There are derbies and then there is THE derby.
Italy will come to a standstill as A.C Milan takes on its half-brother Internazionale at the San Siro in what could be the title-deciding clash of the season. Inter fans were left fuming at the start of the season when they saw their former star-striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic switch sides, via Barcelona, to the red half of Milan. The fact that he scored the deciding penalty in November’s derby and took Milan to the top of the table only made matters worse. Inter however got one back on Milan after Morrati signed Milan’s legendary player Leonardo, who also managed the Rossoneri in 2009-10, as their manager to replace the bungling Rafa Benitez. It is under Leo that Inter returned to their winning ways and now stand a very good chance to replace Milan at the top of Serie A with a win in the derby.
With yet another Derby Della Madonnina on the cards TheHardTackle brings you another edition of Rival Rendezvous. In Milan’s corner- wearing red and black with the legendary number 3 on his back stands Sachin Madaan (SM). On the other side in Inter’s corner – wearing the traditional black and blue stripes with Sneijder’s number 10 on his back is Vishwas Shashidhar (VS).
Let’s see what our representatives have in store for us. Since Inter have been tagged visitors for the derby, Vishwas gets to fire his set of questions first.
VS. Ibrahimovic, an ex-Inter player has been Milan’s star of the season. What do you make of that? And with the big Swede out of this fixture, how good are the chances of Milan hurting Inter?
SM. Undoubtedly Ibrahimovic is the chief reason behind Milan’s revival in Seria A this season. He has an uncanny knack of scoring goals from the weirdest of positions and that will strike fear in the heart on any defensive unit. Having said that, it’s troubling he’s been showing all the classical signs of fatigue and frustration in the past one month. It was his penalty which decided the last derby so it goes without saying that the Swede will be dearly missed but I still feel that in Robiniho, Pato and Cassano the Rossoneri possess enough fire power to walk out of this fixture with three points.
VS. Milan have really surprised me with their star signings since the summer. I never thought Berlusconi would splash the cash for so many marquee signings. However, not all have come good in my view. What has happened to the likes of Robinho, Cassano and Van Bommel?
SM. Milan’s activity in both the summer as well as the winter transfer window certainly came as a pleasant surprise, especially after the seeing how dormant they had become in the past couple of seasons. With the Ibra and Robinho purchases coming out of the blue, Galliani showed the world why he remains top dog in the transfer market. That’s what started our revival.
Our first winter signing – Cassano had been out of practice for what seemed like an eternity and yet picked up four assists in his first 4 appearances for Il Diavolo. Van Bommel and Emanuelson’s signings only came into picture after almost half of our squad had suffered injuries before and during the winter mercato. All these players were signed solely for the charge for the Scudetto as all of them were cup tied. For Van Bommel, the shift from German style of play to Italian style of play has been a huge one to negotiate and the Dutchman is slowly but surely learning the trades of it. On the other hand Robiniho has disappointed on a number of occasions with his inability to provide finishing touches in front of the goal but of all our forwards he looks the most comfortable with the ball at his feet. The Brazilian has got supreme quality and there is no better time than the derby to silence his critics once and for all.
VS. With the Rossoneri out of the Champions League for the fourth time in the Round of 16 consecutively, how well can Milan cope psychologically till the end of the campaign?
SM. From the beginning of the season with the squad that we had at our disposal, I always felt that winning the Scudetto looked like a realistic dream and that it would still take us a couple of seasons before we could mount a viable challenge for the ultimate European glory. Our signings in the winter mercato confirmed my beliefs that the Scudetto remains our aim this season so I don’t think that our exit from Europe will have that severe an effect on the team psyche. If at all it does, it will only motivate them even more to go for glory in the Serie A as this is the one trophy they have not lifted for six seasons now.
VS. Inter have won the last 5 Scudetto titles and 2 Coppa Italia titles in the past 5 years and have overtaken Milan in both these sections. Can Milan stage a recovery?
