ROME - Surging Inter Milan, firmly back
in contention for a sixth consecutive scudetto, can end AC
Milan's season-long occupation of top-spot in Serie A when the
city rivals clash on Saturday.
Just two points now separate the sides with eight matches of
the season to play following Inter's stunning run of results -
12 victories from 15 league games - since last season's Milan
coach Leonardo took over the reins from Rafa Benitez at the
start of the year when the gap between the sides was 13 points.
The volume level at the 80,000-capacity San Siro in what is
one of the loudest, most colourful and hotly contested derbies
in the game looks set to go through the roof when Leonardo, who
spent more than a decade as a player, director and last season
as coach for the Rossoneri, leads out the visiting Nerazzurri.
"I live my life based on love, not recrimination," the
Brazilian, who had a fractious relationship with Milan owner and
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, told reporters.
"Life goes on and you have to learn from every experience.
Looking back on my career, I see only the good things and will
never forget my 13 years at Milan."
While Jose Mourinho's Inter claimed the treble last season,
the Brazilian, in his rookie year as coach, led Milan to third
place before leaving through mutual agreement amid rumours of
interference in team selection.
"The derby won't be crucial because after that there are
another seven rounds," said the 41-year old, who has also guided
Inter to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and
semi-finals of the Italian Cup.
"What we wanted to do was get closer, get back in the race
and challenge for the scudetto. We reach this derby in the best
Inter's cause will be helped by the absence from the
Rossoneri ranks of former striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who along
with Inter defender Lucio, must watch the game from the
sidelines because of suspension.
The big Swede, whose early penalty won this season's opening
derby for Milan, has been out-of-sorts since the turn of the
year with Milan winning just seven games as Leonardo's
replacement in the hot seat, Massimiliano Allegri, has struggled
to find an alternative.
"Ibra has done a lot for us so far this season but we are
going to have to do without him," said Allegri. "I'm sure Milan
will be up for it."
Robinho, likely to start in attack alongside compatriot
Pato, has promised to dance the samba if he scores the winner.
"It's a key moment for us and we cannot afford to fail if we
want to win the scudetto," the Brazilian told Milan Channel
before addressing Leonardo's controversial decision to join the
black-and-blue side of the city.
"It was his decision to go there but I can understand the
Milan fans' disappointment. He will have to accept the
consequences of his actions."
Without Ibrahimovic, Allegri is likely to add muscle to his
attack in the shape of Kevin-Prince Boateng rather than Antonio
For Inter, defenders Cristian Chivu and Andrea Ranocchia
face late fitness test while last year's hot-shot Diego Milito,
who has missed much of the season through injury, may recover in
time for a place on the bench. One certain starter is Argentine
midfielder Javier Zanetti, who will play his 35th consecutive
derby and 39th in all.
Napoli, who host Lazio on Sunday, are three points
off the top while in-form Udinese, who visit Lecce on Sunday, are a further three points back.
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