Historically, it is the biggest cross-town derby in European football, albeit it has lost its sheen considerably with the deteriorating quality of squads and that of Italian football in general. However, it’s still one of the biggest events in a complete season all across Europe and as we prepare for the Super Sunday to see Milan and Inter at loggerheads for the first time in the new season, we are back again with our latest edition of Rival Rendezvous – this time featuring the representatives of the red and blue halves of the city of Milan.
Resident Editor at TheHardTackle, Parth Pandya (PP hereafter) is a known fan of AC Milan and standing against him today is our esteemed guest Arvind Balasubramanian (AB hereafter) who is known for his passionate support for Inter over the years. On any other day, both the gentlemen come across as pretty balanced, well mannered and composed individuals – Don’t judge them from this conversation alone.
Though only virtual, Milan nevertheless are the hosts on Sunday and hence Parth lets Arvind shoot his questions first.
AB: Turmoil is a very light word to describe what is happening with Milan. The fans demanding refund of the season tickets should have been the last straw for the management. So where does it leave the club in the short term? More specifically how will it affect the season objectives?
PP: I agree. The sale of Thiago Silva and Ibrahimovic was always expected to have these implications and whatever is happening currently doesn’t surprise me honestly. Milan fans, and fans generally in Italy are known to be overtly vocal about expressing their hurt sentiments against the management which clearly shows in the miserly number of season tickets Milan have been able to sell this summer.
Talking about the short term targets, the only realistic ambition we can set as of now is that of a Champions League spot and while I say that, some feel that too is taking it a little too far. Well, if things are understood in a correct perspective, then the objectives of the season will only be set realistically and the ongoing turmoil then shouldn’t hurt the fans.
AB: You think your diplomacy will help you avoid the wounds, eh? Anyway, let’s move on. Question on Allegri – He won the league in his first outing. Looking back, he won the league as Inter were in turmoil. Next season when they were the favourites, they handed the title on a platter to Juventus. So is he really that great or someone who just got lucky in his first year? Will he even survive till the end of the season?
PP: I disagree. Allegri is an excellent manager and it is unfair to suggest it was the downfall of Inter that won him the Scudetto in his debut season. Sure it was a factor but his job was not easy by any means. He has throughout dealt with only 70% of the squad being available to him with the rest nursing their ever recurring injuries. He has managed a dressing room comprising of characters like Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Cassano. You have to give it to the guy and it’s the sheer lack of quality in this squad that is failing him time and again this season. Regarding the security of his job, well, Galliani has so far been pretty affirmative about it but I’d rather hold my horses at least till the derby.
AB: Fair enough. And the fallen standards in quality are fairly apparent. That brings me to the next question. Not too long ago we had the likes of Nesta and Stam in central defence, now we see Bonera and Zapata. WE had Gattuso, Pirlo and Seedorf in the midfield, now we see the likes of de Jong and Montlivo. Not to mention that in place of the likes of Kaka and Sheva, there are players like Bojan and Pazzini. What is an average Milan fan’s view of such a deterioration in quality?
PP: I’d never shy away from admitting the deterioration but to be very honest, I always saw this coming considering the fall in quality Italian football in general has been experiencing for a while now and sadly the clubs have done little about the problems they’re facing. Those names of yesteryears that graced Milan nearly for a decade are history now and the replacements are not of the similar merit but there’s more to it than what meets the eye. And unless some structural changes are made, I don’t think any club in Italy will be able to attract the players of that caliber at least in the foreseeable future.
AB: That’s pretty analytical but how about keeping this restricted to Milan for a change? Let’s talk about that Brazilian in your squad. How long do you think will Pato continue to enjoy a free ride and advantages of being the director’s toyboy? I am not complaining of his time in the injury ward as he has the knack of scoring against us.
PP: Pato’s is a very peculiarly curious case at Milan. I don’t know how superstitious it sounds but perhaps he needs a change for his best to come out. I believe this is the final opportunity presented to him and should he fail to deliver, he has to be sold in the summer. The occasion too is perfect for him to rise. The club is finding it hard to find its feet and a player of his quality should ideally be the source of inspiration to others right now – Look at Jovetic. The rumour is he’d be available in two weeks’ time and I sincerely hope he hasn’t taken his ‘position’ at the club for granted.
AB: Well, I’m perfectly fine with him missing this derby though. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve observed that both teams have stocked their midfield with runners. There is no single player who can control the play and dictate it with his passing. While we are not talking of the likes of Pirlo or Xavi but even the likes of Ledesma and Candreva can be an improvement on the current lot. What is your honest assessment of the midfield? Montolivo doesn’t convince me. Rest are simply too mediocre to even talk about.
PP: Undoubtedly, the Milan midfield is pretty mediocre and it just goes on to show how vital Ibrahimovic was to every result that was produced during the last two seasons. However, midfield is one area Milan do not focus much on during any transfer window for some reason but we need to add depth, quality and creativity in this department pretty soon. I am optimistic about Montolivo and he showed the world what he’s capable of doing during the Euro 2012. Apart from him, nobody inspires any confidence as of now and it is a harsh reality.
AB: Pazzini – He is being well, for the lack of a better word Pazzini himself. Great in one game, useless in another. Milan don’t necessarily use width of the pitch, which is exactly his strength? Do you think he will be decisive on Sunday? The coach seemed to have rested him for the big game.
