Lautaro Martinez gains Milan derby legend status! Winners and losers as Inter cruise into Champions League final

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Lautaro Martinez Inter AC Milan 2022-23 HIC 16:9
The Argentine scored yet another goal against the Rossoneri as Simone Inzaghi's team sealed their place in Istanbul with a 1-0 win at San Siro

Nicola Barella burst into tears, Romelu Lukaku raised his hands to the heavens while Simone Inzaghi just bore the look of a man who could barely believe that he had been finally vindicated. Make no mistake about it, not many people believed this Inter side capable of making it to the knockout stage of the Champions League after being drawn in the same group as Bayern Munich and Barcelona - and even fewer thought they could reach the final when they were in the middle of a rotten run of form in Serie A just a couple of months ago.

And yet not only are Inzaghi's men on their way to Istanbul, they will arrive brimming with self-belief after beating city rivals AC Milan in the biggest Derby della Madonnina in decades. While the Rossoneri wilted under the pressure, Inter excelled, winning 1-0 in Tuesday night's second leg at San Siro to seal a 3-0 win on aggregate.

Below, GOAL runs through the winners and losers from a historic night for the Nerazzurri that saw Lautaro Martinez once again prove himself Milan's worst nightmare...

  1. WINNER: Lautaro Martinez
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    WINNER: Lautaro Martinez

    It just had to be him. Milan had done a decent job of keeping Lautaro quiet in last week's first leg but he was always going to have his say at some point. Indeed, since his first derby in March 2019, no player has scored more goals against the Rossoneri.

    It's now eight in 13 appearances against Milan, with his latest effort arriving with just 16 minutes remaining, thus completely killing a tie that never really looked like being revived by the 'visitors'. Truth be told, it wasn't the greatest bit of goalkeeping from the normally brilliant Mike Maignan, who was beaten at his near post because of a rather weak attempt to keep out Lautaro's low drive with his right hand.

    But Lautaro obviously didn't care. His status as a Milan derby legend is now well and truly secure, as underlined by the stirring sight of him celebrating with an adoring Curva Nord.

  2. LOSER: Henrikh Mkhitaryan

    LOSER: Henrikh Mkhitaryan

    Two derbies of very different emotions for Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Last week, he was ecstatic after scoring Inter's crucial second goal during a man of the match-winning performance. On Tuesday night, though, he left the field shaking his head after being forced off through injury just two minutes before the break.

    Granted, Mkhitaryan still ended up celebrating Inter's progression to the final, but his joy was tempered by the knowledge that now has a fight on his hands when it comes to starting in Istanbul. Obviously, there's the thigh problem, the full extent of which we won't know for at least a couple of days. But there's also Mkitharyan's rather precarious hold on his position. The versatile Armenian plays regularly for Inter but he is by no means one of the first names on the team sheet, meaning even if he is fully fit to feature in the final, he may not be handed a starting spot.

    Marcelo Brozovic, who replaced him on Tuesday, has underperformed this season but, on his day, he is a better option at the base of the midfield than Hakan Calhanoglu, who is more used to playing in a more advanced position anyway. Mkhitaryan, then, faces an anxious wait for the results of his first medical exams...

  3. WINNER: The LuLa partnership

    WINNER: The LuLa partnership

    Despite continuing his late-season renaissance with a double against Sassuolo on Saturday, Romelu Lukaku was once again forced to start on the bench at San Siro, with Edin Dzeko retaining his place up front alongside Lautaro.

    However, Lukaku made a decisive contribution after being introduced as a sub, showing impressive calmness and composure in the area before picking out Lautaro, who fired home.

    Dzeko obviously proved his enduring quality in the first leg, but it really does appear as if the 'LuLa' partnership that propelled Inter to the Serie A title in 2021 is starting to fire on all cylinders again.

    If Lukaku can keep up this rich vein of form - he has seven goals in his last 12 appearances - do not be surprised if he plays his way into Inzaghi' XI for the final.

  4. LOSER: Rafael Leao

    LOSER: Rafael Leao

    How would this derby have played out had Rafael Leao been fit to start both games? Unfortunately for the Milan fans now facing years of mockery, we'll never know. His absence from the first leg was obviously a major handicap for Pioli's side, who haven't won a game this season without their Portuguese talisman.

    However, Inter weren't that worried about him winning his fitness battle. Andre Onana was even happy enough to tempt fate before the second leg by pointing out that the Nerazzurri had already won several derbies even when the winger was in the Milan starting line-up. Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised, then, that Inter made it four wins in a row against their rivals - for the first time since 1974 - in spite of Leao's return.

