Enthusiasm is overflowing in the Milan camp after six consecutive Serie A home victories and a 2-0 Champions League triumph over Barcelona. President Silvio Berlusconi even flew in on his helicopter to take the credit and will be in the stands this evening, a sure sign that the team is doing well. Berlusconi even claimed he called Mario Balotelli a ‘rotten apple’ because of a “strategy to keep the price down.” Even for a politician, that excuse was implausible. Still, they’re on such a high right now that they may as well let even blatant fibs slide.
However, the Derby is a strange beast and Inter may well relish their underdog status. The Nerazzurri have already shown this season that they enjoy upsetting the odds, as nobody expected them to end Juventus’ unbeaten Serie A run in Turin. Last term this fixture mathematically terminated Milan’s Scudetto hopes, as Inter emerged with a 4-2 victory. Historically the side that goes into the Milan Derby as the favourite tends to struggle, as the pride of the city is at stake and expectations weigh heavy on some shoulders. Let's not forget the infamous 2001 match when Milan won 6-0, as in the lead-up to that Inter were in much better shape.
Massimiliano Allegri is fresh from a tactical masterclass against Barcelona, but Inter are completely different. Where Barça kept possession and had only limited in-roads to goal, Andrea Stramaccioni’s side focus on the counter-attack and will invite pressure. Diego Milito’s injury is a huge blow, as he has scored four of Inter’s last six Serie A goals against Milan. On the other hand, his absence makes the team more unpredictable, with Rodrigo Palacio less of a classic centre-forward.
Speaking of unpredictable, all eyes will be on Mario Balotelli against his former teammates for the first time. The fans knew for years that he was a closet Milan supporter, but it’s still galling for them to see him represent the other side of San Siro with four goals in his first three games. The insults that will no doubt be hurled in his direction are on a par with those that Antonio Cassano received during his first Derby in the blue and black stripes. Giampaolo Pazzini is unlikely to be jeered by Interisti, as they still can’t believe their luck getting rid of him for Cassano and cash.
I was very pleased to see the Curva Nord mount a campaign urging Inter fans to keep their Balotelli insults on a ‘normal’ level. The ultras released a statement, posters and flyers in the stadium warning that any racist abuse will not be tolerated.
In fact, I think it’d be smart to set up an Ultras UN Council. The leaders want to be taken seriously and be a force for good, so give them responsibility and provide ‘sanctions’ if they step out of line. These groups are already very organised and release statements to the media, while some have been known to hold Press conferences. The fans are a key part of the Italian game and I maintain the way forward is to give the ‘good’ elements more responsibility to weed out the racists and hooligans. Having a council of their peers could well be a solution to keep everyone in check.
Hopefully we’ll see a great Derby della Madonnina where we can focus entirely on the football.