Sunday night throws up one of the most anticipated fixtures of the Serie A calendar. The Derby della Madonnina between Milan and Inter showcases the best that Italian football has to offer. Passion, drama and intensity surround one of the greatest fixtures in world football.
Both teams are still competing for Europe, so this game could go a long way toward deciding their fortunes.
The irony of this match is that these two great clubs are now entered in a race for Europe’s secondary European competition. The importance and the will to win will be no less present than in any of their other heated affairs, but the nature of what they are fighting for has changed.
No longer do the Rossoneri fight it out with the Nerazzurri for the Scudetto or a Champions League place, but there is still honour involved. Honour and the bragging rights from beating your fierce city rivals.
Milan have had a torrid season and sit in a derisory 10th place. This does not tell the whole story however, as they are on 51 points, only one point off Torino in the sixth spot. They are six points behind Inter with three games to go and certainly have a good chance of clawing back the deficit.
Milan have also been in a rich vein of form, and despite Clarence Seedorf still being seen as perhaps the wrong appointment from some, they have managed five wins in their last six.
Inter have had a better season than last, but this has not taken much doing. They have managed to grind out results even if Walter Mazzarri’s men have not produced the most entertaining football in the process. There is certainly a feeling that this is the beginning of a new project under new owner Erick Thohir and that next season will be crucial in their development.
With four draws and two victories in their last six games Inter could still drop out of the Europa League spots, as they sit on five points ahead of Lazio on 57 points. They play Milan and Lazio before finishing off against Chievo, and although they should be safe to qualify they will certainly not be complacent.
Milan finish off the season with the derby before a tough away fixture at Atalanta and a clash with Sassuolo on the last day. The Rossoneri will need to beat Inter to seriously make an assault on the Europa League spots.
There is an argument against the benefits of making the Europa League, of course. After all, if Milan make the last spot then they will have to start from the early qualifying round and cut their pre-season short. They will lose out of significant revenue from the US Tour they have planned, as well have having to play a monumental amount of matches whilst competing on the domestic front.
These challenges could hamper Inter too, who would also have to invest heavily in a squad that could fight on all fronts, as well as having to play on those fabled Thursday nights which apparently decimate teams' seasons. So what’s the point?
Both teams (especially Milan) will feel that they have a debt to the Italian coefficient in trying to qualify for this tournament—the overall grade given to European leagues based on the performances of their clubs. It is likely that the history and size of these clubs could see them able to recruit more easily if they were hosting Europa League matches. This in turn could see them go further in the competition than perhaps Hellas Verona, Torino or Parma. Even Lazio in recent years have shown what abject failure in the competition looks like.
It is for this reason that the Italian nation should hope that the "bigger" clubs make the Europa League as they will have more chance of progression, hence helping the coefficient. Both Milan sides will also gain prestige if they bring home the trophy, and Juventus have certainly dispelled the myth that continuation in the competition automatically derails a season.
Thus the game on Sunday not only has its usual drama and spectacle but also a level of high importance. One could argue that it takes on more importance for Milan, as their entrance to the Europa League could improve the coefficient.
Whatever the outcome, this game will provide a high level of intensity and both teams will want to end on a high.
Who knows? This fixture could be next year’s Europa League final.