Milan seemed to have recovered from the Spezia defeat but Red Star Belgrade equalised late in Thursday’s clash. Therefore, the derby against Inter will be even more important for the Rossoneri.
And it’s just not any derby, with both sides sitting at the top of the Serie A standings. It could be decisive for the Scudetto race as we all know how important a derby win is for morale. Milan, taking the latest results into consideration, are the underdogs.
In his pre-match press conference, Stefano Pioli stated that they have prepared themselves well for the clash. He added that it’s indeed a very important game for them, but not a decisive one.
Game date: Sunday 21 February
Kick-off time: 15:00 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Daniele Doveri
After what was a tough period for Stefano Pioli, most players are now back at his disposal although Ismael Bennacer picked up another injury in the game against Red Star. Mario Mandzukic is also struggling with a muscle injury and will thus also miss out.
According to Gazzetta Dello Sport, there will be seven changes to the starting XI that played mid-week, which was expected considering the players fielded. In the back-four, Simon Kjaer will start alongside captain Alessio Romagnoli.
Some fans have urged Pioli to bench Romagnoli after a few performances, but the manager is sticking with his usual duo at the back. Davide Calabria, who was rested last time out (and suspended vs. Spezia) will also be back in defence.
It will be a new midfield tandem as well, although not an unfamiliar one, as Sandro Tonali and Franck Kessie will link up. Not a bad midfield, that’s for sure, but it would have been a boost to have Bennacer available.
Ante Rebic will keep his spot on the left-wing, as he’s currently ahead of Rafael Leao in the race. Alexis Saelemaekers, Hakan Calhanoglu and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will also be back from start and they will be key for the Rossoneri.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Theo; Kessie, Tonali; Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Rebic; Ibrahimovic.
Inter have picked themselves up after what was a rocky start to the season, which allowed Milan to get a head-start in the Scudetto race. Prior to the last round, the Rossoneri had been the sole team in first place since the fourth round.
Coming off a win against Lazio, making the most of what could have been a great opportunity for their city-rivals, the Nerazzurri will be high on confidence. They have to be considered the favourites for this game, despite being the ‘away’ side.
They haven’t lost in their last six league games (2D), while Milan have lost two games in the same period. As mentioned, their start to the season wasn’t overly convincing but they sure have improved as the season has gone on.
At least, they have secured the results needed to assert themselves in the Scudetto race, then you can argue that the way they play isn’t the best. With their squad, you would have expected them to be a bit more dominant.
Either way, this will be yet another opportunity for Inter to get a firm grip of first place in the standings. Unlike Milan, they only have one player on the injury list and that is Stefano Sensi, who wouldn’t have started anyway.
Probable Inter XI (4-3-3): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic, Eriksen, Perisic; Lukaku, Martinez.
Head to head
Obviously, Milan and Inter have a very long and special history of facing each other, with it being one of the biggest derbies in the world of football. And this year’s edition is the biggest in many many years, with both sides on top.
In the reverse fixture, the Rossoneri secured a 2-1 win as Ibrahimovic bagged a brace in the first half. Even though Lukaku pulled one back shortly after, the home side managed to see the lead out and deservedly won the clash.
It was a very important win for Milan as it had been a while since their last derby win, and it certainly confirmed that they are serious this season. It would be quite sensational to make it 2/2 on Sunday afternoon, as it rarely happens.
Although they won the last league battle, Inter prevailed in the Coppa Italia clash last month. Eriksen was the big hero with a free-kick goal in injury time after Ibrahimovic was sent off early in the second half.
Match facts (via Opta):
➤ This will be the 174th Milan derby in Serie A: Inter have won 66 games, including four of the last five encounters.
➤ AC Milan could win both encounters in a single Serie A season against Inter for the second time over the last 15 years, last doing so back in 2010/11, when they won 1-0 in the first game and 3-0 in the second.
➤ AC Milan and Inter will meet in a Serie A game while holding the top two positions in the table for the first time since April 2011 when the Rossoneri won 3-0 – the season of their last title win in the top flight.
➤ Inter (50) and AC Milan (49) have earned a combined 99 points in Serie A this term, 16 more than they did after the first 22 league games last season; they have won more combined points at this stage only in 1950/51: 102 (converting to three-points-per-win all-time).
➤ Milan have lost three league games since the start of 2021, one more than they did over the entirety of 2020 in Serie A (two). Indeed, the Rossoneri have lost three of their last seven matches in Serie A, as many as in their previous 41.
➤ Inter have kept a clean sheet in each of their last two away games in Serie A, last going three away games without conceding in a single season in Serie A back in October 2012 (four)
➤ Inter are the fourth side over the last 60 seasons to score 54+ goals after 22 Serie A matches, after Juventus in 2013/14 (54), Lazio in 2017/18 (57) and Atalanta in 2019/20 (59).
➤ Gianluigi Donnarumma could become the youngest player to play 200 games in Serie A in the three points per win era; aged 21 years and 361 days, the record is currently held by Gianluigi Buffon (24 years and 83 days).
➤ Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 10 goals in all competitions in Milan derbies, including eight with AC Milan.
➤ Inter’s Romelu Lukaku could become the first player since Romeo Bonetti (1972/73) to score in four consecutive Milan derbies in Serie A.
➤ Inter’s Lautaro Martínez has scored 11 goals in Serie A this season, at least two more than the second-highest scorer of any other side in the competition.
Ones to watch
After the red card in the Coppa Italia clash, Ibrahimovic will surely be out for revenge and yet another derby success in the league. He will be a key player for Milan and if he has a good then, then the Rossoneri’s chances of winning will be good.
The Swede lives for games like these and although there won’t be any fans in the stadium to fuel him, he has enough incentives to fight very hard. In addition to him, it will be interesting to see Sandro Tonali alongside Franck Kessie. He looked decent mid-week but then again, this is a very different game.
As for Inter, considering we picked Ibrahimovic for Milan, we have no other choice but to pick Lukaku. The Belgian has been crucial for the Nerazzurri this season and his brawl with the Rossoneri striker certainly didn’t go unnoticed.
Barella will also be very important for Inter and he can cause great trouble for the Milan defence if he’s allowed to run with the ball. But the main event, of course, will be the battle between Ibrahimovic and Lukaku. And that is not in terms of brawls, but rather who will score more.
It will be a very tough game for Milan and they are clearly the underdogs for this clash. Having said that, the underdog usually does well in the derby and to some extent, the pressure will be on Inter to prove that they deserve to lead.
Derbies are notoriously hard to predict and this is certainly the case with this one, but the feeling is that the Rossoneri should be happy if they can get one point. Therefore, I will say a draw.
Prediction: AC Milan 1-1 Inter