In one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in the Serie A calendar, the Derby della Madonnina returns this weekend, and it appears like we could be in for a real treat.
The quality on the pitch might not be able to match that of yesteryear—Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto'o, Maicon, Kaka, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva—just some of the stars that could boast that they were the best in Europe.
There is still enough potential on the pitch to appease the footballing purists, but with some glaring shortcomings from both sides, it feels like the perfect set of ingredients to treat calcio fans to a classic.
Let's begin with the quality on show, and although these teams cannot match previous title-winning sides, there are still some players who can be considered amongst the best in European football.
Stephan El Shaarawy has burst onto the scene this season, relishing the opportunity to fill the gaping void left by Ibra. Il Faraone is somewhat of a throwback for Italian football, ever-willing to commit the full-back and dash past him on the inside or outside.
Javier Zanetti—still the most trusting of the Nerazzurri back four—awaits the Azzurri international in one of the key battles at the San Siro this Sunday. The 39-year-old is still proving to be one of the fittest players in Serie A, and the Argentine relishes the opportunity to drive forward still. The threat of El Shaarawy will test his resolve.
Samir Handanovic is another player who has proven consistently over the seasons at Udinese, and now with Inter, he is as good as any other keeper in the league.
Mario Balotelli had scored just one Premier League goal before his switch to the Rossoneri, but four Serie A strikes in just three games shows what this man is capable of when he is confident and given license to do as he pleases.
Juan Jesus and Andrea Ranocchia are very talented, but the two have their drawbacks. Jesus is raw and Ranocchia's recent progress has become stagnate.
This battle has a potential storyline emerging with Balotelli haunting his former club and surely celebrating—especially after Inter's Utlras gave the green light to hurl abuse toward their former player, as long as it's wasn't racist.
Ranocchia goaded Balotelli recently, saying that "...with Mario, we spoke about the Derby with the national team, I told him that he would not pass me" (via Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport).
With such a contrast in the players' form, I expect fireworks on Sunday when Balotelli is given time and space to work his magic, which could lead to a career-defining performance.
There is good reason to believe that this will be a free-flowing, expansive game from the two Milan sides, as Massimiliano Allegri's 4-3-3 will match up against Andrea Stramaccioni's 4-diamond-2.
With the Nerazzurri manager likely to persist with the precocious talent of Mateo Kovacic continuing to reinvent himself as a regista, as opposed to the trequartista that he became known for breaking into the Dinamo Zagreb team.
The Croatian hardly revelled in this role against Fiorentina last week, being hauled off at halftime as the Viola ran riot. So, Inter will hardly be setting out to stifle Milan, who have embraced a much more progressive style of play in recent weeks.
The last intriguing scenario that awaits us is Antonio Cassano playing against his former club, which might have flown under the radar in light of Balomania.
Fantonio scored a thunderous consolation at the Artemio Franchi last weekend and will need to inspire a depleted Nerazzurri attack that is coping with the devastating loss of Diego Milito.
The Milan derby is never a game that fails to wet the appetite, at least in terms of intrigue, even if the game itself disappoints. But this time we have plenty of anticipation with battles on the pitch suggesting we will be in for a classic.
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