A 18-year wait will end on Wednesday night at San Siro as AC Milan and Inter will contest a Champions League derby for the first time since 2005.
Milan beat the newly-crowned Serie A champions Napoli in the quarter-finals after beating Spurs in the round of 16, while Inter saw off two Portuguese opponents to land in the final four, namely Porto and the most recently Benfica.
The Nerazzurri might well be the slight favourites when it comes to the bookmakers and the opinions of pundits, but Stefano Pioli stated in his pre-match press conference that his side have every possibility of reaching the final in Istanbul if they show their qualities.
Game date: Wednesday, May 10
Kick-off time: 21:00 (CEST)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Jesus Gil Manzano (VAR: Munuera)
Milan come into the game off the back of an impressively comfortable 2-0 win against top four rivals Lazio at the weekend, but that came after a 1-1 draw against 19th-placed Cremonese which just about perfectly sums up the Scudetto defence in two games.
The worry from the win over Maurizio Sarri’s side was that Rafael Leao was forced off with an adductor problem and Alexis Saelemaekers came on in his place. Pioli has suggested the winger could still start but he certainly won’t be risked, so the Belgian could again play in his place.
Tommaso Pobega and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are guaranteed to miss out due to injury (the latter isn’t even in the Champions League squad) while Alessandro Florenzi did not train with the rest of the team on Tuesday.
According to MilanNews among other sources, Pioli is likely to stick with a 4-2-3-1 system that sees Mike Maignan in goal with Davide Calabria, Simon Kjaer, Fikayo Tomori and Theo Hernandez as the back four.
The central midfield trio of Rade Krunic, Sandro Tonali and Ismael Bennacer should be fielded again after it worked so well against Napoli in the quarter-final, with the Algerian slightly ahead of the other two.
In attack the question mark over Leao’s fitness means Brahim Diaz and Saelemaekers are down as the right and left wingers respectively at the moment, with Olivier Giroud the centre-forward.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kjaer, Tomori, Theo Hernandez; Tonali, Krunic; Brahim Diaz, Bennacer, Saelemaekers; Giroud.
Inter had a shocking run of form from the end of February to the middle of last month as they lost five of seven games in the league including defeats at home to Juventus, Fiorentina and Monza.
However, they have rebounded well with four wins on the spin and only one goal conceded in the process. They beat Empoli 3-0, Lazio 3-1, Hellas Verona 6-0 and most recently Roma 2-0.
In terms of selection issues, it seems that Milan Skriniar will miss out as he continues to recover after surgery on his back, with Robin Gosens doubtful but Danilo D’Ambrosio having overcome a muscular problem.
Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez are in a rich vein of form with the Belgian having moved to 10 goals for the season across all competitions and the Argentina having comfortable surpassed 20.
Simone Inzaghi is expected to name Andre Onana in goal who has become the first choice now with Matteo Darmian, Francesco Acerbi and Alessandro Bastini as the back three, plus Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimaro at wing-back.
The midfield trio should consist of Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan over Hakan Calhanoglu, and Edin Dzeko has been tipped to get the nod alongside Lautaro Martinez over Romelu Lukaku.
Probable Inter XI (3-5-2): Onana; Darmian, Acerbi, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Mkhitaryan, Dimarco; Dzeko, Martinez.
Head to head
The Milan derby is one of the most played fixtures in football history with 219 meetings between the clubs. Milan have emerged victorious on 71 of those occasions, with 67 draws and 81 wins for Inter given them a slight upper hand.
However, where they do not have an upper hand is when it comes to knockout derbies, particularly in the Champions League. In the first meeting in 2002-03, a tense 0-0 in the first leg was followed by a 1-1 draw as Andriy Shevchenko got the goal that sent the Rossoneri to the final with an away goals win, where they would go on to beat Juventus at Old Trafford.
They met again in the quarter-finals two years later and Milan won the first leg 2-0, with Jaap Stamp and then Andriy Shevchenko the scorers to give Carlo Ancelotti’s men a clear advantage.
