Inter book CL final spot as Martinez seals dominant win over AC Milan

Inter Milan eased into the Champions League final with a 3-0 aggregate victory over AC Milan as Lautaro Martinez’s goal sealed a 1-0 second-leg win over their rivals at the San Siro.

Three-time winners Inter will now face either Real Madrid or Manchester City in Istanbul on June 10 in their first final appearance since 2010, when they beat Bayern Munich to lift the trophy.

Striker Martinez sealed their passage, beating AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan with an angled finish in the 74th minute at a raucous San Siro, with Inter the designated home side at the stadium they share with their rivals having triumphed 2-0 as the away team in last week’s first leg.

AC Milan had some bright moments in the first half, with Brahim Diaz and the returning Rafael Leao spurning their best chances, but failed to even muster a shot on target in a one-sided second period as Simone Inzaghi’s side sealed an emphatic victory.

Player ratings

Inter Milan: Onana (7), Darmian (7), Acerbi (8), Bastoni (7), Dumfries (7), Barella (7), Calhanoglu (7), Mkhitaryan (6), Dimarco (7), Lautaro (8), Dzeko (6)

Subs: Brozovic (7), Lukaku (7), Gosens (6), Gagliardini (6), Correa (6)

AC Milan: Maignan (7), Calabria (6), Thiaw (7), Tomori (6), T Hernandez (6), Krunic (6), Tonali (7), Messias (5), Diaz (5), Leao (6), Giroud (6)

Subs: Kalulu (6), Origi (6), Saelemaekers (6)

Player of the match: Lautaro Martinez

How Inter ground AC Milan down

Inter threatened to blow AC Milan away in the opening stages of last week’s first leg, scoring both of their goals inside the first 11 minutes through Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but this time Stefano Pioli’s side looked more threatening early on.

Team news

  • Inter Milan boss Simone Inzaghi named an unchanged team from the first leg, with Edin Dzeko leading the line alongside Lautaro Martinez.
  • AC Milan welcomed Rafael Leao back from injury, the Portuguese international joining Olivier Giroud and Brahim Diaz in attack.

Theo Hernandez gave Inter a scare when he fired inches over the bar from long range and Diaz then wasted a glorious opportunity when he shot too close to goalkeeper Andre Onana following a fine run and cut-back by midfielder Sandro Tonali.

Leao, back from a muscular injury having missed the first leg, also went close, accelerating away from Matteo Darmian and firing a low effort just past Onana’s left-hand post, but Inter generally managed the game well in the first half and had chances of their own up at the other end too.

Inter's Henrikh Mkhitaryan (right) challenges Sandro Tonali of AC Milan during the second leg of their Champions League semi-final
Inter’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan challenges Sandro Tonali of AC Milan

Dzeko went closest, his flicked header from Hakan Calhanoglu’s free-kick requiring a smart reaction save from Maignan, who also denied Nicolo Barella, albeit with the Inter man in an offside position.

AC Milan needed to conjure up something special in the second half to have any chance of reaching their 12th final in their storied history, but they emerged from the break looking like a beaten side.

Inter held them at arm’s length without any problems, with AC Milan barely even featuring as an attacking force, and then, when the chance arrived to kill the contest, Martinez took it.

Inter Milan's Lautaro Martinez celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal
Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez celebrates after scoring his side’s goal

The Argentina international exchanged passes with substitute Romelu Lukaku inside the box, then shifted the ball onto his left foot and beat Maignan at his near post with a powerful finish.

Lukaku almost got in on the act in stoppage time, forcing a save from Maignan with another well-hit effort, but by then the Inter fans inside the San Siro had already begun their celebrations, the Champions League final beckoning.

Analysis: Can Inter trouble Man City or Real Madrid?

The short answer is yes. AC Milan offered meek resistance but both Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola will be under no illusions about the challenge that awaits in the final.

Inter’s defensive prowess has been evident throughout the tournament and it was there again across the two legs of this semi-final. Remarkably, they have kept 10 clean sheets in their 12 Champions League games so far.

Inter Milan are in their first Champions League final since 2010
Inter Milan are in their first Champions League final since 2010

Their back three is well-drilled and receives ample protection from Hakan Calhanoglu and Nicolo Barella, who, together with wing-backs Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco, and playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan, also contribute offensively.

