Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Sunday, November 22, 2014; 20:45 Hrs GMT
That the Milan Derby has considerably regressed in stature and appeal need not be restated. What was once billed a clash of the giants of Italian football, at times a title decider too, is now merely a contest to avoid more embarrassment from the preceding weeks and this applies to both the sides salvaging reasonable pride for the merit and relevance of the fixture. The game doesn’t quite manage to garner interest from neutral circles anymore and the lack of quality and intent on the pitch makes for quite a compelling viewing even for the die-hards pledging their loyalties at the either end of San Siro.
The build-up to the first leg of the derby this season, has for a change generated some more interest than the usual. Inter having finally parted ways with Walter Mazzarri – a long overdue move – have reunited with double Scudetto winning former coach Roberto Mancini. Now you may attribute Mancini’s success in his years at Inter to the overall dip in the league’s quality during the Calciopoli aftershocks but he has left his mark in the club’s modern history nevertheless. His return could surely lift the morale and should that reflect in their gameplay, it could definitely spice up the contest.
Another subplot to the Sunday evening fixture is a potential repeat of the Torres-Vidic rivalry – a much anticipated duel during the Premier League days for both the players. Although neither remains the player they used to be and there’s no certainty to see them in the starting line-up, fans should have their eyes wide open for this one. A nutmeg past Vidic that leads to Torres opening the scoring for Milan could sensationally dramatize the atmosphere at San Siro.
Team News & Tactical Brief
During the training session on Friday, Alex caught up a thigh strain as the club officially confirmed. The Brazilian is not only ruled out of the derby but is expected to stay off the action for next couple of weeks to the very least. Daniele Bonera has already been taken out of equation since he serves a suspension; however, that’s not the worst news for Milan considering the kind of season he’s had thus far. Ignazio Abate and Nigel De Jong are already doubts for Sunday and hence the selection dilemma is becoming a little too much to deal with for Pippo Inzaghi.
The Italian media expects Milan to field a 4-2-3-1 formation which in itself will be yet another tactical variant this season. Adil Rami is likely to take the position in Abate’s absence on the right while Mattia De Sciglio should continue starting from the left. The centre-back pairing of Cristian Zapata and Philippe Mexes doesn’t inspire much confidence but then none of the Milanese centre backs do anyway. The fragility in the defence should compel the midfield duo of Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari to drop deep enough whenever off the possession and add numbers to the backline.
Milan fullbacks Rami and De Sciglio should be seen making advanced runs in the opposition half linking with the attacking midfield. Giacomo Bonaventura and Stephan El Shaarawy should man those flanks with Jeremy Menez slotting into the hole behind the lone forward Fernando Torres. The Rossoneri forward line hasn’t had the best of the seasons but their shot conversion rate has been the best in Serie A. Inter defence has been pretty leaky all these weeks and an early spree of pressing could certainly push them under tremendous pressure. Inzaghi is more than aware of the defensive shenanigans of his own side and hence should show more intent in the first half. With the game progressing, he might fold the formation back to a midfield three introducing Honda to play in the front three.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Lopez; Rami, Zapata, Mexes, De Sciglio; Essien, Muntari; Bonaventura, Menez, El Shaarawy; Torres
Many feel the very appointment of Walter Mazzarri wasn’t the greatest move for Inter but the ties have finally been broken. Roberto Mancini, as his replacement, doesn’t quite bring the much needed fresh air as he isn’t really known for playing tactically breathtaking football. However, he’s more used to with the big club culture and his familiarity with the Inter setup and the occasion of a derby could be of great help. His return to the club could not have been better timed and a victory over the arch rivals could be the perfect recipe to announce his arrival. As Diego Milito expressed in the press, the sentiment among the dressing room at Mancini’s appointment has been an encouraging one and the Curva Nord should be more than just curious to see what he brings to the table.
At the beginning of the season, former Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic was signed with the hope to bolster the defence. Although now in the twilight of his career, the Serbian was certainly expected to be an upgrade given the squad’s strength. But that hasn’t exactly been the case. Vidic has been anything but inspirational for his peers to look up to and has lost his place in the preferred eleven. He isn’t likely to get a start in Mancini’s first game as coach as the defensive slots should be filled by Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus. Inter’s defensive woes have been pretty well documented but they can find solace in the fact their city rivals are hardly better on that front. Flanking the two central defenders should be Yuto Nagatomo and Dodo on either side.
Mancini shouldn’t alter much with the established three man midfield formation. Fredy Guarin will be the key man in the middle linking up the midfield with the attacking line whereas Yann M’Vila should play the anchor. Joel Obi should slot in on the left but will primarily be focusing on the ball winning duties. His strong physique could be a decisive factor in the aerial duels. The front two should comprise of Rodrigo Palacio and Mauro Icardi with the Croatian wonderkid Mateo Kovacic slotting in behind them as a trequartista.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-1-2]: Handanovic; Nagatomo, Ranocchia, Juan Jesus, Dodo; Guarin, M’Vila, Obi; Kovacic; Icardi, Palacio
Player To Watch Out For
The Italian forward is coming off an impressive performance in the international ties and should be brimming with confidence going into a big game. El Shaarawy has enjoyed the big game pressure in his brief career at the top level thus far and needs to be at his imperious best for Milan to come anywhere close to beating their city rivals. An early goal or probably two can certainly be expected from this one player who somehow still makes Milan fans believe the future is bright.
Mateo Kovacic [Inter]
Kovacic at Inter is no different a story from El Shaarawy at Milan. In an otherwise characteristically mediocre looking squad, the Croatian seemingly lifts up the standards and allows fans to believe in a better tomorrow. Kovacic will be the link connecting the midfield to the frontline and given his on-field intelligence and eye for a critical pass, he can make the occasion a nightmarish one for the Milan defence although it doesn’t quite take an extra-ordinarily talented player to do that. A match winning performance here could be a career defining one for Kovacic who many feel hasn’t yet lived to his hype.
Milan 1-1 Inter
Both teams are totally capable of out-embarrassing the other. However, the big occasion should definitely bring out more energized and intent performance from both ends. Both backlines are reasonably shaky and hence over the 90 minutes of football, things should stay squared. Do not expect a footballing spectacle on Sunday.