The derby between AC Milan and Inter where experience is not a pre-requisite, but it certainly helps to cope with the magnitude of the occasion.
As La Gazzetta dello Sport (seen below) has published this morning, Milan will rally around Simon Kjaer and Olivier Giroud tomorrow, who have a combined age of 70 and must demonstrate all the experience they have collected.
Giroud has played in World Cup and Champions League finals, Kjaer played in a European Championship semi-final and many important matches with Milan, Sevilla and Denmark.
They have the right experience and will have to use it, without too many problems, because the new Milan is a team that has improved in terms of their depth, but arrive at the derby with a couple of unknowns in the centre-back and centre-forward areas.
At the back, Kjaer is the solution to the ‘find Malick Thiaw’s team-mate’ conundrum. Fikayo Tomori is disqualified, Pierre Kalulu is injured, so the Dane will get his first start of the season alongside the German.
Up front, Giroud is the only 9 tested and he will be there. Luka Jovic has not played yet, while Noah Okafor is more of a winger than a striker and he too has only played a few minutes off the bench.
Here are the biggest unknowns for Pioli, in the derby and beyond: is Kjaer ready for a big match as a starter? And if Giroud doesn’t work, who plays centre-forward?
Giroud returned early from international duty with a left ankle sprain and he cannot be 100%, but he will play against Inter. The alternatives will have to be tested off the bench and this too could decide the derby.
Samuel Chukwueze, Yunus Musah, Okafor and Jovic will all be asked to give their all. The most natural replacement is the latter, who scored six goals in 2023 but was let go – on a free – by Fiorentina.
Speed is the great concern for Kjaer. The Dane has been a great defender in the area for years when it comes to marking, choosing the right position and anticipation.
His issues, if anything, are exposed with attackers who carry him around the pitch and attack him from afar, with speed. Lautaro and Thuram know how to do it very well and Pioli will have to plan accordingly.
Ultimately, Kjaer shouldn’t have played. Milan chose Thiaw-Tomori as the starting pair and Kalulu as the first alternative. A suspension and an injury give Kjaer yet another great chance.
The numbers say that might not be bad news. Kjaer and Thiaw conceded 0.6 goals per 90 minutes spent on the pitch together last season. Tomori is at 0.9, Kalulu at 1.2.
Kjaer and Thiaw played together in the 1-0 home win against Tottenham in the Champions League too, one of Milan’s best matches of 2022-23, albeit as part of a three-man defence.
Some doubts remain: the first is the ability to limit Lautaro and Thuram for 90 minutes and the second is Marco Pellegrino, who would be called upon if either of the centre-backs run into issues having not played a single minute yet.