The Milan derby has been one of world football’s most glamorous and fiercely-contested fixtures over the years, with the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic gracing this game in recent times.
Sunday’s edition sees the two sides meet in the midst of a heated race for the top four, with third place AC Milan a point above their rivals Inter and Roma just behind the pair in fifth, waiting to pounce on any slip-up from the Milan sides.
With the coveted Champions League spots up for grabs and plenty of subplots running through this latest staging of the Derby della Madonnina, here’s a look at some of the key talking points ahead of the game.
PIATEK CAN SHOW INTER WHAT THEY’RE MISSING
It took Mauro Icardi until his eighth Milan derby to get off the mark, but he’s scored five goals in his last five against Milan. That includes a hat-trick in last year’s famous 3-2 Inter win, his third goal doubling up as an injury-time winner, and the only goal in a 1-0 win earlier this season – again an injury-time winner. The Argentine had become the scourge of Milan in the last couple of seasons.
So the dispute between Icardi and Inter over the player’s contract negotiations, comments by his wife and agent Wanda Nara on public TV, and his fitness must come as particularly welcome relief for the Rossoneri. There will be no Icardi to hurt them on Sunday.
In fact, the impact of the 26-year-old’s absence will be felt doubly by Inter when they see who they’re up against. While the watching world is being deprived of a Mauro Icardi vs Krzysztof Piatek duel, the Polish striker’s presence in black and red instantly gives Milan the edge in this game. The 23-year-old has eight goals in nine games for Milan since moving from Genoa in the January transfer window.
Inter are already missing Icardi. Piatek will provide a stark reminder of how different a team can look with an in-form, confident striker.
🗣️ Coach Gattuso on Icardi: "The way I see it, even the best player in the world should respect his teammates. Respect for players and those who represent them is fundamental: the locker room is sacred, I appreciate when my players speak their mind in person".#MilanInter— AC Milan (@acmilan) March 16, 2019
BAKAYOKO COMES GOOD FOR MILAN
Back in October, Tiemoue Bakayoko came on only as an 84th-minute substitute for Milan in the derby. It was an uneventful performance in itself, but it came during a string of poor displays that made everyone wonder if the Frenchman’s career was beyond rejuvenating.
Five months later and Bakayoko is now looking like one of Milan’s best players. It’s been a stunning turnaround from the Chelsea loanee, who leads the Rossoneri in interceptions per game and is third in tackles, form that resembles more his Monaco days that made him such a coveted transfer target rather than the hapless player that Chelsea couldn’t wait to offload only a season after signing him.
His future is unclear – again a far cry from the late autumn, when Milan were considering sending him back to London – but the 24-year-old says he wants to stay in Italy past the end of his loan spell. In the meantime, there’s a second derby of the season to consider, with the opportunity for Bakayoko to stamp his authority on a crucial game for his team.
Another solid performance here and his case for convincing Milan to make his transfer a permanent one will only grow stronger.
Çalhanoglu on Bakayoko " He has surprised me alot. He was booed, now he is a king. He deserves it because he puts so much hardwork in his training."— Milan Echo 🔴⚫ (@africa_milan) March 15, 2019
BOTH CLUBS’ SEASONS COME DOWN TO THIS
Inter’s record since effectively exiling Icardi reads: played eight, won four, drawn two, lost two. It’s a run that’s seen the Nerazzurri drop five points in the league, as well as crash out of the Europa League. Over the same time, Milan have won all four of their league games, taking them from four points behind their city rivals to one point above them.
In four of the last five seasons, Inter have finished as the higher-placed Milan side, and though both teams would like to be competing at the front end of the table rather than simply for local bragging rights, it does serve as at least minor consolation. Yet it does seem that Milan are the club on the rise at the moment – a surprising turn of events since the season began with Inter harbouring genuine hopes of challenging Juventus for the Serie A title and Milan simply targeting a return to the Champions League.
Of course, it could all change on Sunday’s game. Inter win and they’re back in front in the league, and the result could provide a fillip for the rest of the season. Lose and the gap between the two sides is up to four points, and Milan can look forward to painting their town red and black again.
🎟 A 78,000 sell-out is expected for the Derby della Madonnina this weekend.— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) March 11, 2019
It will become the highest attended home game for #ACMilan this season, bypassing Milan-Juventus (74,729) and Milan-Sassuolo (61,462).
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