Once at the pinnacle of club football, Milan derby doesn't even impact title race anymore

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ROME — A decade ago, the Milan derby was the pinnacle of club football, twice played in the final stages of the Champions League.

These days, when Inter and AC Milan meet, it's a second-rate spectacle.

How far the two Milan clubs have fallen was on full display in a 1-1 draw Sunday in a match that will be better remembered for the near misses than the goals scored — and had no impact on the Serie A title race.

The Gazzetta dello Sport called it "Little Derby" on Monday.

"Mancini discovers that Milan is now the periphery of Italian football," read the headline in Corriere dello Sport following Roberto Mancini's first match back as Inter coach.

A volley from Jeremy Menez gave Milan the halftime lead but Joel Obi leveled shortly after the hour mark. Both sides also hit the crossbar through Mauro Icardi and Stephan El Shaarawy, who wasted a glorious chance to win it for Milan.

Milan is seventh, 13 points behind Italian league leader Juventus, with Inter a point further back.

"Life is made of cycles," said Filippo Inzaghi, Milan's first-year coach and former star Rossoneri striker. "Milan had a fantastic cycle and now we're in a period of rebuilding and starting again. We shouldn't look at the table. We have to begin anew from the foundations, which we have. We have to improve and I hope that in a few months there will be a great improvement."

Mancini, who was only hired nine days before the derby, had little time to work. After restoring Inter to glory in his first spell in charge with three consecutive Serie A titles from 2006 to 2008, Mancini acknowledged that the goals are more modest now.

Returning to the Champions League is a priority not only for Mancini but also new Inter president Erick Thohir, the Indonesian entrepreneur who bought a majority stake in the club a year ago from Massimo Moratti.

"We have two paths," Mancini said. "Bouncing back in the league or winning the Europa League. Our aim doesn't have to be third place but to do our best. We'll see in January."

Four years ago under Jose Mourinho, Inter swept the Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup titles in one glorious season. And between 2003 and 2007, Milan won two Champions League trophies and finished runner-up in another final.

Back when Andriy Shevchenko was considered the world's top striker, Milan edged Inter in the 2003 Champions League semifinals. Then the teams met again in the quarterfinals of the 2005 tournament.

This season neither Milan club even qualified for the Champions League, and Milan isn't in Europe at all after finishing eighth last season.

Still, there were flashes of brilliance at the San Siro on Sunday.

Menez's exquisite volleyed goal was a work of art. The Frenchman nonchalantly redirected a cross from the left from El Shaarawy with one touch of his right foot into the far corner.

"If you don't know how to place your foot the right way then a ball like that ends up in the third level of the stands," Milan vice president Adriano Galliani said.

The Gazzetta labeled it a "gourmet football move."

When he dedicates himself to the task at hand, the often mercurial Menez can make a big impact. And there's no discussing his talent, even if he dropped out of favor behind Paris Saint-Germain's highly paid stars last season.

Of Menez's five goals this season, three came from penalties and his other was a divine backheel effort against Parma in September.

The equalizer from Nigeria international Obi, his first this season, came with a weak shot from the edge of the area that went in after Milan goalkeeper Diego Lopez had his view obstructed.

The backflip that Obi performed to celebrate was more exciting than the goal itself.

Obi spent last season on loan with Parma and is still considered a fringe player. He's got nowhere near the talent of the rapidly developing Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, who scored twice and also hit the post in a 3-0 win at Lazio on Saturday.

"We'd be foolish to compare the gap between the two lads," a Gazzetta editorial said. "But it helps give an idea of how much separates the Milan clubs from the top."


Associated Press writer Daniella Matar in Milan contributed to this report.


Andrew Dampf can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

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