When: Sunday, November 20th 2:45pm ET/ 8:45pm CET
Where: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy.
Just like Roberto Mancini did two years ago, Stefano Pioli will make his debut as Head Coach of Inter in the Milan derby following the November international break. Strange how these things work out somehow, isn't it. The former Bologna and Lazio boss has said all the right things since being appointed as Frank de Boer's replacement a fortnight ago, but now it's time for the pitch to do the talking and his first four matches are not exactly going to be straightforward: Milan (A), Hapoel Be'er Sheva (A), Fiorentina (H) and Napoli (A). Gulp. But let's just think about the first of those for now.
Whatever happens on Sunday evening this will go down as an historic derby of some sorts, as it will be Inter's first under new Chinese owners Suning and Milan's last under the ownership of Silvio Berlusconi, who will finally hand the club over to Sino-Europe Sports when the consortium's takeover is made official at the start of December. The all-oriental affair will therefore have to wait until the return match in April, but despite having had their summer transfer campaign blocked due to a lack of financial guarantees it is the Rossoneri who come into this game ahead in the table - a full 8 points ahead, in fact. Indeed - as if Inter's hideous start to the campaign wasn't irritating enough, we've also had to watch Vincenzo Montella's men surprise everyone in the first three months of the season and put themselves in the race for a Champions League place, with 7 wins from their last 9 games heading into the derby, which makes defeat an unthinkable option for us. Lose and our chances of clawing back the deficit to our cousins would be practically zero (11 points are a lot, even in November); win however and this team could just give itself the shot in the arm it so badly needs.
So how is our new Mister going to approach this match in order to secure the victory we're so desperate for? The prevailing idea across the Italian media this week has been that Pioli will start by trying to make the team more secure at the back, with our defensive play letting us down on far too many occasions under De Boer (and that applies to the whole team, not just the back four), so we can probably expect a prudent performance with a little more balance and compactness than we've been used to since August. However he isn't someone who just wants to defend and nothing more, as his Lazio side demonstrated with the wonderful football they played on the way to third place in the 2014-15 season, so the high line and aggressive pressing are both likely to stay - just with a touch more organisation and concentration, one would hope. It would be unfair to expect too many drastic changes though, considering that he's only just arrived and had half the squad away on international duty for most of the time, even if reports coming from Appiano Gentile this week have spoken of newly-found optimism, adrenaline and a team that's been won over by their new coach.
Let's just wait and see, and hope. And pray. None of the three potential outcomes would surprise me, in truth; I just hope we can produce another magical performance like the one we pulled out against Juventus. As Hernan Crespo said on Wednesday, it's in the moments of chaos that Inter normally produce their best, so being underdogs is not necessarily a bad thing. Fingers crossed.
Over the last three or four days there have been about 50 different possible starting XIs put forward by Italy's various media outlets, which suggests nobody really knows what Pioli has in mind for this match. He's most likely to opt for the 4-3-3 as it's the system we've used most frequently this year, but quite who starts within that 4-3-3 is less clear. The biggest questions are in midfield, with Marcelo Brozovic thought to be favorite to start ahead of Ever Banega, but the defense is also difficult to second-guess as Gary Medel has been mooted as a potential starter at center-back (with Jeison Murillo being dropped to the bench). One man who definitely won't be playing though is Rodrigo Palacio, who hasn't made the match-day squad along with Marco Andreolli and Senna Miangue.
The big question hanging over Milan this week has been that regarding Alessio Romagnoli's fitness, with the Italy center-back picking up a muscular problem against Germany in midweek. Until Saturday it looked as if he would be forced to miss out on the big match, but he has been included in the match-day squad after training with his teammates during the afternoon, so he may well be fit to start after all. There shouldn't be any surprises elsewhere in the XI.
Probable Starting XIs
Milan (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Abate, Paletta, Romagnoli, De Sciglio; Kucka, Locatelli, Bonaventura; Suso, Bacca, Niang
Inter (4-3-3): Handanovic; D'Ambrosio, Miranda, Medel, Ansaldi; Brozovic, Joao Mario, Kondogbia; Candreva, Icardi, Perisic
How to Watch:
TV: Sky Sport 1 HD, Sky SuperCalcio HD, Sky Calcio 1 HD & Premium Sport HD (Italy); BT Sport 2 HD & BT Sport 4K UHD (UK); beIN SPORTS & Rai International (USA)
(For other countries' streaming and broadcasting options see here)