Even though the Serie A campaign hasn't exactly gone according to plan for Inter Milan and AC Milan, it's hard to imagine that taking any intensity away from the Milan Derby. The rivalry ensures both sides will put their best foot forward regardless of the surrounding circumstances.
Inter entered the matchday in fifth place, but 15 points off the current title pace being set by Juventus. The biggest issue as of late has been at the back. The Nerazzurri have allowed nine goals over the past three matches, including four in a loss to Napoli last week.
Things are looking even more bleak for Milan. The Rossoneri are sitting in the middle of the table with just 19 points from 16 matches. A lack of consistency has made it tough for them to make any type of sustained push up the table during the first half of the season.
With all that in mind, let's check out all the important information for the high-profile clash, followed by an examination of the top storyline and a match prediction.
What's your prediction for the latest Milan Derby?
Where: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in Milan, Italy
When: Sunday, Dec. 22 at 2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. GMT)
Watch: beIN Sport and BT Sport 1
Live Stream: beIN Sport Play
Match Forecast (via Bloomberg Sports)
Inter Milan: 44.1 percent
AC Milan: 30 percent
Draw: 25.9 percent
Top Storyline: Can the rivalry clash spark a run from one of the Milan clubs?
Neither club is where it wanted to be at this point in the campaign. But there's always something special about rivalry matches, and winning one tends to give a squad an extra boost of confidence and momentum, which both Inter and Milan could certainly use.
And if you don't think a derby carries plenty of extra weight, check out comments passed along by Inter's official site from Nerazzurri forward Mauro Icardi. He told Italian outlet Sky Sport 24 that he dreams about a strong performance against their rivals:
Speaking to Matteo Barzaghi this afternoon, the Nerazzurri front man began by looking ahead to the upcoming game against AC Milan at the Stadio Meazza: "I dream about the derby night being like the derby I played with Sampdoria last year when I scored on my Serie A debut."
The Argentine striker then talked about Inter's targets and his recent spell out of action: "We have to knuckle down taking things one day at a time and we'll see where we end up come the end of the year. We worked really well in pre-season. To be perfectly honest when I was at Samp I never worked as hard as I have here."
Whether it's a young player like Icardi or veterans such as Esteban Cambiasso and Kaka, who have been through these type of matches before, there's no shortage of motivation. Whichever club responds better to the situation gets three much-needed points.
The most important factor for Inter is rediscovering stability in the midfield. Usually that area of the squad is a strength, but they have been unable to control the possession and pace in recent fixtures, which has played a role in the aforementioned defensive struggles.
Cambiasso, Mateo Kovacic and Co. have to go back to the basics. Gaining possession and then relying on sustained buildups to limit Milan's counterattacking opportunities. It would also lead to more touches for Rodrigo Palacio, one of the consistent bright spots this season.
If Inter are able to effectively implement that game plan, it will become a major struggle for the Rossoneri, which have won just one of their past eight league matches. They must find a way to get Mario Balotelli more involved in order to get out of that slump starting against their rival.
Ultimately, the Milan Derby is a perfect chance for both teams to begin the process of building momentum toward the second half of the campaign. At the outset, it appears Inter are in a better position to take advantage of the opportunity.
Given the rivalry atmosphere and the lackluster defensive play from both sides, this should be an exciting back-and-forth match with chances for both clubs to seize the moment. So even though neither side will be at full strength, it should be a good derby.
All told, Inter have been the slightly better side throughout the campaign and should have had enough time following the loss to Napoli to make serious progress toward eliminating their issue at the back. They should be able to score a narrow victory.
Inter Milan 2, AC Milan 1