Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
February 24th, 19:45 GMT
The Milan derby is back and it comes at the perfect time! Inter go into this game on the back of a thumping 5-0 aggregate win over CFR Cluj but their thrashing at the hands of Fiorentina from last week will still be fresh in their heads. Andrea Stramaccioni has a lot of work to do if he is to ensure that his side qualifies for the Champions League next season and three points against their city rivals and fellow European hopefuls will take them a long way.
AC Milan come into this game after picking up a memorable 2-0 victory over an almost invincible Barcelona side in the Champions League. Currently unbeaten in seven games, the Rossoneri will consider themselves favorites in this fixture. Like Inter, they too are in the dogfight for the third and final Champions League spot but have a single point advantage over their rivals.
Milan haven’t had the best of times against Inter over the past couple of seasons and have lost their last three meetings against the Nerazzurri. Another statistic pointing in favour of Inter is that they are yet to lose to Milan under the tutelage of Andrea Stramaccioni. This will be a wide open game and it could go down to the sheer madness of the likes of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli to decide which Milanese giant takes a giant step towards Champions League football.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Stramaccioni will have his hands full in terms of team selection and injuries ahead of the Milan derby. Walter Samuel is surely out for this fixture while Andrea Ranocchia will have to be evaluated just before the game. The 25-year-old Italian seems unlikely to start and this will force the coach to shift to a four man backline with Christian Chivu partnering Juan Jesus in the middle. The absence of both Samuel and Ranocchia leaves Inter very weak aerially and this is going to be a constant problem against the physical presence of Mario Balotelli. On a brighter note, the four man defense will help keep Milan’s wide men under check and thereby control Milan’s most potent attacking threats.
Inter’s hardworking midfield will be built around Esteban Cambiasso and Fredy Guarin, with the Colombian taking up a more attacking position. Along with Cambiasso, Stramaccioni is expected to use Zdravko Kuzmanovic and Walter Gargano as the other two deep midfielders. After watching Milan’s performance against Barcelona, the three deeper midfielders must be wary of the attacking prowess of Milan’s midfield trio and will try to nullify it completely. Fredy Guarin may be Inter’s lone attacking midfielder but the work rate he possesses will be a massive game-changer in Inter’s favour. With Milan’s deepest midfielder, Riccardo Montolivo, not being the greatest defensively, Guarin will look to outrun the experienced Italian and go straight at Milan’s flimsy defense.
Inter aren’t a squad blessed with a large number of attackers and an injury to Diego Milito has left Stramaccioni short of choices. Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio will head the Inter attack but with just fourteen goals between themselves, goals may not come too easily for Inter.
There is no doubt that Inter will sit back and look to soak up the pressure from their rivals. The pace and stamina of Guarin will be most crucial in their attacks and if the Colombian can get the better of Montolivo, three points to Inter could be a reality. The big problem will be Chivu in the center of defense. The 32-year-old has barely any game time to his name this season and being thrown into a game of such mammoth repercussions could prove to be disastrous for Inter.
Expected formation (4-3-1-2): Handanovic; Zanetti, Jesus, Chivu, Nagatomo; Cambiasso, Gargano, Kuzmanovic; Guarin; Palacio, Cassano
After that mind boggling performance against Barcelona, Max Allegri would love to use the very same eleven in another hugely important game. But with fatigue possibly setting in, he will have to choose wisely for this derby and ensure that injuries do not return to haunt his side.
Ignazio Abate is set to return to the bench after a solid performance against Barcelona in midweek. The young revelation, Mattia De Sciglio, will fill in for Abate on the right flank and given Inter’s lack of options out wide, he will have lot of freedom to push forward. Zapata, Mexes and Constant are expected to keep their positions in the starting eleven. Allegri will be hoping that none of these three pick up any injuries this weekend, especially with the season looking brighter by the moment.
Riccardo Montolivo will continue to marshal Milan’s midfield with his brilliant passing and defensive cleaning up. The two men flanking Montolivo are expected to be Sulley Muntari and Massimo Ambrosini. Once again, Allegri is very limited with his choices thanks to injuries to key players. Both Mathieu Flamini and Antonio Nocerino are out for this game but the encouraging showing against Barcelona should drive this midfield in the right direction. Muntari and Ambrosini will look to support the Milan attack as often as possible but Inter’s highly defensive midfield will be very difficult to break down through the middle. This might just be a tougher game for the midfield three than the one against Barcelona.
The Mohawk trident should be back in place for the derby and all eyes will be on Mario Balotelli. Being cup-tied for the Barcelona fixture, Balotelli is well rested and will be keen to leave a mark against his former employers. Chivu’s inclusion in Inter’s defense will leave Balotelli’s mouth watering and the Italian international will look to take full advantage of this flaw in Inter’s defense. Stephan El Shaarawy will keep his spot on the left side of attack and will be up against the workaholic, Javier Zanetti. The 20-year-old will not have things as easy as he might have liked but his immense energy could just outdo Zanetti for the first time in his double decade long career. M’Baye Niang or Bojan might replace Kevin-Prince Boateng on the right side and this will be an extremely important position for Milan. Given Nagatomo’s poor showings this season, Milan’s right attacker could be their best creative outlet and this leaves Niang as the better choice for Max Allegri.
Expected formation (4-3-3): Abbiati; De Sciglio, Zapata, Mexes, Constant; Ambrosini, Montolivo, Muntari; Niang, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
Player To Watch Out For
Mario Balotelli (AC Milan)
Four goals in three games, Mario Balotelli finally seems to be living up to his potential. He is yet to come up against top opposition and the first time he does so turns out to be against his former employers. The hot headed striker will be out to get the better of Inter and add more glamour to his fledgling career at Milan. Chivu’s inclusion only helps Super Mario in his bid to help Milan hold bragging rights over the city rivals.
Inter 1-2 Milan
Inter have looked fairly unstable of late and their defensive record has been nothing to boast of this season. Without their regular side, Inter will concede against this dominating Milan attack but should manage to grab a goal on the counter. Milan should remain untroubled for most of this game but slight sluggishness may prevent them from walking away with this game.
Blast From The Past