By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
It was beginning to feel a lot like the biggest clash between AC Milan and Inter in January might be in the transfer market. With the champions playing catch-up behind Juventus and the Nerazzurri going through a real meltdown, the early season form of the two suggested that this month’s most interesting saga would be played out over Carlos Tevez. But with the derby now just six days away, both teams are in the top five, in top form, and are geared up for what should be a magnificent clash at San Siro.
While Claudio Ranieri’s side have recorded the more notable upturn, chalking up five straight wins and seven in eight since the home defeat to Juve which saw them finish October in 17th position, so too have Milan put together an excellent run of form. Having started the same month in 15th following their own reverse against the Bianconeri, the Scudetto holders have since won 10 and drawn two in 12 to return to the top of Serie A.
And individually there have been significant improvements made on either side of the divide, too. Diego Milito’s brace in the 5-0 spanking of Parma on Saturday backed up his goal against Lecce before the break to well and truly banish a spell which had seem him record just one strike in 11 games. Meanwhile, the Rossoneri’s own talisman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, became the club’s first player since Andriy Shevchenko to score in five successive matches in netting against Atalanta on Sunday.
But the recent form of the two sides goes beyond more than mere numbers. While three months ago Massimiliano Allegri’s side looked devoid of any real creativity, they have since scored 32 goals in a dozen games off the back of a more settled line-up’s ability to make incisions from every angle. At times recently, they have looked as good as at any stage in their title-winning campaign of last term.
|MILAN & INTER'S RESPECTIVE RENAISSANCES
|Palermo (h) W 3-0
|Lecce (a) W 4-3
|Parma (h) W 4-1
|Roma (a) W 3-2
|Catania (h) W 4-0||WEEK 11||Cagliari (h) W 2-1|
|Fiorentina (a) D 0-0||WEEK 12||Siena (a) W 1-0|
|Chievo (h) W 4-0||WEEK 13||Udinese (a) L 0-1|
|Genoa (a) W 2-0||WEEK 14||Fiorentina (h) W 2-0|
|Bologna (a) D 2-2||WEEK 15||Genoa (a) W 1-0|
|Siena (h) W 2-0
||Cesena (a) W 1-0
|Cagliari (a) W 2-0
||Lecce (h) W 4-1
|Atalanta (a) W 2-0
||Parma (h) W 5-0
Across the city, Inter have also displayed a more confident demeanour with each passing game. From a side struggling to convert chances, lacking mobility in midfield and with defensive deficiencies coming out of their ears, they have turned into an outfit with a much more solid backline, a tougher and more flexible centre, and a forward line capable of goals. In the last two fixtures they have hit nine goals – the first time they have achieved such a feat since November 2003.
Many neutrals may be hoping that there will be a share of the spoils to continue the unbeaten runs of both, but recent history shows that outcome to be unlikely. There hasn’t been a draw in a Derby della Madonnina since October 2004, with the last 16 meetings in all competitions ending with a winner – Milan holding a 9-7 lead in those encounters.
Everything points to a most fascinating derby at San Siro on Sunday night. Milito and Giampaolo Pazzini will face Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva, with Diego Forlan and Wesley Sneijder also set to return, while Lucio and Walter Samuel will be asked to better deal with Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Pato than they did last term.
It may well be first against fifth and champions against mere Champions League hopefuls, but given their recent records this could be one of the most explosive derby matches in years. The anticipation is already palpable.
- Lazio were given hell by Siena on Saturday, slumping to a 4-0 defeat at the Franchi Montepaschi Arena which was every bit deserved. With Mattia Destro in superb form for the Robur, Edy Reja’s men were ill-equipped to have any real say in proceedings. While Miroslav Klose has scored goals at will at times this season, his form has masked a gradual crumbling behind him, and the continued selection of Marius Stankevicius as a centre-back alongside the ageing Giuseppe Biava got what it deserved at the weekend. Add in the inclusion of Senad Lulic on the right – despite the fact he has brought balance and energy down the left for both the Biancocelesti and Bosnia & Herzegovina this term – and it was a recipe for disaster.
- Two penalties from Francesco Totti saw him finally get onto the scoresheet in 2011-12 as Roma secured a worthy win over Chievo. Stefano Sorrentino’s excellent form had threatened to thwart the Giallorossi, but ‘Er Pupone’ had the last laugh in adding his 208th and 209th Serie A goals. That tally leaves him just seven behind Giuseppe Meazza and Jose Altafini, who share third place in the list of the league’s all-time scorers. And with Gunnar Nordahl a further nine up on those two, who would bet against Totti recording 226 to secure second place in the annals behind Silvio Piola? How long can this man keep going on?
- After the first three games of the weekend had seen the home teams chalk up big victories, two sides that travelled well on Sunday were Napoli and Fiorentina. But whereas a superb all-round team effort from the Partenopei earned them three points in Palermo, it was Stevan Jovetic who stole the show in the Viola’s 3-0 win at Novara. In their first game post-Alberto Gilardino, Delio Rossi’s side acquitted themselves superbly in Piedmont, and the Montenegrin struck either side of a Riccardo Montolivo cracker to help his side climb six places off the back of their first away win all season. Oh yes, and they also triple their previous goals haul on the road… Alberto who?