In the empty corridors of the San Siro, many have often claimed to come across a strange silhouette of a man walking along with his hands crossed over his head. Recently however, these sightings have reportedly decreased as Inter are finally coming to terms with the departure of the man who led them to the top of the world – Jose Mourinho.
With the Milan derby on the horizon, the hyperbole and the excitement are peaking as is usually the case, but for the Nerazzurri this weekend’s Derby della Madonnina could serve as an exorcism of the ghost of a glorious past. Since Mourinho left Inter, the blue and the black half of Milan has been waiting for a chance to enjoy the local bragging rights over their cugini having been beaten thrice in official games. Last season for the first time in five years, the Rossoneri finished above their city rivals en route to their 18th Scudetto which is incidentally the same number as Inter’s (including the disputed 2006 title).
This round 18 clash will be the latest the two teams have ever met in the league, and Moratti’s side would celebrate a win against the leaders Milan on more levels than one. In a way this is almost a déjà vu from last year, when a reinvigorated Nerazzurri were on the tear leading into the derby. They had the possibility of overtaking their rivals for the lead having clawed back a 13-point gap, but just 20 seconds into the game Pato dashed their hopes. What followed was a mini-collapse as the team succumbed to Schalke in horrific manner, were eliminated from the Champions League and lost to Parma before steadying their ship. Such is the nature of a derby loss.
Claudio Ranieri knows this. Since he arrived at Inter, the one thing he has changed more than anything else has been consigning the team’s achievements to the past. All of last year even when Inter were struggling, the official line out of Appiano Gentile would always be: ‘This is the same team who won everything last year’. Such a mentality held the club back from adapting to life sans Mourinho, and the Tinkerman has come closest to reshaping this team in a mould that he can truly call his own. The 5-0 win over Parma at the weekend, was their biggest win since clobbering Genoa at the Marassi by the same scoreline during the 2009/10 season. It was also their fifth win in a row, another achievement they last completed under Mourinho.
The derby will indeed be a great test for Inter as Milan not only go into this game as the leaders and the favourites but also as the ‘home’ team. Both teams have been doing well lately, with the Rossoneri winning six of their last eight games and conceding only twice in the process. The Nerazzurri are not far behind, having won seven of their last eight games and have let in one more than their cousins. While the goals-for column is definitely in favour of Milan, Inter have scored nine in their last two games and more importantly their strikers have gotten back on the scoresheet. Diego Milito’s contributions in the thrashing of the Gialloblu were particularly noteworthy, as the Argentine performed at a level last seen during the Mourinho era. Ranieri has a good record against the Rossoneri having won three and lost just one of his previous seven games against them.
The returning Wesley Sneijder will provide yet another interesting twist to the drama. Many will recall that the Dutchman made his debut against the Rossoneri, making an immediate impact as Inter recorded a 4-0 victory. The pieces seem to be in place for the playmaker to complete a memorable second coming. And as if the derby needed any more plots, the saga surrounding Carlos Tevez only gets more interesting every day. Milan CEO Adriano Galliani has claimed that the club have reached a personal agreement with the player, and on Monday Sport Mediaset announced that Manchester City had accepted Inter’s €27million offer for the player. The 209th edition of the derby will mean a lot more to the Nerazzurri as a win may finally allow them to move on Mourinho and the tripletta.