    Of course, he may not have been fully fit after his recent thigh injury and he certainly didn't look right early on, with his loose first touch resulting in him having to haul down Denzel Dumfries inside the opening five minutes.

    Leao later burst into the area at his usual velocity but he dragged his left-footed shot wide of Onana's goal. If he had scored then, it would have changed the entire complexion of the tie. As it was, both Milan and Leao faded the longer the game wore on, leaving both wondering what might have been...

  5. LOSER: Milan's management
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    LOSER: Milan's management

    It's common knowledge that Milan are very prudent in the transfer market, which is obviously down to the previous financial problems. Their understandable unwillingness to continue splashing the cash made last season's Italian title win all the more remarkable, and rightly resulted in enormous praise for Pioli's coaching and Paolo Maldini's eye for a bargain.

    However, both men are now facing an uncertain future. As reported before the game, if Milan were to be eliminated by Inter, and then fail to finish in the top four in Serie A, the pair's respective positions would come under intense scrutiny. That feels desperately unfair, given both Pioli and Maldini have played pivotal roles in the Rossoneri returning to the top tier of European football.

    But there's no denying that the former has made some poor tactical decisions this season and been punished for rotating his preferred starting XI a little too regularly. Pioli could quite correctly argue, though, that he is paying the price for the club's costly mistakes during last summer's transfer window. Given their relatively small budget, an overstretched Milan squad really needed at least a couple of successful signings, but they've all been duds, with Divock Origi and Charles De Ketelaere undoubtedly the most disappointing.

    And, when it comes to player recruitment, the buck stops with Maldini. Again, he could point out that he has nothing like the same spending power as many of his European counterparts but, unfortunately for him - and Pioli - that is unlikely to prevent a backlash if this season's Champions League semi-finalists fail to even qualify for next year's competition.

  6. WINNER: Italian football

    WINNER: Italian football

    Serie A is plagued by a plethora of problems. Racism remains a stain on the Italian game, as recent weeks have so painfully and shamefully underlined. The majority of the league's stadia are shockingly sub-standard, and nearly all attempts at modernisation are constantly hindered by maddening levels of bureaucracy, as underlined by Milan and Inter's current struggles with San Siro. And then there's the fact that, in Italy, sometimes the table does lie. At the very least, it can't be trusted, with Juventus' points haul at the end of the current campaign set to be determined not by what happens on the field, but in the courts.

    In that grim context, then, this 'derby of derbies', as the Gazzetta dello Sport called it, couldn't have come at a better time for Italy and its long-suffering football fans. The San Siro, for all its faults, made for a spectacular setting for a Champions League semi-final, thanks in no small part to the sets of supporters, who unveiled stunning tifi ahead of their respective 'home' games.

    As both Inter CEO Beppe Marotta and Milan president Paolo Scaroni both said ahead of kick-off in the second leg, the atmosphere was "magical".

    And that should be the one thing that everyone agrees on. No matter one's allegiances in Italy, the presence of three Serie A sides in the last eight, two in the final four and now one in the final should serve as a cause for pride - and hope.

    After the spine-tingling scenes at the Stadio Diego Armando during Napoli's Scudetto celebrations last week, the awesome atmosphere at the Giuseppe Meazza represented another rousing reminder that there is still something very special about Italian football.

    Seriously, if Serie A can resolve its many issues off the field, there's no limit to what they could achieve on it.

  7. WINNER: Manchester City or Real Madrid

    WINNER: Manchester City or Real Madrid

    With all of that said, there's no denying that neither leg of the derby came close to matching the quality of last week's meeting between Madrid and Man City at the Santiago Bernabeu, meaning whichever team triumphs at the Etihad will undoubtedly arrive in Istanbul as the heavy favourites to lift the trophy.

    Obviously, derbies can often be tight, tense and tetchy affairs - no matter the strength of the sides involved - and this was a truly historic occasion for both Milan and Inter, with so much on the line. The fact that neither club is presently guaranteed Champions League football via the league only added to the sense of anxiety surrounding the fixture.

    Still, while Inter were worthy winners, thanks in no small part to their blistering start to the first leg, have finally found some consistency after a topsy-turvy season, boast the best defence in the tournament in terms of clean sheets (eight) and have potential match-winners like Lautaro within their ranks, they are not a team that will strike fear into the hearts of their final opponents.

    There are countless reasons the Nerazzurri could still shock the world in Turkey - chief among them the one-off nature of the game. With a bit of luck, even an average team can win the Champions League - Chelsea proved that in 2012. However, they will clearly need to channel the spirit of Jose Mourinho's limited but wonderfully well-drilled and incredibly determined treble winners if they are to win their fourth European Cup.