Indeed, while their main strengths lie at the back, and in the savviness of their game management, Inter are also well-stocked with attacking talent. Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez are a formidable front two with an excellent understanding, while the in-form Romelu Lukaku, who set up Martinez’s winner, is another elite option waiting in the wings.

Simone Inzaghi’s side will go into next month’s final as underdogs, undoubtedly, but this performance, albeit against a poor AC Milan side, was just the latest reminder that they are not where they are by accident. It would be folly to underestimate them.

How the game played out


What’s next?

Inter Milan face a trip to newly-crowned Italian champions Napoli in Serie A on Sunday; kick-off 5pm.

AC Milan host Sampdoria at San Siro on Saturday in Serie A; kick-off 7.45pm.

Inter will face either Real Madrid or Manchester City in the Champions League final on June 10 at Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium; kick-off 8pm.

AC Milan’s misery – Opta stats

  • Inter have reached their sixth European Cup/Champions League final, but only their second in the last 50 years, alongside 2009/10 when they won the competition.
  • Having progressed from nine of their first 10 European Cup/Champions League semi-final ties, Milan have since failed to reach the final in two of their last three semi-final appearances (also in 2005/06).
  • Milan have failed to score in four consecutive meetings with rivals Inter for the very first time in their history, and have lost to them four times in a single campaign for just a second time (also 1973/74).
  • Against no side in his Inter career has Lautaro Martinez netted more goals in all competitions than he has versus Milan (eight, level with Cagliari). Indeed, he is the top scorer against the Rossoneri since he joined Inter in 2018.
  • Inter’s Lautaro Martinez has scored 25 goals in all competitions this season, his joint-most in a single campaign for the club (also 25 in 2021/22), while only Victor Osimhen (28) has scored more for Serie A clubs in 2022/23.

CL hits & misses: Don’t count them out – Inter can beat Real or City

Don’t count them out – Inter can beat Real or City

Inter Milan are in their first Champions League final since 2010
Inter Milan are in their first Champions League final since 2010

Not even the most ardent Inter Milan fan could argue that the Nerazzurri will go into June 10’s Champions League final as anything other than underdogs.

The fourth best side in Serie A side this season will come up against either the Champions League specialists in Real Madrid, or the most in-form side in Europe against Manchester City.

But what Inter can fairly claim is that they can hurt whoever stands in their way in Istanbul. Not necessarily in terms of quality, but literally hurt teams emotionally.

The June final will likely go a similar way to how Tuesday’s semi-final second leg with AC Milan went. Milan wanted the goals, they pressed high, they caused pressure. But Inter stood firm – and frustrated.

The first half at the San Siro second leg saw 22 fouls – the most in the opening half of a Champions League game this season. Fourteen of those fouls were from AC Milan players.

Simone Inzaghi (right) has won his last five cup finals as a manager for Inter Milan and Lazio
Simone Inzaghi (right) has won his last five cup finals as a manager for Inter Milan and Lazio

Inter broke up the play, using fouls to bring them up the pitch. Most importantly it brought them time to wind down the clock and frustrate their impatient opponents. A similar tactic in the final is expected.

But it’s not just about the street-smart tactics. Inter have plenty to offer going forward.

Their forward options of Lautaro Martinez, Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko have enough verve, nerve and cool heads to damage any defence. Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco were major plus points in the semi-final games. Hakan Calhonoglu and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are expert playmakers from deep alongside Nicolo Barella.

And then there’s manager Simone Inzaghi – who is now becoming one of the best cup specialists in Europe.

The Italian has won his last five cup finals for Inter and Lazio, you can’t count him out of this Champions League one, with the squad and culture he has with the Nerazzurri.
Sam Blitz

AC Milan limp out and may not be back any time soon

Inter's Henrikh Mkhitaryan (right) challenges Sandro Tonali of AC Milan during the second leg of their Champions League semi-final
Inter’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan (right) challenges Sandro Tonali of AC Milan

AC Milan deserve credit for getting this far but the manner of their exit – limp and without even putting up a fight against their most bitter rivals – ensures this Champions League campaign will not be remembered fondly. In truth, they looked out of their depth.

They had their moments in the first half, Brahim Diaz spurning an excellent chance early on and Rafael Leao firing narrowly wide, but, emerging from the interval needing something special, they instead looked like a beaten side. Inter toyed with them.

The gap between the two sides is only five points in Serie A but the gulf looked vast as Simone Inzaghi’s side, having already underlined their superiority in the first leg, simply stroked the ball around and waited for their chance to kill the tie.

