Straight from the dark heart of Italy
The Milan derby is in danger of losing its good-will status, and about time too.
The fact that Inter are feeling a bit rattled and punchy in the build-up suggests they are once again worried about losing face to their neighbours (or should that be flatmates...?).
In the last few years, even if the Nerazzurri did not come out on top they were strolling away with the title anyway, so it wasn’t so much of a blow to let their rivals enjoy some succour. Defeat on Sunday would not be one of those occasions.
Tthe 4-0 thrashing at the start of the season is a distant memory now and Leonardo’s free-flowing approach has taken his team to eight points off the champions with a game in hand.
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So it was no surprise Milan instigated the mind games by demanding that their Italian Cup match against Udinese, scheduled for Wednesday past, should be postponed as Inter were not in action until the following week against Juventus.
Adriano Galliani levered pressure on the Football League who moved the game to next week - the day before Inter’s tie.
The fact that both teams are at home only raised Inter’s ire - they initially refused to play on a San Siro pitch which would have been churned up 24-hours previously.
It took Jose Mourinho to highlight the absurdity of this petty squabble by calling for the match to be played in April because he had too many players injured and Samuel Eto’o was at the Africa Cup of Nations.
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Milan fans have taken it onboard as another sign that the other half of the city are feeling the pressure somewhat. Their team come into the game on the back of a 3-0 thumping of Juventus and the Ronaldinho show against Siena, while Inter had to scrap for their win over the Tuscans and dig deep to draw at Bari.
It neatly sums up the contrasting philosophies that drive the two clubs: Milan with their swagger and showbiz style; Inter the solid artisans.
Friday morning in the city-centre bars and there is only one topic of conversation: the Rossoneri faithful feel that there is no better time to play a derby while the Nerazzurri followers are getting their excuses in early claiming that if the city cousins cannot win this one then they never will.
They will be hoping that Milan are just a little too cocky for their own good, but weighing everything up you would have to go for the red and blacks.
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Unlike say the Rome or Turin derbies, the Milanese version is very rarely a war of attrition and, although there is no denying that Inter have quality in Wesley Sneijder, Diego Milito, Mario Balotelli and Goran Pandev, Milan have that ‘X-Factor’ running right through the team.
The key will be in midfield where Inter could well be stretched, especially with David Beckham doubling up to help outnumber Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Sulley Muntari or Dejan Stankovic – the latter pair battling to be fit in time.
A win for Milan would be just what the second half of the season needs: a genuine title race.
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