The Ukrainian then scored half an hour into a second leg that was never completed, as a disallowed Esteban Cambiasso goal saw Inter fans rain down flares and one hit Dida. The match was abandoned, Milan were awarded a 3-0 win and the Nerazzurri were forced to play their next four matches in UEFA competition in front of no fans.
➤ This will be the fifth time that Milan and Internazionale have faced each other in European competition, with Milan unbeaten across the previous four (W2 D2). They previously met at this stage of the UEFA Champions League in 2002-03, with Milan progressing to the final on away goals (1-1 on aggregate).
➤ After winning 3-2 in their first meeting with Internazionale this season (in Serie A last September), Milan have lost and failed to score in their previous two games against them (0-3 in the Italian Super Cup and 0-1 in Serie A). The last time they failed to score in three consecutive matches against Inter was between 1979 and 1980, under Massimo Giacomini.
➤ Milan have only lost one of their previous six semi-final matches they hosted at the Giuseppe Meazza in the UEFA Champions League (W4 D1) – 0-1 v Barcelona in the 2005-06 first leg. In fact, that was the only goal that Milan have conceded across these six games as the home team, having kept a clean sheet in each of the other five.
➤ Milan and Internazionale have already met on three occasions across all competitions in 2022-23, with Inter winning each of the last two (L1). Indeed, Milan haven’t lost three times against Inter in a single campaign since 1994-95 (two in the Coppa Italia and once in Serie A).
➤ Internazionale have kept a clean sheet in six of their 10 matches in the UEFA Champions League this season, while they’ve never previously managed seven in a single campaign in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League.
➤ Lautaro Martínez has scored seven goals in 12 career appearances against Milan. Indeed, since his first game against them in March 2019, the Argentine’s seven goals are the most by any opposition player against Milan across all competitions.
Ones to watch
For Milan, presuming that Leao does not quite recover to start, the attack will lean heavily on Giroud. He has already scored big goals in two derbies, and he will need support from Brahim and Saelemaekers on the flanks with the latter’s inverted deliveries a potential threat.
Bennacer will act as the balance for the midfield and could disrupt Inter’s building out from the back too, while Calabria faces a battle with Dimarco as does Theo with Dumfries, and Lautaro must be kept quiet by Tomori and/or Kjaer.
As mentioned above, Lautaro seems to be the man in the derby for Inter at the moment with seven goals to his name against Milan, so he will be looking to add to that tally.
Dimarco’s late runs have become a real threat too as he has netted in big games against Juventus (Coppa Italia semi-final winning goal) and Roma. Barella will be the tone-setter in midfield as usual, with Acerbi asked to keep Giroud quiet.
A game of this magnitude is almost impossible to call with all form going out of the window and a tight affair expected. Our gut feeling is both sides would be happy to take it to a one-off shootout in the second leg for a spot in the final, because sometimes there is just too much at stake over 180 minutes.
AC Milan 1-1 Inter
That Inter midfield is deadly, without Leao I don’t see how we can break through…
0-0 would be great though.
I’d rather see messias over Brahim on the right. This lineup without Leao is just far too small.
I said in one group 2 0 for Milan against Lazio, and that was finished result.
But now I can’t tell the result. It is difficult to tell. Milan group must stay positive. Milan can win everyone if Milan is real Milan. So if lads, have great day, even without Leao, we can expect lead after first game.
Forza Milan !
Inzaghi is tactically better, he knows how to break our defense. He will have lautaro/dzeko/lukako holding the ball with our high line 1-1 marking defense, and wingers and midfielder’s getting forward through the hole. So be careful playing high line defense, apart from tomori none can match their pace to get back.
I don’t know about their pace Lukaku is Origi level slow after that Chelsea year Dzeko iz a statue like Giroud and Lautaro is kinda average speed vise for a young striker…
If Leao can’t make it, for some weird reason I kept thinking Pioli might just return to 3-4-2-1 formation.