Sunday evening was the litmus test for a new Milan. An early chance to find out how just where Inter and AC, with both teams refreshed in the summer through new investment and new personnel, stand as they met in the San Siro.
With the backing of Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol, Il Rossoneri brought in Sinisa Mihajlovic to succeed Filippo Inzaghi and allowed him to spend around £65 million on Carlos Bacca, Alessio Romagnoli, Andrea Bertolacci, Luiz Adriano, Luca Antonelli and Jan Kucka, aiming to move away from the past 2 seasons where they finished eighth and tenth after summers of scarce spending.
Meanwhile Inter, with their Indonesian owner Erick Thohir boasting big ambitions together with his manager Roberto Mancini, spent north of £60 million on Geoffrey Kondogbia, Ivan Perisic, Felipe Melo, Miranda, Jeison Murillo, Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic, with the target of returning to the Champions League which they had not played in since 2012.
Balotelli vs Guarin
On Sunday however, with the host of new talent on show, it was left to two players already long since accustomed to all-things Milan to make the main impact, with Mario Balotelli, having previously played for both teams and now on loan with AC, starring after coming on as a substitute and Fredy Guarin winning the game for Inter with an effort that found the bottom corner from the outside of the box.
It meant the Nerazzurri maintained their 100% start to the season while their rivals were left in twelfth after losing a second of their opening three games. Mihajlovic spoke of his satisfaction with his Milan side after the game with Balotelli, possibly benefitting from his “good behaviour” contract, particularly impressing with a shot that hit the post and with a free-kick that forced Samir Handanovic into a smart save, but Mancini would have undoubtedly been the happier of the 2 managers as he saw his team make their best start to a campaign for 13 years.
With champions from the last 4 seasons Juventus yet to win, requiring a late penalty from Pablo Dybala to rescue their first point of the campaign from Chievo on Saturday, the optimism on the black and blue half of Milan should have been compounded but Mancini was quick to downplay excitable prophecies that he may guide Inter to a first Scudetto since 2010.
Perhaps he was wise, with this victory again unconvincing to follow narrow victories over Atalanta and Carpi, both handed to them by late goals from Stevan Jovetic, suggesting that Inter are far from their desired finished article of title-challengers.
But still, 3 wins out of 3 is a step in the right direction and with their average attendance falling drastically last season as Mancini’s second spell in charge started slowly after he took-over from Walter Mazzarri, Thohir will be happy to see the figure back on an upward curve.
With a desire to lead the club into a new stadium, or to at least renovate the San Siro when AC Milan move into their own newly-built 48,000-seater ground, the Indonesian will know that attendances can’t slip to the 37,000 average they fell to last season.
Expansive football will drive a higher number but a return to European competition, from which Inter are absent for the first time since 1999, will be the priority in order to access more revenue channels.
Results will be the main factor behind that and Mancini seems to be getting them, without setting Serie A alight just yet, in the early stages of this season.
Sorting out a leaky defence
Having shipped 48 goals last term Mancini sought to bolster his back four by bringing in a new partnership of Miranda and Murillo, and with the former injured against AC Milan, dropping Gary Medel to centre-half instead of relying on Andrea Ranocchia was the preferred option.
Melo and Kondogbia, two physical midfielders who are also adept at moving the ball forwards, have slotted in alongside Guarin in Mancini’s 4-3-2-1 at the base of the midfield. It has allowed Inter to look more composed when building from the back even if it comes at the expense of genuine width.
Croatian pairing Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic have been used in creative roles but Mancini will be hoping that Mauro Icardi, having returned from injury to play against AC Milan, and Jovetic can form the potent front-pairing that many expect from them.
If they do, then the results and attractive displays that Inter fans have been starved of in recent seasons will surely flow.
Hard to ignore the work Mancini has instilled at Inter
It has hardly been the type of swashbuckling start that would have the rest of Serie A worried that they are the ones to seize Juventus’s mantle with the Old Lady stumbling out of the blocks, but it is hard to ignore that Mancini’s work is beginning to take shape with Thohir’s backing.
The Nerazzurri may well be on their way back while the Rossoneri look on, waiting for their chance to follow.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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