Lautaro Martinez’s ruthlessness bore sharp contrast to what happened at the other end of the pitch, where Olivier Giroud floundered and Leao and Diaz offered nothing either side of him.

Amazingly, despite the circumstances demanding two goals and a place in a Champions League final at stake, Stefano Pioli’s side could only muster a solitary shot in the entirety of the second period.

It was a miserable way to bow out, as Inter’s jubilant fans celebrated, and the brutal reality is that, sitting four points behind fourth-placed Lazio domestically, it may be some time before they are back on this stage.
Nick Wright

Hits and misses: Did VAR take pity on AC Milan?

Did VAR take pity on AC Milan?

Lautoro Martinez wins a penalty that is then overturned by VAR
Lautaro Martinez wins a penalty which is then overturned by VAR

It was one of the most one-sided Champions League semi-finals you are ever likely to see, especially in the first 45 minutes. With 40 minutes on the clock Inter Milan – the away team, remember – had posted 11 shots on the AC Milan goal, with the hosts racking up just one miserly effort in return. That shot count for Inter really should have been 12, though, after the lively and industrious Lautaro Martinez looked to have won a penalty off Simon Kjaer.

An arm went across the player right in front of the referee. It was not a stonewall penalty but the case to argue against it after it had already been given was tough. No clear and obvious error there, everyone thought. Apart from the team in charge of VAR. The referee was alerted to his “mistake” and once called to the screen there was little chance of him rowing against his comrades in the booth, although he had a strong case to do so.

At 3-0, the tie is over.

But now, thanks to help from VAR, there is hope with AC Milan only trailing 2-0.
Lewis Jones

Leao absence not AC Milan’s only issue

AC Milan's Simon Kjaer shows his dejection during the defeat
AC Milan’s Simon Kjaer shows his dejection during the defeat to Inter

Much was made of Rafael Leao’s absence for AC Milan at the San Siro. The loss of their most dangerous attacking player was certainly a blow. But it does not explain their defending. Or, more accurately, the complete lack of it. They had bigger problems.

Inter carved through them with ease, scoring twice in the space of three minutes and creating a succession of other chances. A little more cutting edge – and a little less generosity from VAR – and this tie would have been over by half-time.

AC Milan had only conceded four goals in their previous nine games in all competitions but Fikayo Tomori and Kjaer could not cope with Edin Dzeko and Martinez, the Inter pair dragging them out of position repeatedly, opening up huge spaces.

The centre-backs were not helped by what went on around them. In midfield, Sandro Tonali and Rade Krunic were overrun, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan in particular causing havoc between the lines, Inter exploiting the uncertainty caused by Ismael Bennacer’s early withdrawal due to an injury.

That injury, like the one suffered by Leao in Saturday’s win over Lazio, was untimely. But this defeat was not just down to misfortune. Any repeat of this shambolic defending in next week’s second leg and even Leao will not be able to save them.
Nick Wright

Dzeko shows why he’s still the man

Inter Milan's Edin Dzeko, right, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the Champions League semifinal first leg soccer match between AC Milan and Inter Milan at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, May 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Inter Milan’s Edin Dzeko celebrates his opening goal

Romelu Lukaku was pushing for a start against AC Milan having scored five goals in his previous nine appearances for Inter but it was Edin Dzeko who got the nod from manager Simone Inzaghi to partner Lautaro Martinez. The decision paid off emphatically.

The former Manchester City striker turned 37 in March but he is still scoring freely in Italy and this was a reminder that he can do it on the European stage too. His goal was his fourth in the competition this season. He has started all five of their knockout games.

His opener was brilliantly taken, Dzeko showing his physical and technical prowess all at once as he held off Davide Calabria and rifled home a sumptuous volley. His role in the second, meanwhile, showed the other side of his game, his intelligent off-the-ball run opening up the space Henrikh Mkhitaryan needed to finish.

Inter will look to him again to finish the job next week.
Nick Wright

Man City come through Bernabeu test

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The Athletic’s David Ornstein and The Daily Mail’s Riath Al-Samarrai reflect on Kevin De Bruyne’s brilliant performance at the Bernabeu

It was a curious night because – as Pep Guardiola pointed out afterwards – Real Madrid scored when Manchester City appeared in control and City then equalised just when the game seemed in danger of slipping away from them. He will take it.

