A rejuvenated AC Milan will take on a floundering Inter Milan in what promises to be a crunch Derby della Madonnina at the San Siro on Monday evening.
After what was a disappointing 3-0 hammering at the hands of Genoa, AC Milan have won two games on the trot, allowing them a way back into a tougher title-race than before. Inter, who sacked manager Frank de Boer before their loss to Southampton in the Europa League, haven't had a season to remember so far. The 3-0 win over Crotone in their last Serie A outing was an impressive one, but the appointment of Stefano Pioli at the helm of affairs would be an interesting watch.
There was a time when the Milan was considerED to be the battleground for determining the Serie A winner, but now that times have changed, it is played for determining different things altogether. And Monday's derby would be another such occassion.
A title challenge beckons Montella's men
The 1-0 win over table-topping Juventus, which saw young Manuel Locatelli score his first ever senior goal, did compliment Milan in coming close to the top of the league table. The game proved that the reinvigoration of the Rossoneri is well underway and the signs were really encouraging. Their current league position- third, is a clear indication of how far they've come under Montella.
Milan's successes have arisen from a sturdy defense, which has although conceded more goals than any other team in the current top six, but the tally could well have gone past the current one of 15, if Alessio Romagnoli had been snapped up by Chelsea this past summer. The Italian has spearheaded the back four this season, playing 11 games and coming up with crucial performances such as the one against Juve.
Their tally of just 19 goals scored suggests that despite their inability to score too many goals, they know how to win close games. The 3-0 defeat at Genoa was a one-off, but Carlos Bacca's six goals this season have been really important for Montella's men.
Playing up top in the 4-3-3 formation, Bacca has received essential support from winger Suso and young M'baye Niang, who have assisted four times and twice respectively. Apart from racking up assists, the wingers have found the back of the net a total of five times already.
The 4-3-3 almost assumes the form of a 4-2-3-1 during build up of games, as Giacomo Bonaventura takes up a slightly advanced position, to hand Juraj Kucka and Locatelli a deeper midfield role. This allows Romagnoli to play splitting passes through the midfield, making sure that Milan build from the back and there seems to be an added element of certainty about them too. And certainty was something they were missing since a long time.
A season of struggle for Nerazzurri
Milan will come up against a club that is currently undergoing a similar situation that they were in two or three years ago. They've sacked a new, yet old manager in Frank de Boer before he could complete three months in charge, indicative of how the Inter board is looking for short-term solutions rather than long-term ones. And that's exactly the amount of impatience that their city rivals have learnt from and are on the road for recovery.
Inter's league position is reflective of their struggles off the pitch. They lie eight points and five spots behind their arch-rivals and are supremely deficient, when it comes the aura of assurance that they had under Roberto Mancini at this time last season. The campaign has been riddled with inconsistencies, as wins in a game and a loss in the next have damaged their momentum a lot.
Inter may have conceded less amount of goals than Milan this season, but they've scored three less too. And out of the 16 that they have scored, the dynamic and controversial Mauro Icardi has got ten. And Ivan Perisic, whose occassional absence and presence on the bench bothered many under De Boer, has scored thrice and has continued from where he left off in the Euros for Croatia.
What has been a disappointing aspect is the performance of the expensive new signings. While Antonio Candreva has racked up three assists in ten starts, the duo of Joao Mario and Gabigol, who are known to be one of the best youngsters in world football right now, have been disappointing. While Gabigol has struggled for fitness after returning from winning the Olympic gold with Brazil, Joao Mario is still finding his feet at his new club.
Recent history has been a mixed one though, as both sides have drawn twice, with Milan winning twice and Inter triumphing once.
Both sides not full strength
While the game promises to be an intriguing one, both the clubs will be without some of their key players heading into the the titanic derby at San Siro.
As far as Milan are concerned, defender Romagnoli suffered a groin injury durinh international duty with Italy, putting his inclusion in some doubt. And the experienced Riccardo Montolivo, who sustained a knee ligament injury when Italy faced Spain last month, will remain on the sidelines for quite some time.
Inter may not have major injury problems apart from the exclusion of young goalkeeper Ionut Radu, but the suspension of the fleet-footed Ivan Perisic presents a selection dilemma for Pioli. Another yellow card for Joao Mario in the game could see him serve a suspension of his own.
AC Milan: Donnarumma; Abate, Romagnoli, Paletta, De Sciglio; Kucka, Locatelli, Bonaventura; Niang, Bacca, Suso
Inter Milan: Handanovic; Ansaldi, Miranda, Murillo, Santon; Joao Mario, Medel, Banega; Eder, Icardi, Candreva