The Decisive 2011 Derby Della Madonnina

This Saturday, at 20:45 CET, the most important Milan derby in recent years will take place. This is probably the most important derby since the 2003 Champions League semi-final derby, and Christian Abbiati even stated a few days ago that the atmosphere surrounding the Milan camp at the moment is very similar to how it was in 2003. As much as you read from various sources debating whether Saturday’s derby is decisive or not decisive on who will win the Scudetto, understand this: it is decisive.

Yes, whether Milan or Inter win there are still 21 points left to be won, but more than anything else the psychological toll that would affect the losing team on Saturday would be too great to surmount. A Milan loss and they would be even more demoralized after the recent poor results, knowing they would need Inter to slip up big time in their remaining games to win the Scudetto. An Inter loss would mean giving the psychological advantage to Milan, who would know they would have a five point lead to defend for seven straight games and if both teams kept winning, Milan would only need to defend it for 6 straight games, going into the last game mathematically champions.

For Milan, the international break came just at the right time. After two demoralizing results, Inter had a clear psychological advantage and the international break helped dilute that. Allegri and his men got to recharge their batteries and sit back and realize where Milan needed to improve. For one, the midfield needs refreshing. Without Pirlo, the midfield has really missed that creative player in the center of the pitch. Reports over the past few days state that Clarence Seedorf will be handed the playmaker role in front of the defense that he interpreted brilliantly against Tottenham in the Champions League second leg. Gattuso and one of Van Bommel or Flamini will flank him. The defense will remain unchanged with Abbiati between the sticks, Nesta and Thiago Silva holding down the center, and Abate and Antonini on the flanks. Kevin Prince-Boateng will return to his trequartista position where he has been hugely successful and up front Allegri will most probably start Pato and Robinho. Cassano will be ready to make an impact from the bench, and with the physical condition he’s in, it seems that he can be better from the bench than from the start.

It will be interesting to see how Milan approach this game. A draw wouldn’t be the worst result in the world for the Rossoneri, and we’ll have to see if they let Inter attack and try and go on the counter, or if they will come out attacking the Nerazzurri. Without Ibrahimovic, much of the attacking weight relies on the shoulders of Pato who has a big task ahead of him. If the good Pato shows up, Inter’s defense will have problems. If the inconsistent Pato shows up, Milan will have a ghost up front. And then there’s Robinho. The little Brazilian hasn’t been the sharpest in front of goal, and he knows if he’s stagnant on Saturday then Cassano is ready to come on in his place. However, the key will be the battle in midfield. If Milan’s midfield can hold strong and Seedorf and Boateng can put in great performances, Milan have a great chance at taking the three points. Three important points that would inch Milan even closer to that 18th Scudetto.

Inter go into the Derby della Madonnina in a relatively good run of form. Out of the last five matches in all competitions, the Nerazzurri have won four and drawn one. Morale and confidence are running high, as everyone on the squad is aware of the fact that Inter are in control of their own destiny.

After an international break that had the Inter staff holding their collective breath due to the ongoing injury concerns, most of the players have returned from national team duty relatively unscathed. Cristian Chivu suffered a calf muscle injury while training with the Romanian squad last week and did not take part in any of their matches. Chivu’s fitness is also a big question mark for the Inter backline, as Leonardo was expected to use him in central defense in place of the suspended Lucio. Interisti will be hoping Chivu wins his battle for fitness but Ivan Cordoba is ready to step in if necessary. Another important component of the Inter defense is Andrea Ranocchia. After being sent home from the Azzurri training camp last week with a recurring knee problem, Ranocchia is slated to start in his first Milan derby.

Diego Milito has declared himself healthy and will be available for selection after a spell on the sidelines. The medical staff have taken precautions with him due to the hamstring injuries he has suffered since the beginning of the season and he will be vital in Inter’s remaining matches. Milito is not expected to start, but will most likely come off the bench. Although his play may be limited, these minutes will be important not only for the derby but also in preparation for the midweek Champions League clash against Schalke 04. Leonardo will have an option between a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, but regardless, the strike force of Samuel Eto’o and Giampaolo Pazzini will be looking to score goals to ensure a Nerazzurri win.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be suspended for this match, but his absence does not make the AC Milan attack any less deadly. The Rossoneri forwards will run at the Inter defense and will try to shake off their markers with their pace. The Inter backline will need to be aware of the opposition’s off the ball movements, making sure they are not able to cut in between defenders.

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