Although Carlo Ancelotti also claimed to be satisfied with the score – and will back Vinicius Junior and the rest to cause problems on the counter-attack – this was the more daunting half of City’s assignment in this tie. It came with bad memories too.

This was the scene of that improbable collapse one year ago, when City succumbed to the sheer force of will of Madrid on a mission. After suffering something like that, the last thing they needed was even a hint that their opponents had the greater knowhow.

When Vinicius’ shot struck the back of the net, it will have challenged the resolve of Guardiola’s players. Much is made of the manager’s long wait to lift this trophy again, but not one of the players on that pitch for his side has yet won this Champions League.

If there are doubts, that is when they emerge. When Madrid have seemed comfortable surrendering possession, soaked up your best shots and punished you on the break. There was a trademark swagger about them after that. It was a test of nerve for City.

They came through it courtesy of Kevin De Bruyne. With Erling Haaland receiving close attention, someone else had to step up. It was fitting that it was him. “He helped us in the moment we most needed it,” said Rodri. How important that could be.

Fourteen times in 14 attempts at the Etihad Stadium in 2023, City have won the game. Do that in the second leg next week and they will be into the Champions League final. On an awkward evening in Madrid, that marks some result for Guardiola and his players.
Adam Bate

Rudiger shows how you can stop Haaland

Antonio Rudiger
Antonio Rudiger and Erling Haaland had a great battle in the Santiago Bernabeu

Within 90 seconds, Antonio Rudiger was already in the face of Haaland following an aggressive piece of defending that led to a foul being awarded. He ran back in position goading the striker. It’s easy to forget that Haaland is still learning the game at 22 years old and Rudiger clearly wanted to test his composure in the heat of a Champions League semi-final. There aren’t many defenders in world football who possess the confidence, authority and experience to go and have a battle one-vs-one with the Manchester City striker – but Rudiger is that player. He was in his ear, pulling his shirt and just generally being a bit of a nuisance.

Of course, it’s impossible to completely nullify him as he managed to get three shots away over the 90 minutes but the attempts only equated to an expected goals figure of 0.3, highlighting how Rudiger kept the chances falling his way to low-probability ones. Rudiger showed stopping a record-breaking phenomenon can be done.
Lewis Jones

Vinicius is the star of the show

Vinicius Junior offered another reminder of his excellence against Manchester City

While Haaland was restricted, it was Vinicius who had his moment – and what a treat it is to watch this player shine. Ancelotti calls him the game’s most decisive player and it is hard to argue when the man scored the winner in last season’s Champions League final.

Here he was again, smashing the ball into the net to turn the tie in his team’s favour. The Brazilian is skilful but it is the speed at which he is able to execute those skills that sets him apart.

Kyle Walker was at his limit in trying to contain him, which only made you wonder how someone who was not lightning quick themselves would have looked. City are well placed to progress. But there can be no complacency with Vinicius on the team-sheet.
Adam Bate

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola described his players’ performance in the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid as ‘exceptional’

What’s next?

Real Madrid’s next game is at home to Getafe in LaLiga on Saturday – kick-off 8pm.

The European champions then travel to the Etihad to take on Man City in their Champions League semi-final second leg on May 17 – kick-off 8pm.

Sunday 14th May 1:00pm

Kick off 2:00pm

Sky Sports Premier League HD
Sky Sports Premier League HD

Ahead of their rematch with Real, City go to Goodison Park to take on Everton in the Premier League on Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 2pm.

Man City’s remaining fixtures

May 14: Everton (A) – Premier League, kick-off 2pm, live on Sky Sports

May 17: Real Madrid (H) – Champions League, kick-off 8pm

May 21: Chelsea (H) – Premier League, kick-off 4pm

May 24: Brighton (A) – Premier League, kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports

May 28: Brentford (A) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm

June 3: Manchester United (N) – FA Cup final, kick-off 3pm

Electric Inter beat rivals Milan to take control of CL semi-final

Early goals from Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan put Inter Milan in firm control of their Champions League semi-final with AC Milan, winning the away leg 2-0.

On a huge night for Italian football at the San Siro, Inter took command within 11 minutes as Dzeko and Mkhitaryan struck.

The hosts had suffered a big blow even before kick-off when Rafael Leao was ruled out after failing to recover from a thigh injury – and his influence was missed, with Inter full of intent and punch during a devastating first-half performance.

Inter could have led by a greater margin had VAR not controversially overturned an on-field penalty decision for a foul by Simon Kjaer on the excellent Lautaro Martinez despite there looking to be clear contact on the forward.

