It's almost impossible to conceive of a better story line for the Derby della Madonnina: the two sides, separated by just a point, with one racing up the table, the other slowly sliding down. Will Inter manage to defy the odds and take points from Milan?
All roads this week lead to Milan, where the spotlight shines on the Derby della Madonnina. The reverse fixture was a dull 0-1 affair, in favor of Inter. Walter Samuel scored in the third minute, and then the teams just sort of stood around for the remaining hour and a half, staring at each other and wondering what might happen ext. But the second derby of the season can't help but to be more exciting, if only for the number of possible story lines surrounding the match.
First up, we have AC Milan beating Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League tie. That's right, a team from the "steadily declining" Serie A managed to beat the club that is "more than a club." Riccardo Montolivo was at his absolute best, Massimo Ambrosini looked to have shed a decade's worth of years, and Sulley Muntari was terrific. Add to that the fact that the Milan defense actually managed to neutralize Lionel Messi, and you have to wonder if it's possible that Inter will be able to do much of anything on Sunday.
Next, we can look at the steady decline of the nerazzurri over the past two months. Since December 22nd, Inter have played eight Serie A matches, and won just two of them. They were held to draws by both Genoa and Torino, couldn't score more than one goal against AS Roma's haphazard "defense", and lost 3-1 to bottom side Siena. Then there was last week, when the Fiorentina supporters had to offer helpful guidance on how Inter could find the ball (it's the orange thing) as the Viola ran out 4-1 winners.
Of course, this match also pits the young rossoneri against the aging nerazzurri. Sure, Inter just signed young Mateo Kovavic, but for the most part, Andrea Stramaccioni relies on his veterans. Diego Milito might be out for the season, but the familiar faces of Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso, Rodrigo Palacio and Antonio Cassano still return, week after week.
Milan, for their part, have shed their aged reputation and fully embraced youth. Stephan El Shaarawy, with the second-most goals in Serie A, is just 20. Since coming over from Manchester City, Mario Balotelli has scored four goals in three matches. M'baye Niang, who completes this youthful trident, is only 18 years of age. While it took some time to make the rossoneri pieces fit together, Milan have been on a tear since the calendar year began, unbeaten in their last seven and losing just one of the last thirteen.
In recent years, Inter have the better Derby record when it comes to "hosting" the match. But this time, the serpents have plenty to fear from their devilish visitors. If Inter can grind out a result this time, it may truly be a miracle.
Inter Milan Injuries and Suspensions
At first it looked as though Ranocchia's injury, sustained in battle against Cluj on Thursday, would not be serious enough to require the defender to miss the Derby. Some cynical observers might suggest this is actually a benefit to the nerazzurri, but with so little perfectly fit defenders available, it's probably not good news.
AC Milan Injuries and Suspensions
Nothing too worrisome here, particularly after the way Milan's midfield looked against Barcelona on Wednesday
Match Date / Time: Sunday, February 24 at 8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET
Venue: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza (San Siro), Milan
TV: Sky Calcio 1, ESPN UK, RAI Internazionale, and beIN Sport en Español (because of course, La Liga, who speak Spanish, would have priority on the primary beIN Sport channel)