Tactical Battles That Will Shape Inter Milan's Clash with AC Milan
The Milan derby on Sunday holds extra importance this season due to the fluctuating form of both sides and the inevitable boost it would give the winner moving into the new year.
The Derby della Madonnina is fiery at the best of times, but with both sides desperate for points ahead of the winter break, it should be a mouthwatering encounter.
Here are three battles that will shape the tactical duel between managers Walter Mazzarri and Massimiliano Allegri.
Fredy Guarin vs. Nigel De Jong
Fredy Guarin could be playing his final match in an Inter shirt, so this battle could be a deciding factor in the way the match goes.
The Colombian will be keen to go out in style, and without the suspended Ricky Alvarez, the former Porto star will need to inspire the Nerazzurri in the final third.
Nigel de Jong is finally fit and hitting somewhere near to his best form after a severe injury, so Guarin will not have an easy task.
If the former City holding midfielder can stifle Guarin, Milan will have nullified a lot of the Nerazzurri's attacking threat.
Guarin's excellent shooting from range will need to be prevented by touch-tight marking, but the 27-year-old has great movement and power to be able to blow away any opponent when driving his team forwards.
Mateo Kovacic vs. Andrea Poli
This will not necessarily be a direct battle, although they are bound to cross paths in the heart of the midfield in Sunday's game.
Mateo Kovacic comes into the side to replace the suspended Ricky Alvarez, while Andrea Poli will replace the suspended Riccardo Montolivo.
Both players will hope to stake a claim for a more regular slot in the side, while aiming to sufficiently cover their teammates' absence.
While Montolivo has not been in superb form, there is a certain quality to be able to impose himself on a game of this magnitude, but Poli is unproven on the big stage, so the derby will tell us whether the former Samp midfielder is worth persevering with or not.
Kovacic is a more peculiar case, as his youth means that nobody doubts whether he is capable of cutting it at this level for Inter, but it is a matter of when, and while Walter Mazzarri is in the premature stages of his tenure, he has resisted the temptation to build around the Croatian.
Kovacic has the ability to force his way into the starting lineup, even when Alvarez returns, so a slightly deeper role in the derby will really help him to knit Inter's midfield and attack together.
Kaka vs. Esteban Cambiasso
Kaka has been simmering ever since he returned from injury and began to put together a string of starts for the first time in years.
The Brazilian is ready to explode and has shown glimpses that he can return to being a pivotal player and inspire his side with his attacking flair.
The Derby would be the perfect stage for him to pay back the fans that greeted him with such adulation upon his return, despite the obvious risk in taking home a player seemingly well past his best.
Esteban Cambiasso has been solid this season, scrapping for pieces in front of the back four and generally disrupting the opposition's rhythm.
The Argentine will need to read the game superbly on Sunday to ensure that Kaka doesn't open up the game in transition for the Rossoneri.
Without the pace to match Kaka, even at this stage of the Brazilian's career, Cambiasso will need to be aware of his opponent's position on the pitch throughout the game and look to cut off the space that Kaka so enjoys exploiting.