Inter Milan's Edin Dzeko, right, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the Champions League semifinal first leg soccer match between AC Milan and Inter Milan at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, May 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Edin Dzeko celebrates after netting the opening goal for Inter

AC Milan improved after the break – they could not have played any worse – but only a Sandro Tonali effort which clipped the post truly tested a confident and assured Inter, who always carried a threat on the break.

Inter have the advantage of playing in front of their own fans, back at the San Siro, for the semi-final second leg on Tuesday. The winners of the tie will play either Real Madrid or Manchester City in the final.

Player ratings

AC Milan: Maignan (6), Calabria (6), Kjaer (5), Tomori (5), Hernandez (6), Krunic (5), Tonali (6), Bennacer (5), Saelemaekers (6), Diaz (5), Giroud (5)

Subs: Kalulu (6), Origi (6), Thiaw (6), Messias (6), Pobega (6)

Inter Milan: Onana (7), Darmian (7), Acerbi (7), Bastoni (7), Dumfries (8), Barella (8), Calhanoglu (7), Mkhitaryan (8), Dimarco (7), Martinez (8), Dzeko (8)

Subs: Gagliardini (7), De Vrij (7), Correa (7), Lukaku (7), Brozovic (7)

Player of the match: Lautoro Martinez

Blistering Inter blow away Milan…

The fierce rivals had not met in the Champions League since a quarter-final clash in 2005, which was abandoned when a section of Inter fans hurled flares on to the pitch.

Team news

  • Alexis Saelemakers started in Rafael Leao place. Elsewhere, there were starts for former Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori, while Olivier Giroud led the line.
  • Inter Milan boss Simone Inzaghi opted for Edin Dzeko over Romelu Lukaku up front alongside Lautaro Martinez.

It was Inter once again who provided the fireworks, blowing away their rivals with a blistering start.

They were ahead after just eight minutes when former Manchester City striker Dzeko got free from a corner and thrashed a volley from 12 yards past the helpless Mike Maignan in the Milan goal.

It was 2-0 moments later.

An attack down the left found the onrushing Mkhitaryan, who marched through the Milan defence and finished nicely into the corner.

Inter Milan's Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Champions League semifinal first leg soccer match between AC Milan and Inter Milan at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, May 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Mkhitaryan celebrates his 11th-minute goal

Hakan Calhanoglu then lashed a 25-yard strike against a post, before Maignan blocked Mkhitaryan’s effort from close range. It was one-way traffic.

There was a huge moment of relief for Stefano Pioli’s side after Inter were awarded a penalty in the 31st minute as Martinez went down under a challenge from Kjaer. But Spanish referee Jesus Gil Manzano was asked to review his decision by the VAR and decided to overturn his original call.

Milan responded after the break as Brahim Diaz curled just wide from 20 yards and Junior Messias wasted a great chance when through on goal.

Tonali’s strike then cannoned off the base of the left post as it felt like a night where nothing was dropping for the home side.

This was Inter Milan’s night. The final is in touching distance.

Tomori: There was anxiety in the team

AC Milan defender Fikayo Tomori speaking to BT Sport:

“We’re obviously disappointed. Just the way we started the game, conceding two early goals like that. The first one from a corner and then straight after. It’s difficult when it’s 0-0 but to go two goals down in the first 15 minutes is a kick in the teeth.

“It took us a while to get back in the game. There was a bit of anxiety in the team. In a game like this you can’t do that.

“It’s only the first game. We can’t let our heads drop. We know if we play with the right intensity if we had got the last pass or last shot with just a bit more determination or anger, then we could have scored.

“We’re disappointed but we can’t dwell on it. We have to move onto the next game.”

Dzeko: It’s a great result

Dzeko speaking to BT Sport:

“It feels very good, especially because it’s a derby. We played away on paper. It’s a great result for us.

“Sometimes you get in this difficult moment where the ball doesn’t want to go in. Patience and work always pays off. I was calm knowing the goals would come as always. Today is the proof.

“I don’t think so [that they’ll get carried away] because we’re an experienced team. We know what we’ve done today. We have got a great result but nothing is yet finished. In the Champions League only great teams arrive in the semi-finals so we have to be careful and concentrate like today.”

What’s next?

AC Milan’s next game is away to Spezia in Serie A on Saturday – kick-off 5pm.

