It is looking like a two-horse race between the two Milan sides for the Serie A title this season. And while a youthful AC Milan have led for most of the campaign thus far, a slip up against Spezia has cost them top spot. Inter had to overcome a Lazio side who were on a run of six straight league wins to leapfrog their rivals, and they did so in supreme style.
Romelu Lukaku stole the headlines with an unbelievable performance, bagging two and assisting the other as Antonio Conte’s side wound up 3-1 winners, but there was much more to the victory than just Lukaku’s efforts.
A well-drilled Nerazzurri were incredibly comfortable out of possession and happy to let Lazio pile on the pressure throughout. They slowly picked them off as the game drew on in a wise, team performance that could be looked back on with fond memories should they manage to clinch the title.
The man who isn’t getting the praise he deserves, however, is Marcelo Brozovic, who runs the show from midfield.
Brozovic was immense vs Lazio; yet another fine performance to his portfolio from this season. The 28-year-old was everywhere in the clash, running over 14km and breaking up Lazio’s advances at the base of midfield every time, before recycling play and leading the attack for his side. He also racked up four interceptions, made five long balls and one key pass, while also leading the press that allowed Lukaku to score his second of the evening.
It was a tireless display and one fans have been treated to all season. Antonio Conte’s side have always looked tactically adept, but it is the extra level of bite and hunger brought by people like Brozovic that count in games of such a high quality.
It would be easy to render the Croatian as nothing more than an aggressive defensive midfielder whose job is to let the likes of Nicolo Barella and Christian Eriksen pull off the creative work moving forward, but Brozovic is doing that too, and better than most.
So far, Brozovic is leading the way in the average distance covered per game in Serie A with 11.7km. His engine is unrelenting, and while he perhaps lacks the same levels of discipline as others – he’s already totted up eight yellow cards in all competitions – he makes up for it with a usually sublime tackling ability which is powered by an intelligent brain.
The reason Eriksen has struggled to find a way into the starting XI under Conte is because players like Brozovic are so crucial to any success – that, and wing back formations are essentially the law in Italy. This is by no means a negative on Eriksen’s behalf, but more a praise on Brozovic; while also being the man to pull defensive duties, Brozovic possesses enough intelligence to see a key pass in attack. Capable of spraying the ball forward over long distance, he sits joint-third in Serie A with assists currently.
It is exactly this mindset and level of performance the Croatian brings that has powered Inter to a title charge once again this season. He recycles play and leads the transition for his side, which allows the likes of Barella, Achraf Hakimi and Ivan Perisic all to be more bold and expansive with their attacking duties.
With no cup or European competitions left for Inter to compete for, it has to be all or nothing for the Scudetto. Brozovic is continually displaying that messages in his performances with a ‘do or die’ attitude that has clearly rubbed off on his teammates and allowed them to switch on and assert their dominance over the Italian top flight.
The season is by no means over, and Inter must continue to see out these levels to the final whistle on the final day, but they have stood themselves in good stead to last the test of time and outwork their crosstown rivals.
That is down to a combination of resilience, aggression and intelligence from Brozovic in the heart of the side.