It’s firmly a case of looking over their shoulders from now until the end of the season for these two giants of the Italian game, as both clubs’ distant ambitions became mathematically impossible in recent weeks. Milan’s loss in Udine ended any hope of them landing the Scudetto for the first time since 2004, although any realistic hopes of the title were laid to rest as early as February in all honesty – much to the disappointment of Silvio Berlusconi in particular.
But if the Milan supremo believes his club has underachieved somewhat this campaign, their opponents on Sunday will serve as a stark reminder of how the situation could be much worse. Roma was tipped alongside the Rossoneri to threaten Inter’s dominance and launch a title assault at the start of the season but, after suffering an appalling start, the rest of the season has resembled something of a rescue mission. A decent middle stint saw i Lupi clamber back into contention for a Champions League place, but their poor form since March has seen Luciano Spalletti’s side fall way behind Fiorentina in the race for the coveted fourth spot.
Saturday evening’s defeat at the hands of an in-form Udinese and their subsequent surrender of the title was inevitable. Il Diavolo’s focus has been on usurping Juventus to clinch second position and finishing the season in good form. Second place is now all but secure with the Rossoneri holding a three-point cushion over the Bianconeri. And with the Old Lady seemingly incapable of winning at present, while also enduring the turmoil of sacking their coach – Milan’s path to second appears a clear one.
The Rossoneri look set to be unchanged from last weekend’s defeat in Udine, although David Beckham will be pushing for a recall to face the side he made his Serie A debut against in January. The former England skipper was suspended for the defeat against the Friulani but will be looking to oust Mathieu Flamini for one of the three midfield slots. Ronaldinho will again have to be content with a place on the bench with Clarence Seedorf preferred while Alexandre Pato will keep the on-fire Filippo Inzaghi out of the side.
15 Zambrotta – 24 Senderos – 3 Maldini – 18 Jankulovski
84 Flamini – 21 Pirlo – 23 Ambrosini
22 Kaka – 7 Pato – 10 Seedorf
Spalletti’s team has struggled for any kind of consistency this term, which has ultimately cost them their place amongst Europe’s elite. Last weekend’s victory over Catania summed up their season with the team relying on more last minute drama to overcome one of their mid-table opponents whilst conceding a hatful of goals. The Sicilian club’s three strikes at the Stadio Olimpico took the Giallorossi’s goals against record to a staggering 57 – only the bottom three have conceded more.
Spalletti will point to the fact his talismanic skipper Francesco Totti has played just over half the Giallorossi’s league fixtures. Yet despite the level of Totti’s influence on his side being massive (too much so), it is an excuse and a poor one at that. Shipping the number of goals i Lupi has this campaign rarely bodes well and after spending the past few months chasing down fourth spot – they will now be wary of losing their place in Europe altogether with Palermo closing in on their sixth place.
On the team news front, Roma’s first choice keeper Alexander Doni remains sidelined with Artur continuing to deputise, while influential defender Juan and the enigmatic Julio Baptista will also be absent. Marco Motta does return however but Daniele De Rossi misses out through suspension with Rodrigo Taddei tipped to cover in support of the strikers.
13 Motta – 5 Mexes – 2 Panucci – 17 Riise
33 Brighi – 7 Pizarro – 20 Perrotta
10 Totti – 9 Vucinic
A lot will depend on how the Milanese defence handles wily old stalwart Totti, the skipper retaining his title as Roma’s main man and the one who makes things tick. Stopping Totti is halfway to stopping Roma, while Kaka’s influence for the Rossoneri is of similar importance. While Seedorf, Pirlo and Pato are all capable of hurting the Giallorossi, it is Kaka whose creativity and flair truly scares il Diavolo’s opponents and there is no doubt Milan are a much bigger threat with him in the side. The role of Ronaldinho has suffered because of this, with Ancelotti of the belief the former Barca-man negates the influence of Kaka and therefore damages the team’s fortunes too much – ultimately costing Dinho any kind of starting role since the turn of the year.
Much has been made of the under-par campaigns suffered by both teams this term, and with Claudio Ranieri’s sacking still ringing in their ears – the respective coaches of these two Italian giants will be only too wary of the increasing scepticism towards their positions. Stories have even surfaced of Ancelotti and Spalletti potentially exchanging places in the summer however unlikely this seems. Ancelotti appears almost certain to be plying his trade at Stamford Bridge next season while i Lupi would be foolish to dispense with Spalletti.
While the sideshow of both coaches’ futures threatens to overshadow such a heavyweight clash – there is still plenty to play for come Sunday. Roma are still to secure a place in next season’s Europa League while Milan hope to consolidate their spot as Inter’s nearest rival. The Rossoneri has been in good form of late – the reverse at Udinese their only blip since the start of March – with seven wins from their nine games before that defeat. Six of those matches included a clean sheet, as the Milanese giants’ rearguard began to find its feet and some of its old stubbornness from yesteryear. Spalletti’s side has discovered no such stubbornness and seem intent on just trying to outscore their opponents, adopting the “score one more than you” philosophy. Either way – one will surely come unstuck this weekend.
The smart money points towards a Milan win but Roma’s unpredictability throughout the campaign has left most giving up on guessing the Giallorossi’s results. But with Palermo just two points behind in the race for Europe, Spalletti will be desperate not to relinquish their lead going into the final day. And with their Champions League dreams over long ago, qualification for the newly formatted Europa League now entertains even greater significance as a distant yet essential alternative.