Before their rematch with Milan, Inter host Sassuolo in Serie A on Saturday – kick-off 7.45pm.

Opta stats: Deadly Dzeko

  • Dzeko has scored in all three of his UEFA Champions League semi-final appearances, also scoring in both legs in 2017-18 for Roma vs Liverpool. At 37 years and 54 days today, he is the second oldest player to score in the competition’s semi-final, behind only Ryan Giggs in 2011 vs Schalke (37 years, 148 days).
  • Internazionale have beaten rivals Milan three times in all competitions in a season (once in Serie A, once in the Italian Super Cup, once in the UEFA Champions League) for the first time since the 1994-95 campaign.
  • Only one team in UEFA Champions League history to win the first leg of the semi-final by two or more goals has then failed to progress to the final, with Barcelona doing so in 2018-19 vs Liverpool (3-0 first leg, 0-4 second leg).
  • Tomori became only the third English player to appear in a UEFA Champions League semi-final for a non-English club, along with Steve McManaman (1999-00 – 2002-03 with Real Madrid) and Owen Hargreaves (2000-01, Bayern Munich).

Same stadium, same journey: How the Milan clubs rose from the ashes

On Wednesday night, two evenly-matched rivals take part in a passionate battle with an iconic venue split between a red and a blue corner. That’s right, AC Milan vs Internazionale is probably closest football comes to a boxing bout.

The Derby della Madonnina takes centre stage as the two Milan rivals contest the Champions League semi-finals.

As soon as the Milan derby match-up was finalised, one image came through on social media. One of Inter defender Marco Materazzi standing with Milan’s Rui Costa as the 2005 Champions League quarter-final tie between the two teams was abandoned due to fan and flare trouble. Fireworks really do get unleashed when these two teams meet.

Marco Materazzi and Rui Costa look on as the Milan derby Champions League quarter-final is abandoned in 2003
Marco Materazzi and Rui Costa look on as the Milan derby Champions League quarter-final is abandoned in 2005

But the return of this image into the public sphere is a sign that one of Europe’s iconic cities is returning to the top of the football pyramid.

In the early 2000s, Inter and Milan were up there among the Champions League greats. Milan reached the final three times between 2003 and 2007. Inter completed the treble under Jose Mourinho in 2010. Back then, nobody would have imagined that it would be over a decade until these two teams even came close to repeating such feats again.

But in the past two seasons, this city has seen the Serie A title shared between its two clubs, seen famous Champions League nights return and more iconic images of club rivalry – such as Romelu Lukaku’s clash with Zlatan Ibrahimovic – painted among the city. The good times have returned.

Ibrahimovic's rivalry with Romelu Lukaku is a memorable moment in recent Milan derby history
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s rivalry with Romelu Lukaku is a memorable moment in recent Milan derby history

Two teams who can’t leave each other alone

What is special about this Milan rivalry is these two clubs have risen and fallen together in the Italian pyramid. They don’t just share their stadium, they share a recent history of success and failure.

Both rose to the peak of their powers when Juventus were relegated to Serie B after the 2006 Calciopoli scandal. Both suffered as the Premier League’s popularity forced their owners into financial desperation and mismanagement.

And then all of a sudden, in the last two seasons, the two Milan clubs have risen together again under new ownership. These two teams have not just competed for the Serie A title alongside each other, winning one Scudetto each, they have even undergone similar dips this season.

AC Milan's Olivier Giroud holds the Serie A trophy
AC Milan’s Olivier Giroud holds the Serie A trophy

Lautaro Martinez won Serie A with Inter Milan last season
Lautaro Martinez with Serie A trophy after Inter Milan’s success in 2021

At the start of the year, AC Milan went seven games without a win. Inter, meanwhile, only ended a run of one win in eight games in all competitions in the middle of April. Those runs have left both sides fighting each other for a fourth-placed spot in Serie A – adding more tense context to the upcoming semi-final.

Perhaps this is not so surprising given both have currently hired two similar managers – ones who are not known to be great innovators of the game, rather pragmatic coaches who deliver in the big matches.

In the red corner is Stefano Pioli who is Milan’s big-game specialist. This season, the Rossoneri have beaten Inter, Juventus, Napoli – three times – and Lazio this season due to Pioli’s innovation.

The manner in which the Milan manager navigated his team through their Champions League quarter-final with Napoli was particularly impressive.

