By Colin Stone
There hasn’t been a Milan derby quite as remarkable as this weekend’s in a long, long time.
The Derby della Madonnina, one of the biggest fixtures in world football, kicks off at 7.45pm on Sunday – but there are unanswered questions wherever you look.
Could the result spell the end for one of the coaches? Will AC lose again? Will Pazzini or Cassano return to haunt their old clubs? Who’s even going to watch the match?
At the time of writing, 56,000 tickets have reportedly been sold for the game. Compare this to the San Siro’s 80,000-capacity and the fact that nearly every previous Milan derby has been a sell-out and the apparent lack of demand is frightening. However, cause for concern has rocketed off the charts in the Milan boardroom after a measly 28,000 supporters showed up for AC’s league game against Cagliari last weekend.
The reason for the evaporation of home support? It’s not difficult to see.
The departures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to moneybags PSG, coupled with the arrivals of some inadequate and incapable replacements, have left Massimiliano Allegri’s men sitting in an unheard-of 11th place in the Serie A table, already nine points adrift of leaders Juventus. Unconvincing performances and poor results in the league, the first four of which gave the Rossoneri their worst start in 80 years, have led to the fans abandoning the Giuseppe Meazza.
Milan fans are also still throwing forlorn glances towards the reigning Serie A champions and the evergreen Andrea Pirlo, inexplicably released last year despite his obvious talents and now lighting up the domestic game for rivals Juventus.
Whilst Pirlo brings wonderful success to his new club, his old club sit teetering on the brink of catastrophe. And city rivals Inter would love nothing better than to be the ones to cast them into the abyss.
Andrea Stramaccioni’s side haven’t had the best of starts either, but at least they haven’t resorted to producing an awkward video of two of their players desperately begging for supporters to come to Sunday’s game (à la Massimo Ambrosini and Stephan El Shaarawy).
The Nerazzurri picked up their first home win of the season last week in a morale-boosting triumph over Fiorentina, and the players will be feeling even more confident after their 3-1 victory over FC Neftchi on Thursday.
However, AC Milan will also be lifted by their solid 3-2 win over Zenit St Petersburg in midweek, in which rising star El Shaarawy scored once again to make it five goals in four games for the young striker.
The tricky 19-year-old has been one of the few shining lights in amongst the darkness of Milan’s season so far, and is a decent bet to score this weekend.
For Inter, Fredy Guarin has been the main attraction. The 26-year-old Colombian is capable of pulling off the spectacular, but his workrate and eye for a pass are his main assets, as reflected in the three assists he claimed for his side during Inter’s Europa League duel with the Azeri side.
Inter prevailed in both derby games last season which may well give them the psychological advantage. Although Stramaccioni’s side have been very poor this season, their saving grace heading into this match is that their archrivals have been even worse.
Milan’s defence looked shaky against Zenit on Wednesday as they conceded two goals from a comfortable 2-0 lead, and Bojan Krkic was quiet up front once again. The former Barca striker’s anonymous performance will probably pave the way for Inter’s former tormentor-in-chief to return to the starting XI.
Giampaolo Pazzini, brought in as a replacement for the irreplaceable Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has enjoyed a decent start to his Milan career, but Allegri is yet to find the best way to utilise the ex-Inter hitman.
Pazzini is a markedly different player to the mercurial Swede – what he lacks in moments of sheer genius he makes up for with movement – yet this derby could be won with just a second of absolute inspiration.
Oh, how Milan will be wishing they could use someone like Zlatan right now.
AC Milan: Abbiati, Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Antonini, De Jong, Montolivo, Nocerino, Boateng, El Shaarawy, Pazzini.
Inter: Handanovic, Juan, Ranocchia, Samuel, Zanetti, Guarin, Pereira, Cambiasso, Nagatomo, Cassano, Milito
Prediction: This match could really go either way, but due to their better form, I’m going with Inter 2-1 AC.