots that Inter did manage on Sunday hit the target, highlighting a problem that Mazzarri has been unable to solve all season -- the team's shooting accuracy.

According to Squawka, Inter are 13th in Serie A this season with a 43 percent shooting accuracy.

Squawka defines shooting accuracy as shots on target divided by all shots, not counting blocks.

Two remarkable points here: The two teams tied with Inter at a 43 percent shooting accuracy are Bologna and Sassuolo, the two teams in danger of getting relegated this season! Secondly, only Roma have taken more shots than Inter inside the penalty box, yet Inter's shooting accuracy is 3 percent less than Roma;s.

Inter now have to forget about the derby loss and turn their attention to a must-win home game against Lazio next week. A draw is not enough for Inter, who could find themselves falling to eighth place and out of the Europa League places if they lose next week.