AC Milan's manager Stefano Pioli, left, and Inter Milan's manager Simone Inzaghi
AC Milan’s manager Stefano Pioli, left, and Inter Milan’s manager Simone Inzaghi

Italian football expert Nicky Baldini told Sky Sports News: “The way Milan played that quarter-final was such a masterclass from Stefano Pioli in how to play your team to adapt against a difficult opponent, how to recognise your team’s limitations and play that counter-attacking football which they did so effectively.

“And how to neutralise the key threat of your opponent, he did that through the way he took Khvicha Kvaratskhelia out of the game in that tie.”

And in the blue corner is Simone Inzaghi, who got the Inter job after Antonio Conte’s departure in 2021 due to his remarkable work at Lazio.

At the Stadio Olimpico, Inzaghi was famed for getting the best out of an aging Lazio side containing many players in their 30s by turning them into cup specialists.

Inter Milan's head coach Simone Inzaghi
Inter Milan’s head coach Inzaghi

Here Inzaghi, the brother of AC Milan great Filippo, is operating under similar circumstances. Inter have named six Serie A starting line-ups with an average age of 30 and over – three times more than any other side.

And during his two years at Inter, Inzaghi has matched his trophy tally at Lazio of one Italian Cup and two Super Cups. Perhaps the Champions League is next…

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AC Milan striker Olivier Giroud has been reflecting on his two seasons at the club and admits the move was right after a difficult time at Chelsea

Team news: Leao lacking as LuLa steps up?

Inter Milan's Romelu Lukakuis hitting form at the right time alongside Lautaro Martinez
Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukakuis hitting form at the right time alongside Lautaro Martinez

If formbook matters going into this one-off semi-final, then Inter are in the ascendancy.

The Nerazzurri have won each of their last five games in all competitions – with all of their key forward players firing at the moment.

Lukaku has three goals and three assists in his last three games for Inter, while Lautaro Martinez – who formed such a pivotal ‘LuLa’ partnership with the Belgian as Conte’s Inter won the title in 2021 – has scored five times in his last four games.

“What has changed is that now I have the possibility to rotate important players, especially in attack,” Inter coach Simone Inzaghi said. “I didn’t have that for a long time and the situation has changed a lot now.

Probable Milan derby line-ups

AC Milan (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kjaer, Tomori, Hernandez; Krunic, Tonali; Brahim, Bennacer, Saelemaekers; Giroud

Inter Milan (3-5-2): Onana; Darmian, Acerbi, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Mhikitaryan; Dimarco; Dzeko, Lautaro

“I didn’t have [midfielder] Marcelo Brozovic from October 1 until the end of January – they were four very long months. The same with Lukaku. Both of them are back to doing what they do best and I hope that continues until the end.”

If Inter are flying, there is more concern with an inconsistent Milan. The biggest of all is Rafael Leao’s injury sustained in the weekend’s 2-0 win over Lazio.

The Portuguese winger, whose wonderful run and assist was crucial in getting Milan through a tricky quarter-final with Napoli, limped off after 10 minutes and has not trained as of game day. A second-leg appearance is more likely than rushing him back for the first.

AC Milan's Rafael Leao is an injury doubt after limping off against Lazio
AC Milan’s Rafael Leao is an injury doubt after limping off against Lazio

No matter who gets through to next month’s Champions League final, this will largely be deemed as a season which saw Italian football rise back into prominence from the ashes.

As for the city of Milan? After two years of holding the Scudetto, it lost the Serie A title to Naples last week. But what better way to take back the limelight with a Champions League semi-final that divides the city.

Inter overcome Benfica to set-up Milan derby semi-final

Match report as Inter set up an all-Italian semi-final against AC Milan after beating Benfica 5-3 on aggregate to progress; Nicolo Barella, Lautaro Martinez and Joaquin Correa scored for the Serie A side; Fredrik Aursnes, Antonio Silva and Petar Musa got the goals for Benfica

Lukaku helps Inter take first-leg CL lead at Benfica

Inter Milan ended a month-long winless run as they ran out 2-0 winners in their Champions League quarter-final first leg at Benfica.

Nicolo Barella and Romelu Lukaku scored second-half goals in Lisbon’s Stadium of Light to move the Italian team into a good position to reach the semi-finals of the European competition for the first time in more than a decade.

Aiming to win five consecutive Champions League games for the first time since 1990, Benfica controlled the pace of the game but it was Inter that struck with a header by Barella off a long cross by Alessandro Bastoni into the area in the 51st minute.

