Last September in Milan, it was all so different. The sun shone in Piazza Duomo, the streets bustled and the whole city was in love with football. The sport was fashionable again as supporters from both the Nerazzurri and the Rossoneri looked at their clubs and smiled. Both had different but extremely exciting plans in place, projects that promised so much, Europe, silverware and dare one say, the Scudetto?
Fast forward to February and it seems both have hit top form, and both have collapsed and oddly they still could finish the season with pride. So much of this, however, will depend on the result in the Derby Della Madonnina. This is always an unpredictable affair, but this time it'd take a brave man to suggest Serie A betting tips.
Inter had finally looked like their time had come. Not for the Scudetto, even the ‘Pazza’ fans knew deep down this was perhaps a step too far, but as they entered December, they did lead the table. Napoli and Juventus were scratching their heads as Luciano Spalletti had achieved something quite remarkable. His team were undefeated, had obliterated Chievo and then earned a credible draw with Juventus. The Champions League was the ultimate goal, and this now looked like it would be the worst outcome the season could offer.
With no European competition, Spalletti had achieved much with a full pre-season and a starting XI that changed little. The defence with Milan Skriniar looked formidable, Matias Vecino, Roberto Gagliardini and Borja Valero were performing in midfield and Mauro Icardi was simply being his lethal self. The former Roma Coach had not reinvented the wheel, but he was getting the best out of his players. Danilo D’Ambrosio, for instance, looked superb and with Udinese and Sassuolo up next, what could go wrong?
The answer was everything. A 3-1 defeat to the Zebrette was followed up with a 1-0 loss to the Neroverdi and after this, their confidence imploded. This happened with such ferocity that it offered up the question whether the team ever considered themselves as contenders for the Scudetto or even Europe in the first place.
Nobody could have expected what happened next, as the following games offered up five draws, although wins against Bologna and Benevento sandwiched another poor defeat against Genoa. Now Inter face the Derby with trepidation.
So, what of Milan in this time? Back in September the €200m spent had brought a UEFA record 65,763 spectators to watch a Europa League qualifier and the Milanese waiters were talking of an era to warrant that of Arrigo Sacchi being on the horizon. Whilst Vincenzo Montella chopped and changed his line up, the Rossoneri did produce some good results, winning three out of the first four, but then it all went wrong.
A lack of cohesion, defensive instability with changing formations and the lack of goals offered up from Andre Silva and Nikola Kalinic saw them lose five, draw twice and win only two in that time. By November 27, Montella was gone and in came Gennaro Gattuso. Both fans and the media scratched their heads as the new era began.
Incredibly Milan’s new start coincided with Inter’s fall from grace. Since the November 27, Milan have won seven, drawn three and lost only twice. It’s hard to remember now, but up until December 16, Inter were top of the table. Whilst many had scoffed at Gattuso when he arrived as his ‘fire and brimstone’ approach was seen as archaic, the results have spoken for themselves and now even the football is looking attractive, something the new Coach never promised. He instead had said that his Milan were ‘full of zits’ and would never be ‘Brad Pitt’, yet against Sampdoria and then Roma they were positively gorgeous.
Ironically his approach was similar to that of Spalletti’s earlier in the season, a consistent line-up and a well-drilled back line. His goal drought has been filled by Como born Milanista Patrick Cutrone, a youngster who the Coach has kept faith with to spearhead his attack.
As the Derby Della Madonnina looms around the corner, there is a feeling that it is critical for both to gain a victory. Milan are seven points off Inter in fourth, who with 51 points are still ahead of Roma and occupy the final Champions League spot. It is remarkable that whilst the Nerazzurri toiled the Rossoneri succeeded, and vice versa. However, for either to challenge seriously for Europe’s most prestigious competition, they must hit a winning streak. The Derby will provide that initial platform, and will no doubt be one of the most heavily contested in many years.