One-shot Bacca can end crisis-hit Inter's Scudetto dream

The Rossoneri are by no means flying but they have lost just one of their last eight league games and look perfectly primed to heap further misery on Roberto Mancini's men.


Earlier this week it was revealed that for the first time in its history, Milan's Piccolo Teatro had more season-ticket holders than either of the city's two football clubs. The timing could not have been more apt.

On Sunday, AC Milan will "host" Inter at the ground they share, the Giuseppe Meazza, for what will be the 164th Derby della Madonnina. Nobody is expecting a footballing work of art. Nobody is anticipating an exhibition of the beautiful game. Nobody is even predicting a particularly good spectacle, which is unsurprising given neither Milan nor Inter have scored more than one goal in their last seven Serie A outings. As many of the city's inhabitants have realized, if one is looking for real entertainment these days, San Siro is no longer the place to go.

However, while Milan and Inter have seen better days and are no longer the biggest draw in town, there should be no shortage of drama at San Siro. There are a multitude of fascinating subplots and a plethora of potential protagonists. For starters, the derby pits Roberto Mancini against his former team-mate, protege and good friend, Sinisa Mihajlovic - not to mention his estranged "son", the fit-again Mario Balotelli, who could make a cameo appearance.

Inter goes into the game fourth in the Serie A table, two places but eight points above its city rival. And yet the Nerazzurri's season appears in danger of collapse. Roberto Mancini's men have picked up just two points from their last three games - a dip in form that has seen them fall six points behind leader Napoli and out of the Champions League places - and in midweek suffered a resounding 3-0 defeat in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal with Juventus. After giddy talk of a domestic double, Inter is now slowly slipping out of the Scudetto race and potentially facing a fight with Fiorentina for third place.

Enter Milan stage right. The Rossoneri are by no means in rude health. They have been in a constant state of flux in recent seasons, with their latest coach, Mihajlovic, considered lucky to have survived a winter of discontent in which he was reportedly just one defeat away from the sack on three separate occasions. Still, despite their general disarray, on and off the field, they are proving increasingly difficult to beat, having lost just one of their last eight games.

Furthermore, they have more in-form players than Inter. Gianluigi Donnarumma has flourished in the first team - despite being thrust into the starting lineup by Mihajlovic at just 16 years of age. In front of him, Alessio Romagnoli is finally showing signs of just why Milan elected to pay Roma €25 million ($27.1m) for him last summer. Meanwhile, Giacomo Bonaventura has emerged as a credible contender for a place in the Italy midfield at Euro 2016 after racking up six goals and six assists since joining Milan from Atalanta before the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

Then there's Carlos Bacca, who has incredibly managed to reach double figures in his debut season in Serie A - in spite of Milan's many ups and downs. The Colombian's clinical finishing is underlined by the remarkable statistic that eight of his 10 goals have come from his first shot on target in nine games.

Bacca's confidence is sky-high and ahead of the derby he boasted to the Gazzetta dello Sport: "I score because I never think I'll miss. I see the net as huge."

Inter can only dream of having such efficiency. Mauro Icardi finished as the joint-highest scorer in Serie A last season alongside Luca Toni and while he has netted eight times this term, he has proven surprisingly profligate.

It is easy to tolerate Icardi's insolent nature when he is scoring goals, but not when he is missing easy chances. Even Mancini has reached his breaking point. After watching Icardi squander a sitter just before Carpi's late equalizer in last weekend's 1-1 draw at San Siro, the former Italy attacker fumed: “I’m 50 years old and I could have scored that. You have to score there, you just have to."

Inter's decision to sign Sampdoria striker Eder on Friday is thus wholly unsurprising. It would be wrong, though, to cast Icardi as the only culprit for Inter's struggles in front of goal when Stevan Jovetic has sparkled only sporadically and winger Ivan Perisic has gone 12 games without a goal.

In addition, Inter's attackers are hardly working with the most reliable line of supply. Mancini's midfield is made up of players with an appetite for destruction rather than craving for creation. As Tony Damascelli wrote in the Gazzetta dello Sport this week, selecting a midfield of Geoffrey Kondgobia, Gary Medel and Felipe Melo is akin to relying solely on "miners without any torches or lights on their helmets." These are artisans - not artists, men of industry - not improvisation.

Milan does not have players of such brute force but it does not lack aggression or endeavour. Indeed, nobody has made more interceptions or recovered possession more times this season than Milan skipper Riccardo Montolivo.

Thus, the San Siro stage is set not for a spectacular show but the sound and fury of an epic struggle between two rivals from the same city, one that even Milan's theatre-goers might appreciate. For one weekend, at least.