Emotions will be running high this weekend in the Derby della Madonnina as league leaders Inter host bitter rivals Milan in a crucial game that may well prove decisive in the race for the Scudetto.
With Inter currently eight points ahead of the third placed Rossoneri, the game has taken on an added sense of importance for Coach Carlo Ancelotti’s side, who simply cannot afford to lose if they have any realistic ambition of lifting their eighteenth title in May. However, victory for Inter would open up an 11-point gap between the two and maintain at least a seven-point lead at the top, regardless of Juventus’s result against Sampdoria.
Last weekend saw contrasting results for the two sides against lowly opposition. Inter cruised to a 3-0 win over strugglers Lecce with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luis Figo and Dejan Stankovic all on the score sheet. Il Diavolo, meanwhile, was held to a frustrating 1-1 draw at home by rock-bottom Reggina. Ancelotti’s side enjoyed plenty of possession but could not convert their chances. It was left to Kaka to save their blushes from the penalty spot, after the visitors had taken a shock lead. While the Milan Tactician will have been frustrated by his side’s profligacy in front of goal, Jose Mourinho will have taken plenty of positives as Inter showed glimpses of their early season brilliance with a confident and assured display.
La Beneamata will no doubt have been boosted by the news that Milan may be without their influential playmaker and top scorer Kaka, who limped off after 78 minutes against Reggina. The Brazilian has been in devastating form for the Rossoneri this term, scoring ten times and should he miss the game, his presence will be sorely missed by Milan. It is another in a long line of injuries for the Rossoneri, who are also without Gennaro Gattuso for the season.
Both Coaches will have breathed a huge sigh of relief after a host of top players came through their respective midweek internationals unscathed with Ancelotti having faced an anxious wait to learn David Beckham’s fate among others. The 33-year-old has been instrumental in preserving the Rossoneri’s unbeaten record this year, scoring twice in six starts as well as claiming two assists in the recent 3-0 win over Lazio.
Much has been made over whether Beckham will stay beyond his agreed loan spell, after the 33 year-old publicly expressed his desire to make the move permanent. Milan responded to Beckham’s comments by making an official bid, which LA Galaxy subsequently turned down. Beckham, however, has continued to let his football overshadow the lingering negotiations.
If Milan is to claim victory they will have to find a way to contain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has been an integral part of Inter’s title charge with 14 goals to his name already this term. The Swede has been in scintillating form of late, with three in his last six – including the opener at Lecce last weekend – and will be looking to pile further misery on the Rossoneri with another impressive display.
There has been little to choose from between the two sides in recent fixtures, with four wins a piece in their previous eight league encounters, although Inter have lost the last two. The reverse fixture earlier this season produced a 1–0 win for Il Diavolo, with Ronaldinho scoring the decisive goal with a first half header.
It is the beginning of a crucial month for la Beneamata, who host current holders Manchester United in the Champions League nine days after the derby, with both sides chasing a domestic and European double. With that in mind, it will be fascinating to see who Mourinho opts to select in his starting line up on Sunday. The Portuguese Tactician is likely to partner Ibrahimovic and Adriano up front, although he faces a pleasant selection headache at the back with the recent form of Davide Santon. The 18-year-old has made a big impression since making his debut in the Coppa Italia against Roma and has since managed to keep natural left back Maxwell out of the side with a string of assured performances.
It also remains to be seen if veteran midfielder Figo will regain his place in Mourinho’s starting eleven after scoring Inter’s second goal against Lecce last weekend in a rare start, before being replaced shortly after by Cristian Chivu. The Rossoneri are likely to start with Beckham, although it is unclear as to who Ancelotti will select to partner him. His curious decision to put in-form Clarence Seedorf on the bench against Reggina seemed to backfire and he may be tempted to put the Dutch star back in he frame to face Inter.
It all makes for an enticing, world-renowned derby that will showcase the best that Calcio has to offer, as the city of Milan puts Valentine’s romance to one side and diverts its attention firmly back to football.