SM. Without any shadow of a doubt Inter Milan have been the team to beat in Italy for quite some time now and under Mourinho in 2009-10 they enjoyed possibly the best season in their club’s history, but it has been a downhill ride ever since the Portuguese left. Before the start of the season nobody tipped us to be at the top going into the last two months of the season but here we are leading the pack once again in Serie A in spite of all the injuries and with make-shift players and have even managed to still alive in the Coppa Italia. We have a tough road ahead after the derby but a win here will act as a much needed shot in the arm. The revival has already begun, my friend.
VS. A Milan derby is always a special event in Italy or any other part of the world for that matter. Considering Milan’s poor form off late, how mentally and tactically prepared are the Rossoneri for what could very well be the game that decides the Scudetto?
SM. We had a golden opportunity to secure a seven point lead over Inter but after coming out with only one point against last placed Bari at San Siro we did shoot ourselves in the foot. Also playing Palermo at Stadio La Favorita has been a tricky fixture for us for quite some time now. I was hoping we would walk away with a point from this away encounter but a defensive blunder resulted in a defeat which really ate into our five point cushion over Inter. Many would feel that considering our present form, this derby could not have come at a worse time for us but I personally feel otherwise. We have a tough calendar lying ahead of us and win here would not only give us back a five point advantage over Leonardo’s men but it would also bring us back on track after our mini slump. A win is also important as it would help our players rediscover their self belief before the tough away fixtures against Fiorentina and Udinese.
With this, the first round comes to an end. SM looks quite content with his answers to some tricky questions there; it’s now his turn to put VS on the hot seat.
SM. With Lucio suspended and a big question mark hanging over Chivu’s availability do you think Inter has what it takes to stop the Brazilian pair of Pato and Robiniho upfront?
VS. To be honest, it has been a contrasting season for the Nerazzurri. Last year, we were very much reliant on our defense whilst this year it has been all about the attack. Yes, it will not be too easy to stop the Brazilian duo, but to Inter’s relief, neither of them have set the field on fire this season. So, yes, considering their current form, Inter do have what it takes to keep Robinho and Pato at bay.
SM. What can Inter do to overcome Milan’s defensive unit which has been the best in the entire Serie A this season?
VS. Yes, Milan have been formidable in defense this campaign, but they have been vulnerable in the last few weeks which should give the Nerazzurri a great chance to score against Milan. It also depends on how Milan approach this game. If they are willing to settle for a single point, Inter will find it very difficult to score. If it’s the other way around, Inter will fancy their chances breaching the Milan defense with the likes of Sneijder and the sensational Eto’o through a series of counter attacks.
SM. With Champions league encounter against Schalke 04 looming large over them, would Leonardo be forced to rest some of his key players considering that Inter have a comparatively easier Serie A calendar lying ahead of them than Milan?
VS. I doubt if Leo will be resting any key players considering the magnitude of this fixture. This arguably is the title decider and the Inter coach will not be compromising on the strength of his team for a fixture in Europe which in any case will not be decided this midweek.
SM. Ever since Leonardo joined Inter he has become he has been on the top of the Rossoneri’s HATE list. Will he be able to take the pressure off of what has been labeled the title deciding derby, considering the majority of the crowd at the San Siro will be jeering at him?
VS. Hate list? He’d be thrilled as long as he isn’t on a hit list. Jokes apart, I was very surprised when Moratti bought in Leo but he has been a breath of fresh air for us. He has injected a lot confidence into the team and has literally steered the course of a river. It’s inevitable that the Brazilian would be hated by the red side of Milan after the switch. It will definitely be an emotional occasion for him but he has the big-game mentality to cope with the situation well and help get his side a positive result.
SM. Also with Milito declaring himself fit to play the derby, will Leonardo prefer him over the Pazzini as he was at the forefront in scripting the success story for the Nerazzurri last season?
VS. Milito was a revelation last season, but unfortunately for Inter, he has been below par this season due to his injuries and fitness issues. I cannot see Milito starting against Milan tomorrow as he doesn’t have the sharpness to tame Milan currently. I wouldn’t expect Pazzini to start either as Leo would prefer Eto’o in a lone striker role on big occasions like these as the Cameroonian has the ability to take his team forward like he did against Bayern.
The tension brewing up here is evident and, to borrow a cliché, one can honestly slice through it with a knife. Here’s hoping for yet another epic Milan Derby.