This weekend’s Derby della Madonnina, on the surface, does not have the prestige of some matchups of the recent past, but for the fans and the city of Milan a passionate rivalry will always exist. In a cross city clash of this magnitude, history and reputations are built upon stand out matches. Pressure will be on AC Milan and coach Vincenzo Montella, who are sitting impressively in third place (five points off the league leaders Juventus). The Rossoneri will be facing an Internazionale club who have just undergone a coaching change in the way of Stefano Pioli replacing Frank De Boer after only one third of the way through the season. With a slightly different approach, the Nerazzurri players will be aiming to earn the respect of their new boss in addition to improving their position in the table. The San Siro will be a lively backdrop, as this match has potential to be an enticing affair.
Following a relatively quiet transfer summer, credit is due to Montella for reestablishing AC Milan amongst the top of the table at this stage of the season. In a few months, the Rossoneri coach has seemed to have given direction and confidence to an otherwise fragile team. Since the injury to Riccardo Montolivo, the Milan central midfield has been entrusted to 18-year old Manuel Locatelli, whose lone goal was enough to conquer Juventus just a few weeks ago. His vision and ability are extremely mature for a player of his age. Wide players M’Baye Niang, Giacomo Bonaventura, and Suso have also hit stride under Montella, and the Rossoneri attack is already more potent and consistent than it was last season. Milan have been playing in a 4-3-3 formation with Carlos Bacca, Gianluca Lapadula, and Luiz Adriano all making appearances as the lone forward. This week’s nod will most likely go to leading scorer Bacca, who has 6 goals in 10 appearances so far. Unfortunately, in defence, Alessio Romagnoli has been ruled out after an injury during the Italy friendly against Germany earlier this week.
The Rossoneri will look to continue their recent form, which boasts only one loss in their last nine matches, but they face an extremely determined Inter side looking to capitalise on the derby energy.
Inter themselves, meanwhile, after the dismissal of DeBoer are in somewhat of a reidentification situation, with some players such as Marcelo Brozovic or Stevan Jovetic possibly coming back into selection. The key Nerazzurri figure regardless of coach will be hitman Mauro Icardi, likely supported by Ivan Perisic and Antonio Candreva on the flanks. Pulling the strings centrally will be Ever Banega; the skilled and hard working Argentine is an integral piece in the Inter puzzle. Anchoring the midfield will also be Joao Mario and Gary Medel, the two hoping to provide balance and cover behind the Inter’s dangerous attacking group. The high quality Nerazzurri defensive duo of Jeison Murillo and Joao Miranda is motivated and healthy, although could be somewhat fatigued after their respective South American qualification matches less than a week ago. It’s still yet to be determined how Pioli will make his touches on an already strong core of quality players, as Inter has been active on the transfer market the past two seasons, but still no Champions League participation to show for it. Inter’s current position in the table is ninth, and the players will want to show their value to the new coach as they try to stay in contention for a Europa or Champions League position in the standings.
For new coaches Pioli and Montella, this serves as the introduction to the Derby della Madonnina, as neither have ever played or coached for a Milan side. Often called the best stadium in Italy, the San Siro will be sold out for what the Italian media is calling the Derby of China, in reference to the recent majority ownership takeovers by conglomerates from the East. Serving as the lone Sunday night game, the Milan Derby comes at an intense time for both clubs, with pressure on both sides to perform and the entire nation tuning in. As many derbies of this fashion go, the game will likely be a mix of slow tactical play (think tactical tackles), counter attack, dangerous set pieces, and moments of box to box excitement. How well each team breaks each other down could depend on which individual players perceive the importance of the moment and execute accordingly. Keeping in mind some players have played in internationals earlier in the week, the transatlantic travel can present a fatigue factor.
Former players of both teams have been chiming in all week with thoughts on the derby, with Balotelli and Bierhoff calling for a Milan win. As the pressure mounts and media attention grows up until kick off, players and coaches of both sides will be preparing their utmost. The energy alone in this matchup creates heroes and enemies, and both coaches will want to harness that energy going into the game. Whether Rossonero, Nerazzuro, or neutral, this game is sure to excite.