The Derby of Milan, often considered as the mother of all derbies in club football, is back with both AC Milan and Inter Milan undergoing a revolution of sorts
Football is beautiful and exciting, no doubt about that, but every league in the world has atleast that one fixture that makes the game even more pulsating for the fans. This one match is not just played on the field, but more importantly, off the field as well, where fans get personal and emotional over a rivalry that has spanned over generations. After all, it’s the Derby.
October the 7th, is not just any Sunday. It’s a day that will surely break records for the most number of viewers on television across sports channels all over the world. For some, the next morning will be the happiest Monday in a while, for the rest, the Monday morning blues might just get worse. And why not? After all, how often do we see three of the biggest derbies in world football all set to kick-off on the same date and more or less around the same time?
If in France, fans will be looking forward to the Derby de France or Le Classico to be played between Marseille and PSG, folks in Spain and all around the world will be glued to the El Clásico between you know who.
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It’s a little fair though, that when it comes to quality and the kind of football, the El Clásico over the past couple of seasons has definitely left the Milan derby far behind thanks to the contrasting fortunes the respective clubs involved have endured during this period. This season, certainly the distance in quality has been stretched even further with so many greats having left the San Siro, but when it comes to history, the fans, the rivalry and the effect this single match - played between two rivals who not only divide the same City into two distinct colours but also share the same stadium - has on the people involved, every other fixture is a distant second.
The sentiments involved in this local derby transcend all footballing boundaries and understandings as it’s that one on-field battle that is not just about the players. The fans get involved, and the team that wins officially gets the bragging rights of the entire city until the next fixture decides otherwise. The city of Milan lives to see this day and that explains the significance of this rivalry that has been passed on through generations between and players alike.
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Off the pitch, it’s all going to be the same, but on it, this season however, there will unfortunately be a vast dip in quality and the brand of football as both Inter and Milan have undergone mass transition over the summer. If in the past, fans were treated to the duels between the likes of Ibrahimovic, Gattuso, Inzaghi, Shevchenko, Maldini, Nesta, Seedorf, Eto’o, Figo, Julio Cesar et all, this time around it’s a totally different story as both sides have turned towards the youth and fringe players to shrug of their respective pasts and start a new era which will take time to establish and succeed the previous and the greater one.
More important to note however, is the point that having not enjoyed the best of starts to the Serie A season, both teams are slowly looking better with every match as the players get accustomed to their unfamiliar surroundings with Inter definitely holding a slight advantage over their cousins when it comes to recent form.
The Nerazzurri are on a three game winning streak, and young coach Andrea Stramaccioni’s flexibility to adapt to a more vibrant 3-5-2 has started to bear fruit as the team looks more comfortable and cohesive with every passing match as this change has allowed the team to play to its strength. Wesley Sneijder will definitely be missed as apart from the being the most high profile name of this fixture, he is also Inter’s most reliable player, but his absence provides a great opportunity for young Brazilian attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho to make a strong case for the future.
He was excellent against Fiorentina, but it’s the partnership of Milito and Cassano that has proved to be so crucial for Inter so far. Diego Milito seemed a little lost when Samuel Eto’o was sold to Anzhi last season, but in Antonio Cassano he has once again found a provider on whose assists strikers like him thrive to score goals.
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Cassano has been remarkable ever since his transfer from the other half of the city both creating and scoring for the team and he showed against Fiorentina why on his day, he’s among the bests in Europe. He meets his old side for the first time since that ugly divorce back in the summer, strangely in the same stadium, and it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the agony of the home crowd who stood by him all through his crisis last season only to see him change dressing rooms.
Sparks will fly, but the history of high profile intra-city transfers between the two sides is what makes this derby most palpable.
Milan on the other hand, though improving, has still failed to impress with that victory away to Zenit in the Champions League a vital boost for struggling Rossoneri manager Massimiliano Allegri whose future has been a topic of much speculation with every passing Serie A game this season. It’s less than impressive victory against Cagliari in Allegri’s absence failed to catalyze the dampening spirits in the camp as it was followed by a disappointing draw against Parma and the nervous victory over Zenit in midweek.
When a player like Daniele Bonera, who has been nothing but a substitute since the start of his Milan career seven seasons back, is forcibly leading your defense week after week, you know your team is in big trouble. Though he hasn’t disappointed to be fair, but the fact that Milan has built a tradition of guarding its backline with the best of defenders in the world definitely makes any Milan fan nervous as the current crop of players has just left the defense in shambles as was evident against the Russians who are probably the only other big league team going through a similar phase as the Rossoneri.
Milan played some of their best football at the Petrovski stadium in Petersburg for the first sixteen minutes of the game and looked more than threatening as they took a two goal lead, but as has been customary with Italian teams over the past, they chose to sit back and defend giving Hulk and co. the space to breathe, very narrowly escaping with a 3-2 win thanks to an own goal by Tomas Hubocan.
However, Stephan El-Shaarawy’s incredible burst of form this season means all is not lost for the Red Devils, as they will look toward the 19-year old Italian international forward to open up the floodgates against their bitter rivals Inter as well. He has been a revelation so far, and with five goals in the last four matches, will hope to bail out his team that has miserably failed to lift itself up on numerous occasions ever since the start of the season.
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The young Pharaoh, along with veteran goalkeeper Christian Abbiati has been one of the few bright spots for Milan this season.
Kevin Prince-Boateng has looked less than his shadow from last season, and if he is really looking for the right time to strike gold and justify the number ten he inherited from Clarence Seedorf, he wouldn’t find a better time and match than the Derby della Madonnina against his biggest rivals.
Bojan has not been convincing enough but his partnership with El-Sharaawy has impressed as Milan looks more dynamic with the two youngsters leading the pack with the Prince as their false ‘nine’ in 4-3-3. Apart from that hat trick against Bologna, Pazzini has done well to prove exactly why Inter got at the better end of the swap deal involving him and Cassano as with him on the line up, Allegri is virtually playing with ten men right from the kick off.
This derby will be special for Milan fans for a different reason though, as they finally welcome back Alessandro Pato from injury. Even though he may just feature in a cameo or may not at all, fans will hope that he has finally shrugged off any further complications in the future because the team really needs him in a moment as difficult as this.
The famous, or rather infamous, ‘San Zero’ hoodoo was broken by both sides last week as they recorded their first home win at the San Siro since the new artificial turf was laid during the summer and both will look to go one up against the other to lay more misery on the team that loses.
Whatever the case, one thing is for sure that the derby on Sunday will definitely make or break the season of these two sides as has been the case in the past, because in such games losing is not an option no matter where you lie on the table. Both teams will look to win the latest of the many battles in this long historic war, to restore some pride to what has until now been a season marked with chaos and uncertainty.
Never mind the sinking level of quality on display this season, it’s the Derby Della Madonnina and once the referee blows his whistle it will once again be about the same old AC Milan v Inter Milan – the biggest rivalry in club football as we have come to know over the years - and what it means to the fans of the beautiful game.
It will be anything but disappointing!
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