Before Alberto Brignoli, Milan still had some hope. Before Udinese visited San Siro, Inter were still allowed to dream. Perhaps the fans of both teams should have known better, after all Gennaro Gattuso was always going to be limited and the Nerazzurri are still Pazza, even if Luciano Spalletti has managed to make them look sane.
So, this is Christmas in Milan and what have they done, both teams had been allowed to dream throughout the season and yet as the end of the year draws close, they have these hopes have been dashed.
It seems a long time ago since the lazy days of summer were coming to an end and Milan was bathed in sunshine. If you walked around the city in September, the cafés and bars were full just as they normally would be at this time of year, but there was a difference. It was Milan fashion week, yet it felt different. People were talking about football again and in a good way.
The city had two teams that, with backing from the Far East, were looking like they were ready to compete in Serie A and perhaps (in the Rossoneri’s case) in Europe. These were projects different in nature, one cultured and slowly crafted, the other flash, brash and expensive. Like products from two elite designers, both could be described as exciting, it was simply a matter of taste.
For Milan before defeat to Verona and Atalanta, there was plenty more misery that preceded. The superstars that had not clicked together instantaneously, the realisation that perhaps bigger signings to complement their youth squad may have been a better move and the inevitable blaming and sacking of Vincenzo Montella for their mid-table standing. Then came Gattuso, a fan’s favourite, but all too soon it was evident that his fire and thunder could not hide a lack of tactical knowledge.
Then came the game against Benevento, the team who had no points at all. It seemed incredible that Milan, 2-1 up and deep into injury time, would concede an equaliser by goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli. The next disaster came against Hellas Verona, as another relegation-threatened club took them apart 3-0 at the Bentegodi. Atalanta followed, but by then the tears were already flowing. The hope of the 65,000 fans who turned up for the Europa League qualifier against CSU Craiova was dead. UEFA’s decision to reject their plans for FFP was perhaps just a kick whilst they were down, but at least they have the Coppa Italia against Inter to boost morale.
In contrast the Nerazzurri were elated, they had been flying, undefeated and top of the league. The arrival of Luciano Spalletti had been a revelation that meant as the Christmas tree went up in Piazza Del Duomo, the fans were not only smiling - they were ecstatic.
Before Udinese came to town in December (and beat them 3-1), Inter were top of the table and undefeated. Mauro Icardi was firing on all cylinders and a season that started out with simply hope for Champions League qualification was now looking like a true Scudetto challenge.
Sassuolo was a hard pill to swallow, suggesting the Udinese defeat was not a fluke. The team had not reacted as it should, and this made the fans ask the question, are we about to implode? The mood is still positive in some camps however, especially as they are playing only on the domestic front and as they are approaching January, Walter Sabatini is making himself very busy. Spalletti has told he fans that the Coppa Italia is important to their season and, despite a near slip up against Pordenone, they will be confident before facing the Rossoneri.
The Coppa Italia is a chance for both teams to lift the mood that hangs over them like the Milanese fog. A win the in the Derby Della Madonnina will allow Inter to confidently say that before 2018 is upon them, they have overcome their blip. This can then be a platform to relaunch the offensive and at the very least end the campaign with Champions League football.
For Milan, a win is perhaps more important, as the Coppa Italia might be the only way they can salvage their season. A win here, and morale may be boosted sufficiently to finish the season respectably. A defeat could see them part company with Gattuso, yet this to many would be the preferable option. In a season that offered plenty, the Derby is the difference between hope and tears.