Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri praised his side’s performance in beating Inter 1-0 at the San Siro on Sunday.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the only goal of the game on five minutes, converting from the penalty spot, which sent Milan back to the top of Serie A above Lazio.
“It was a very intense performance and we got off to a great start, putting Inter under pressure,” said Allegri. “We kept that up while we had XI men on the field, then defended well and it was a deserved victory.
“There was a moment when we looked ready to score the second, but then we started slowing the tempo and fatigue had set in. I liked the attitude and good football, above all the team was solid. It’s an important victory, especially as a derby win can only help improve self-esteem.
“Even if your name is Milan and you have star players, you need to be efficient and work hard in order to win. We had some good results with that earlier line-up, but admittedly we did suffer a bit more with so many attacking players. The balance is within the squad now and everyone feels important.”
Ibrahimovic said: “This great victory came from an excellent performance, especially in the second half when we were a man down. The team played with hard work, heart and sacrifice. We said that we are a team and play the way we know how. We created many chances in the first 20 minutes and could’ve got another two goals.
“It is not decisive for the Scudetto. It’s true Inter have a disadvantage now, but there’s a long way to go and anything can happen. Everyone must remain concentrated and keep working hard.”
Inter boss Rafa Benitez bemoaned the award of the early penalty but admitted the better side won.
“I don’t think we lacked character. The team tried and Milan took the lead so early on with that penalty, then committed a lot of fouls to keep us out,” he said. “It wasn’t easy against a side playing with such intensity and focused on the counter. When they went down to 10 men, we perhaps lacked a bit of patience when choosing the final pass.
“We lost the ball too often in midfield and the team must learn to deal with possession better when behind. Milan had more control in the first half, but after the break we attacked continually. If we move the ball faster then we have more space, as we did in the second half down the left flank.
“We struggled to find that space for the through ball, mainly because Milan worked very hard to close them down. The penalty changed our game plan. We had intended to wait and create a bit of space behind their defence, but with Milan’s early goal we had to push forward more and it was tricky.
“The whole game changed with that penalty after five minutes. Materazzi only made one mistake at the start, he did very well for the rest of the match.
“I think Inter played very well at the start of the season. Clearly last season this side won many games at the end and Diego Milito made the difference. He is not fit right now and it shows, while Samuel Eto’o is a different type of player.
“You can see that the team looks to Milito, Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder for ideas and they are not at the same fitness or form levels as last season.”