Both Milanese clubs enjoyed a successful week in Europe with AC Milan pulling off a stunning result by beating Barcelona 2-0 at the San Siro in the Champions League while Inter Milan comfortably dispatched CFR Cluj 3-0 away from home in their Europa League encounter. However, Milan’s victory arguably trumps that of Inter’s owing to the quality of the opposition and the weakened squad that had to face them. With the Milan derby just around the corner, the Rossoneri appear to hold the advantage.
Massimilano Allegri will have to curtail the euphoria within his squad at the moment in order to refocus on their league position and the all-important derby against Inter in particular. Milan are placed 3rd in the Serie A at present, courtesy of their sensational revival over the past couple of months while their cross-town rivals are in 5th place but trailing by just the one point.
|Only a point separates them|
Andrea Stramaccioni, though pleased with his side’s progress in the Europa League, will be weary of Milan. Both managers will be well aware of what’s at stake in this particular derby. Apart from the bragging rights that come with victory in the derby, three points for Milan would keep them in third while a win for Inter could see them climb to fourth or even third depending on Lazio’s result.
Despite the obvious pressure, heated atmosphere and unpredictable nature that the Milan derby is renowned for, Allegri's troops will be confident going into this tie and rightly so. They will welcome back their most recent cult hero Mario Balotelli to the starting line-up, who’s quickly becoming their talisman. The striker was cup-tied and therefore ineligible to face Barcelona in mid-week and his return would offer a massive boost to a side that already probably feels invincible at the moment.
|An instant success
Balotelli's arrival at Milan has coincided with the club's sudden surge up the table. The Italian's 4 goals in 3 games has been largely responsible for that. Not only has his goals come in good time, they have been crucial strikes as well. Two of his goals have been winners while another salvaged a point. Without the former Manchester City man in the side, Milan may have been 5 points short of their current tally and condemned to mid-table obscurity. Such are the fine margins at the top level and it just goes to show the impact Balotelli has had on the team in such a short time and his immense value to them already.
The front three of Stephan El Shaarawy, Giampaolo Pazzini and Kevin-Prince Boateng worked well against Barcelona. Milan's top scorer this season, El Shaarawy was always a threat with his pace and trickery while Boateng's speed and technique caused the visitors' defense several problems. Pazzini was clever with his movement but was the least threatening of a three-pronged attack. Had Balotelli been able to feature in his place instead, Milan would have been able to pose a far more significant attacking threat than they did.
The 22 year-old has the ability to hold-up the ball on his own, something Pazzini severely lacks and may well have come in handy against Barcelona. His pace on the counter-attack, set-piece threat and ingenuity puts him miles ahead of Pazzini when it comes to leading the line.
|A fit replacement?
Let's not forget that the Barcelona tie is just the sort of game in which Balotelli could have proved to be an influential figure in although the Milan derby will be another such match. If the striker keeps his head screwed on right, and that is a big 'if', it could well be that Milan have found a talisman to fill the boots of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his ego to go with it (although the latter shouldn't be much of a problem).
The front three of El Shaarawy, Balotelli and either Boateng or Niang, spells danger for any defense but although the others are interchangeable from a tactical point of view, Balotelli's inclusion is vital. Having been beaten 2-0 anyway, Barcelona were perhaps fortunate to escape dealing with a Milan attack fronted by the volatile Italian but Inter will enjoy no such good fortune. The Nerazzurri will come up against a side brimming with confidence and a former player who couldn't be in better form. Balotelli's presence in the attacking-line gives them a decisive edge. Inter will be put to the sword by Milan and Balotelli looks destined to be the tip of that sword.
|Will Balotelli be key in the Milan derby? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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