There is quite simply no better fixture in Italian club football to welcome Serie A back with than the Derby della Madonnina.
AC Milan will meet Inter for the 226th time in official fixtures looking to open up a bit of an early-season gap between themselves and their city rivals as the Rossoneri are currently two points ahead in the standings.
They will have to do it without the influence of a number of players as things stand, with Matteo Gabbia and Leo Duarte currently COVID-19 positive while Ante Rebic has not yet recovered from his dislocated elbow and Mateo Musacchio is also still out.
With those selection issues for Stefano Pioli to battle, we take a look at how Milan should line up…
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma
No explanation needed – Donnarumma is the undisputed number one, and him keeping the ball out of the will obviously be crucial to any chances of derby success.
Defence: Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Theo Hernandez
In many way, Pioli will have his hand forced with the back four selection. Three positions fill themselves as there are only two fit centre-backs at present, with Romagnoli in need of a big performance in this game after his recent struggles against Inter, while Theo is immovable on the left.
There may be a slight temptation to throw Diogo Dalot in as the right-back, but it is less than 10% given Calabria’s fantastic start to the season, the fact he is well-rested and was able to remain at Milanello over the international break.
Defensive midfield: Bennacer, Kessie
Again not a lot of explanation or justification needed. Bennacer and Kessie have established themselves as the best double pivot in the division and the Ivorian in particular will be crucial in protecting Romagnoli in his first game back for over three months.
Tonali and Krunic may have a role to play later in the game, perhaps in relation to game management or if the Rossoneri desperately need more creativity from a deep-lying player, but there shouldn’t be many doubts about this.
Forwards: Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Brahim Diaz.
This is where the selection gets a bit more difficult, with Ante Rebic in the pits due to his elbow problem. Hakan Calhanoglu has got his starting spot nailed down, so the right and left lanes are up for grabs.
Saelemaekers should start because he brings balance to the team with his work rate at both ends of the field, and he should start on the right side. The experiment of playing the Belgian on the left has not worked thus far, but fresh from his first cap for his country over the break, there is a spot for him in the XI over Castillejo.
The left wing is a tough one, as Rebic’s goal threat being missing from the line-up points towards the inclusion of a goal scorer like Rafael Leao, but Brahim Diaz appears the sensible pick. He has played on the left plenty, knows the position well and should stick to his defensive responsibilities and his pressing role a bit better than Leao, who is more effective closer to goal and could have a key role as a substitute.
There may also be the temptation to field Hauge on the left too, and it is actually more than many might think given he is a natural left winger full of confidence who would take the game on without fear, yet this just doesn’t feel like the right game to give him that first start.
Again, not much explaining needs to be done. Let’s have another derby goal please.
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