MILAN — In the span of three minutes, AC Milan veteran forward Olivier Giroud turned the Derby della Madonnina and the Serie A title race on its head on Saturday. The France international, making his first career appearance in the derby since joining the Rossoneri this past summer, scored a rapid-fire second-half brace to secure a 2-1 come-from-behind win over league leaders Inter Milan. The win brings AC Milan within a point from reigning scudetto winners Inter Milan, though the Nerazzurri have one game in hand to play.
“I don’t like to say that I was the hero,” Giroud told CBS Sports’ Marco Messina after the match. “A striker is on the pitch to score goals and I was a bit lucky, at the right place at the right time on the first one. The second one was something that I like to do, and [Davide] Calabria gave me a good ball and we just bounced back after a difficult first half. They didn’t put the game to bed and they let us come back into the game. We showed great team spirit and I’m very proud of the team.”
The match initially got off to a slow start with both teams being extremely conservative and defensive, but in the ninth minute we saw the first big Derby della Madonnina moment with Denzel Dumfries scoring what would have been the opening goal of the night on a header. The assistant referee, however, rightfully flagged Ivan Perisic offsides in the build-up to the cross. Things soon turned up a notch when AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan did his best to contain the Inter Milan attack in the first half, including an unbelievable save made in the 15th minute after Marcelo Brozovic’s attempt from 20 meters out was deflected by Alessio Romagnoli inside the box.
Inter Milan continued to pin AC Milan down in their half with countless chances, with the attacking tandem of Lautaro Martinez and Edin Dzeko working really well to find space between the two Rossoneri center backs and Nicolo Barella and Dumfries missing close chances.
Maignan, who had some moments that gave Rossoneri fans heart palpitations, was the man of the first half for AC Milan as he kept them in contention despite conceding the opening goal of the match in the 38th minute to Perisic. Simone Inzaghi’s side entered this match as one of the best teams on corner kicks and they reaped the benefits thanks to a pinpoint Hakan Calhanoglu cross that missed AC Milan defender Pierre Kalulu and found the foot of the Croatian left winger, who found the corner of the frame. There was nothing Maignan could do there in what proved to be a tale of two halves for both sides.
“We had to give everything in the second half because it was today and not tomorrow,” Giroud told Messina post-game. “Tomorrow would have been too late. It was a six-point game and we knew it before. We’ve done it, we’re in a better position now but we are still chasing them. It’s nice because we — one more time — showed great team character.”
After a myriad of second-half changes from both Pioli and Inzaghi, including the surprising removal of Calhanoglu for Arturo Vidal, it seemed like this derby was destined to go to Inter Milan’s favor if not for what happened two minutes later. Giroud, who logged 90 minutes for the first time in a Serie A match since Dec. 22, sparked a comeback for the ages that will give Nerazzurri fans nightmares for years to come and Rossoneri fans scudetto dreams for weeks to come.
In the 75th minute, Alexis Sanchez lost a risky ball in the middle of the park and saw a deflected shot from Brahim Diaz reach the foot of the former Chelsea and Arsenal striker from near point-blank range who made the best out of an awkward play to score his first career goal in a Milan Derby. The 1-1 deadlock only lasted for less than three minutes as Giroud received a ball from Davide Calabria inside the penalty box and used his sensational technical skills to get around Stefan de Vrij for the breakthrough. He turned his heel on the Inter center back with a magnificent spin to make his mark in the Derby della Madonnina right in front of the Curva Sud at the famed San Siro. Inter keeper Samir Handanovic could have done better as he got his hand on the shot but it wasn’t enough to keep it out of frame.
That set the stage for a frantic final minutes as AC Milan gained complete control and Inter were desperately seeking an equalizer to salvage what could have been a momentous night for the Nerazzurri in the scudetto race. Theo Hernandez was shown a straight red card from referee Marco Guida in the final seconds of stoppage time for clipping Dumfries’ heels as Inter Milan brought all 11, including Handanovic, for the final free kick of the match, though their efforts to come away with at least a point fell short.
The Rossoneri are now one point behind Inter Milan, but with the Nerazzurri still having one game in hand. Inzaghi might catch some criticism for removing Calhanoglu for Vidal and Brozovic for Matias Vecino in the second half. As for Pioli, on the other hand, he comes away with a crucial win that puts his side back on track in the title race. Game on.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism