As Inter and Milan get ready to square off in the 274th edition of the Derby Della Maddonina, things are markedly different this time around. For the first time since the Calciopoli era the Rossoneri head into this game ahead of their city rivals and now the onus is on them to prove their supremacy.
Inter have been dominant in this fixture in recent years, having won seven of the last 10 meetings between the Milanese giants, so the Diavolo definitely have a point to prove. The Rossoneri faithful have had a lot to endure from their city’s cousins of late, with Inter not only overhauling them in the number of Scudetti won but also having finally won the Champions League and in doing so becoming the first Italian team to win the treble.
As usual there are many sub-lots at play here and the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to face the team whom he guided to three championships is an obvious one. Ibra faced his fair amount of abuse when he took on the Nerazzurri in the colours of Barca so decking up in the red and black is sure to add that much more spite to the insults hurled from Curva Nord.
For Milan this game comes at the right time as Inter have been extremely patchy of late and the results against Brescia and Lecce will give the Rossoneri the belief they need to topple their city rivals. More importantly it also provides Massimiliano Allegri’s side the opportunity to consolidate their lead at the top and extend the gap from Inter to six points. Last season, Milan found themselves in a similar situation as with a game in hand they took on Inter only six points adrift of them, but a dogged display by the Nerazzurri saw them triumph and end the Rossoneri’s title hopes. Allegri will be keen to avoid such disappointment once again but statistics are truly not on Milan’s side. This will be the ‘home’ fixture for Inter and they have not been beaten in this tie for over five years and in fact since that loss, il Biscione have gone on to win every game till date.
Coach Rafa Benitez thus has a legacy to live up to that he will not want dashed in his first ever Milan derby. The jury is still largely out on Benitez following Jose Mourinho’s historic achievements at the club and a defeat in the Derby Della Maddonina may prove to be extremely costly for the Spaniard. Despite the fact that Inter have been plagued with recurring injuries to their squad, their performances in the league have been mediocre to say the least. The team has failed to score more than one goal in a game since the 4-0 thrashing of Bari in Week 4 and have netted only 13 times this season. The major problem has not been Benitez’s managerial abilities as it has been the blunt displays of their strikers. Inter are enjoying a lot more possession and creating more chances this term than under Mourinho but are failing to convert them and get the results.
Milan also have their fair share of sceptics who are yet to be convinced of the team’s ability to link their strike force together with the rest of the side. In the previous two games against Bari and Palermo, the Rossoneri defence showed signs of strain but finally managed to hold firm. The forward department however, is proving to be worth its salt as Ibrahimovic has regained his scoring touch that he had seemingly lost in Spain. ‘Ibracadabra’ will be a real menace for Inter especially as Walter Samuel will be missing through injury. Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso have also turned back the years this season and they are proving to be invaluable for the Diavolo midfield.
The game with Palermo however, came at a price as Alexandre Pato and Filippo Inzaghi suffered injuries that rule them out of the derby and the latter’s season has come to an early end. Andrea Pirlo picked up a thigh strain and he is a doubt for the game too. Allegri will possibly rely on Kevin Prince Boateng to fill in for Pirlo should he miss out while Ronaldinho might find himself back in the starting line-up as well. For Inter there is finally some good news on the injury front as Esteban Cambiasso, Julio Cesar and Wesley Sneijder returned to full training on Friday. Benitez will still miss out on the services of Maicon, Thiago Motta, Sulley Muntari and McDonald Mariga.
There is a lot riding on this game for both the sides and they will be keen to avoid defeat. We have been treated to some spectacular encounters between these two of late and hopefully the will to win overcomes the fear of losing and we enjoy a true ‘Mother of All Derbies’ come Sunday night.