PP: Honestly, I am not yet completely sure what formation will bring the best out of Pazzini and I guess even Allegri is still experimenting with various tactical maps to see which one suits him the best. Our current focal point though is El Shaarawy and not Pazzini. He is the one who will matter the most and I think there’s a good chance Allegri will continue with him and Bojan upfront. Pazzini might come on later but unless he’s having another miraculous day in the office, I doubt he’d cause any real trouble to your defence.
And now with your kind permission Sir, may we switch the roles?
AB: Oh, most certainly. Let me see what you got for me.
PP: Well, let’s begin then. From the looks of it Inter are certainly in a better shape when compared to Milan – both on paper and on the field too. It’s been two seasons since Inter started a derby going in as favourites. That must feel good.
AB: Correction – In the recent past, Milan were favourites ONLY in 2011-12 season. The season before that we were coming off a treble, and surely counted as favourites. But then nobody expected the team to deteriorate so fast.
But then this is one game where form or history counts a little. Last season we were not exactly favourites but ended up doing the double.
PP: So you tell me Rafa’s Inter were favourites in the 2010-11 season? Anyway, if the delusion suits Inter fans, I’m happy for them. Let’s talk about this team though. Although Inter have been potent enough in front of goal, defence still looks as tentative as if Marco Materazzi is starting every game. Is Stramaccioni the new Zeman in Italy carrying least about the defensive organization or is your defence, simply put, just mediocre?
AB: Well if it is the 2004-07 version of Matrix, I would be happy as hell, he sure counted as one of the 4-5 defenders in the league during those three seasons, deputizing for Nesta wonderfully in the World Cup.
As far as the defence is concerned, yes they do the “deer in the headlight” routine too often. But look a little closer and you will know why. Three out of the starting five are new to the club. While Frog boy is playing the protagonist role for the first time and Jonathan is simply not Inter quality, you do not expect much, do you?
Regarding Strama, well to compare him with Zeman is to do injustice to both of them. After all the same Strama completely overhauled the way Inter played, stopping their free fall last season.
Having said that, the current defence is surely nowhere near the quality of treble winning pack.
PP: Let’s move to Antonio Cassano. It seems he is having a good time in the other half of the city and is pretty much becoming a fan favourite. Is it only the goals he is scoring? It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude it’s the things he’s had to say about Milan in the press that is getting this unconditional love from you lot. What do you say about that?
AB: I was so sure you’d bring him in this discussion at some stage. Well, let me get this straight. For one he was a boyhood fan of the club, so in a sense it is a homecoming for the prodigal boy. If not for his off-field issues he should have come to Inter a long ago. Mourinho vetoed his signing when he was the coach. He has scored 4 goals and has 4 assists to his name so far – not bad for someone who is still far from full fitness. And to think about it, we GOT PAID 7.5m to take him.
Plus he has never slated Milan the club; it is just the jokers who are running it who have been a target of his ire. Last I heard even Milanistas took out procession against the management.
PP: All right, the season has been so far so good for Inter. What are the realistic ambitions for this season? Does this squad have it in them to win the league in two seasons’ time or will Moratti again need to resort to his favourite tactics of installing surveillance devices and tape the telephonic conversations the Presidents of other clubs have? Does Moratti brush his teeth yet, by the way?
AB: We understand it is a 3-5 year project. The realistic aim should be to finish in the CL position. The Scudetto is a one horse race. Napoli as always will pay the price of having a small squad.
CL is important both from monetary and non-monetary perspective. Money is important in FFP world, and players will not sign for a club which is not in CL.
What Moratti will do, nobody knows, but he sure has mellowed down over the years, with the league having far crazier presidents. Plus I guess tapping the phone is better than injecting the players with “vitamins”, you see.
As far as Moratti brushing his teeth – my sources tell me he does it about the same number of times as Berlusconi hosts a Bunga Bunga party with 17 year olds. Which should average out to about twice a day.
PP: Ok, I don’t see much point defending Berlusconi there anyway. Let’s talk about the game. What is the likely combination Inter will deploy here? Can Sneijder and Cassano both start together? It is no secret that Milan’s defence is absolutely in shambles and Milito apparently loves to score against us. The new signings Gargano and Guarin particularly excite me. Will they have a big say against the Milan midfield that completely lacks discipline? Do we see an Inter going out all guns blazing? Because pragmatism is certainly not Stramaccioni’s thing, I reckon.
AB: Sneijder is injured and not available for the derby, so the question is moot. Regarding him and Cassano playing together, they cannot play together in all formations. Playing the two would mean a 4-3-2-1 formation, which given the quality of Inter’s midfielders handicaps them completely. Unless Inter sign a midfielder who is comfortable with the ball at his feet, the two together will not really be that effective.
Guarin – Well he often runs like a headless chicken. Other times he brings energy and dynamism to midfield. Anyway the fans sitting in row Z, better come prepared as a lot of his shots do end up there.
PP: Well said there, I hope Milito rather entertains the fans sitting in the Z row. Thank You Arvind and I hope Leonardo is certainly tuning in from Paris to watch to Derby.
AB: You lot never learnt compassion, did you?
Follow Arvind Balasubramanian on Twitter: @arvindb03