Substitute Lukaku added to Inter’s lead by converting an 82nd-minute penalty kick that was determined by video review for a handball by former Inter player Joao Mario inside the area.

Inter Milan players celebrate after Nico Barella gave the Italian side the lead
Inter Milan players celebrate after Nicolo Barella gave them the lead

Meanwhile, it was Benfica’s first Champions League loss in 13 matches this season after they started the competition in the third qualifying round and became one of the surprises of the competition so far by overcoming the challenges of Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

Inter were winless in six matches in all competitions, with their last victory against Lecce in the Italian league in March. Benfica were coming off a loss to rivals Porto in the Portuguese league but had won 13 of their last 15 matches in all competitions since then.

The winner of the series between Inter and Benfica will face AC Milan or Napoli in the semi-finals.

What’s next?

The second leg takes place in Milan on April 19; kick-off 8pm.

Benfica travel to Chaves in the league on Saturday; kick-off 6pm.

Meanwhile, Inter Milan host Monza, also on Saturday; kick-off 7.45pm.

Juve handed one-game partial stadium ban over racist abuse of Lukaku

Juventus have been handed a one-game partial stadium ban after some of the club’s fans directed racist chants at Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku.

The Belgium forward was shown a second yellow card for his celebrations in front of the home fans after converting a stoppage-time penalty to earn Inter a 1-1 draw in Turin in Tuesday night’s Coppa Italia semi-final first leg.

A chaotic end to the Allianz Stadium encounter ensued as scuffles broke out between the two sets of players, resulting in Inter captain Samir Handanovic and Juve midfielder Juan Cuadrado being sent off after the final whistle.

Lukaku was suspended for the second leg of the semi-finals on April 26 by the Italian league judge on Thursday. Handanovic is also banned for one game while Cuadrado is to miss three.

Inter Milan's Romelu Lukaku is issued a red card during the Italian cup semi final first leg soccer match between Juventus and Inter Milan, at the Allianz Stadium, in Turin, Italy, Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (Marco Alpozzi/LaPresse via AP)
Lukaku was shown a second yellow card for his celebrations in front of the Juve home fans

Serie A have decided that the lower tier of Juventus’ South Stand, which holds around 5,000 seats, will be closed for their next home game, against league leaders Napoli on April 23.

Juventus are “collaborating with the police” to identify those responsible for the racist gestures and chants.

In a statement released late on Tuesday, US-based sports agency Roc Nation – which represents Lukaku – demanded Juventus apologise to the striker.

“Tonight’s racist remarks made towards Romelu Lukaku by Juventus fans in Turin were beyond despicable and cannot be accepted,” Roc Nation Sports International president Michael Yormark said.

“Before, during, and after the penalty, he was subjected to hostile and disgusting racist abuse. Romelu celebrated in the same manner he has previously celebrated goals. The referee’s response was to award a yellow card to Romelu.

“The Italian authorities must use this opportunity to tackle racism, rather than punish the victim of the abuse.”

Lukaku, on loan at Inter from Chelsea, was also the target of offensive chants in 2019, which he condemned in a social media post at the time.

Inter Milan's Romelu Lukaku, center, reacts following the Italian cup semi final first leg soccer match between Juventus and Inter Milan, at the Allianz Stadium, in Turin, Italy, Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse via AP)
Lukaku has scored five goals in 20 Inter appearances this season

“History repeats… Been through it in 2019.. and 2023 again..,” Lukaku said in a post on Instagram on Wednesday.

“I hope the league really take actions for real this time because this beautiful game should be enjoyed by everyone…”

Inter also reiterated their stance against racism and expressed their support for Lukaku.

“We want to firmly reiterate that we stand united against racism and all forms of discrimination,” a statement read.

“Football and sport must not only be a place for emotion but also for clear and shared values, and what we saw last night in the final minutes of the Juventus vs Inter Coppa Italia semi-final in Turin has no place in our sport.

“This is why we reiterate our support, affection and solidarity to Romelu Lukaku, just as the world of football is doing from all over since the incident.

“Stay strong Rom, we stand with you!”

Racism has been a long-running problem in Italian football and authorities have been criticised for not taking strong enough action.

On Wednesday, Serie A put out a statement condemning racism, adding, “Clubs, as they have always done, will identify the guilty individuals and ban them from their respective facilities for life.”

The league did not name Lukaku in their statement.