Inter Milan vs. AC Milan: 5 Bold Predictions for the Milan Derby
Milan enter the derby with Inter with a massive boost from their 2-0 victory in their first leg of the last 16 Champions League tie against Barcelona.
Inter, on the other hand, were humbled at Fiorentina last weekend and were, frankly, fortunate to lose just 4-1.
Without Diego Milito for the rest of the season, the Nerazzurri have lost their reference point in attack, with Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio often drifting wide or dropping deep.
The Rossoneri faith in Massimiliano Allegri—forced or not—has been repaid handsomely as Milan have lost once in the last 12 league matches to tie Lazio in third place, a target that seemed so far away after taking just seven points from the opening eight matches.
The Derby della Madonnina is a crucial game for both sides who are in the hunt for that last Champions League spot now that Napoli and Juventus have pencilled themselves into Europe's prestigious competition for next season.
Here are some bold predictions ahead of this massive game.
Allegri Will Drop Boateng, Despite His Goal Against Barcelona
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Massimiliano Allegri has a big decision to make this weekend after the astonishing 2-0 victory against Barcelona in the Champions League.
The Rossoneri were immense all over the pitch and anybody who does not keep their place in the lineup for the Derby della Madonnina will rightly feel a little aggrieved.
Kevin-Prince Boateng was excellent in parts against the Blaugrana on Wednesday, but I expect M'Baye Niang to win his place back for the Inter game.
Niang was excellent as a late substitute, running the channels and holding the ball up superbly, including a large part in the Sulley Muntari goal.
Milan's front three are a lot more fluid when they have Niang on the right to balance that trident and replicate the work that Stephan El Shaarawy does from the left.
Balotelli Will Score, Then Celebrate
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Mario Balotelli will be fresh for the derby this weekend, having sat out the Barcelona game due to being cup-tied from his involvement in Manchester City's own Champions League campaign.
It is not such a bold prediction to envisage the former City striker scoring, after all, he has done that in all three of his Rossoneri matches since leaving the Premier League.
But given that he started his career with the Nerazzurri, it is a contentious issue as to whether the player will celebrate a goal against his former employers.
It is well documented that Balotelli held a good relationship with Massimo Moratti, but I think Balotelli will happily celebrate if he scores on Sunday, regardless of his special bond with the Inter president.
I expect the Interistas to throw a great deal of abuse towards Balotelli from the offset, and it is therefore only natural that the player will be happy to retaliate by scoring for his new team and hurting his former side.
Strama Will Maintain the 4-Diamond-2 That Was so Disastrous vs. Fiorentina
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Andrea Stramaccioni has been under intense pressure this week with many fans calling for a rethink with the formation that proved to be such a disaster against Fiorentina last weekend.
The 4-diamond-2 was perfect for Juan Cuadrado and Manuel Pasqual to expose Inter's full-backs—Yuto Nagatomo and Javier Zanetti—in one-on-one situations, often becoming two-on-one when Stevan Jovetic or Adem Ljajic drifted out wide.
With Milan possessing a similar wide threat with Stephan El Shaarawy, M'Baye Niang and the ever-willing full-backs Kevin Constant and Ignazio Abate, Inter could be exposed once again.
However, the Nerazzurri will hope to take a great control of the game than they did at the Artemio Franchi, especially if Fredy Guarin can drop a little deeper to congest the midfield even more, outnumbering Milan's trio.
The thought of fielding three centre-backs with the possibility of Milan matching them up with three very attacking players in El Shaarawy, Niang and Mario Balotelli will surely deter Stramaccioni from adjusting the formation, at least from the outset.
Strama Will Keep the Faith in Young Kovacic
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It was all a bit too much for the young Croatian midfielder last weekend, Mateo Kovacic was hauled off at halftime having endured a nightmarish 45 minutes as the Viola swamped the midfield and dominated proceedings.
The 18-year-old might be taken out of the firing line by most managers at this time, especially with the Derby della Madonnina approaching.
But Andrea Stramaccioni has great faith in the Croatian wonder kid, already tweaking his role from his days with Dinamo Zagreb.
Kovacic has been placed as the side's regista—a far deeper role than the one he operated in with the Plavi, where he was seen as a trequartista.
Kovacic is already Inter's most gifted passer, so it seems wasted to utilise the midfielder in the final third when he can receive more touches in a deeper role.
When Kovacic was brought off, Inter fielded a trio of centre-midfielders that included Javier Zanetti, Fredy Guarin and Zdravko Kuzmanovic, none of whom can offer the Nerazzurri a controlling influence on the ball.
Neither would Esteban Cambiasso for that matter, with the Argentine dropping into the back three when the change in formation was implemented against Fiorentina.
It is therefore logical that, despite the extreme pressure that Kovacic will experience, he will start once again this weekend.
Goals, Goals and More Goals
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I think that we can expect a high scoring game, potentially as many as five or more goals.
My reasoning would point to two defences that really aren't any good—no matter what Milan's did against Barcelona on Wednesday.
Firstly, Inter are a real mess at the back without Walter Samuel, lacking that leader and organiser and still waiting for those intangibles to break out from Andrea Ranocchia.
Inter have great faith in Ranocchia and, frankly, a lack of alternatives to take him out of the firing line right now, no matter the persistent errors that he continues to make.
Juan Jesus is raw and inexperienced, but at least he possesses great athletic qualities, while Matias Silvestre is not trusted whatsoever.
Esteban Cambiasso is an option, but without a great deal of mobility at the back, Stramaccioni would rather maintain the Brazilian next to Ranocchia.
Milan might have kept a clean sheet against a Barcelona that averages almost three goals per game, but when you break down their defence, it's not overly impressive.
Besides, the bulk of that defensive solidarity came from fine midfield performances from Massimo Ambrosini and Sulley Muntari. Although it is possible that they can replicate this game plan against Inter, I believe this is unlikely when you consider Milan will aim to be more expansive against a far weaker opponent.
When breaking down the Rossoneri defence, the most impressive quality that is common throughout the back four is pace and mobility. Kevin Constant, Ignazio Abate and Cristian Zapata are all quick off the mark and can cover their mistakes at times.
But that's where my admiration ends, Philippe Mexes is still not full fit, although he has lost some weight over the past couple of months. The chemistry with Zapata is not natural though and neither seem that assured on the ball.
The Colombian was clumsy on the ball and almost let Lionel Messi in when he controlled a simple pass from Riccardo Montolivo.
Mexes is always treading a fine line too, having been booked for a clumsy challenge on Messi, which should have sent a message for the Frenchman to tread carefully from then on.
The former Roma star charged into several more tackles though, leaving hearts in the mouths of the home crowd.
With Allegri able to field a fine attacking trident, as well as calling upon Kevin-Prince Boateng as a midfielder capable of being a threat in the opposition's penalty area.
Inter, despite Diego Milito being out for the season, have plenty of attacking options and are still trying to implement a forward-thinking style of football, especially with Mateo Kovacic's creativity at the base of the midfield.
A high-scoring game surely awaits them, which might alter the opinions of some who continue to lament Italian football for being too dull.