Milan are fired up for the derby, but so is Milan.
On Thursday afternoon Inter’s superhero of a centre-back sat down with reporters at Appiano Gentile to discuss this weekend’s Derby della Madonnina, as well as analysing the Nerazzurri’s poor start to 2018 and why he is still convinced they will secure qualification for next season’s Champions League.
What came out of that collective Q&A session was less an interview and more an iron-handed laying down of the law - not just to the journalists present but also to each and everyone of Skriniar’s ailing Inter teammates, from whom it is evident he will accept nothing less than 110% this weekend.
Milan has taken everyone’s breath away this season with his unshakeable winning mentality and that burning desire for success is tangible once again when reading his responses to the questions he was posed.
From “playing well doesn’t count, I want three points” to “it’s time to start showing what we’re made of again” and “what we’ve been giving lately is not enough”, there’s one message that emerges from this interview loud and clear - Milan only has one objective on Sunday, and it certainly isn’t hanging on for a dignified draw.
If you’re called Milan you’re destined to play in the Derby della Madonnina one day.
“When I first got to Inter there were a lot of fans telling me to change my name. Occasionally I still get people asking me that, but they’re probably joking now. Beforehand I don’t know...”
Despite the derby looming ever larger Skriniar was all smiles at the Pinetina yesterday, looking to deal out as much optimism as possible. The Slovakian is having his best season since arriving in Italy and he wants to continue to do so right until the end to clinch a Champions League spot.
Skriniar, what’s happened to Inter since the draw against Juventus in December?
“For sure we’ve been struggling for a long time, but I couldn’t tell you why: we’re training well but we’re not playing the football we’d want to play.
“We all need to give a bit more, from the beginning to the end of every match.
“We’re a united dressing room but we’re not always 100% focused. It’s time to start showing what we’re made of again.”
Would a win in the derby put an end to your crisis?
“One win isn’t enough on its own because after the derby we’ll play Napoli, Sampdoria and so on, but three points would certainly help us.”
Milan’s victory over you in the Coppa Italia on 27 December was the first in a 13-game unbeaten run they have put together. Are you going to end that run this weekend?
“Yes, I’m certain of it. The derby in the cup gave them a shot in the arm but now things will change: on Sunday we’ll kick-start our season.”
Do you fear Cutrone?
“He’s a good young player with lots of confidence. He’s been scoring in his last few games and strikers who don’t touch the ball much like him are the most dangerous kind, because then they score with their first chance. We’ll have to stay concentrated for every single second to mark him well, no pauses.”
Is it harder to stop him or Insigne?
“For me Insigne. When he has the ball at his feet he really is super.”
Who’s Milan’s key player?
“Icardi scored a hat-trick in the first derby and let’s hope history repeats itself because we need his goals.”
What worries you about Milan?
“The great run of form they’re in. They have a lot of confidence at the moment, more than we do, but we’ll be back in the groove soon.”
Would you agree that you started the season too well and that this created unrealistic expectations for yourselves?
“Maybe. Not even we were expecting to start the season like that, but now we’re fourth in the table and to move back up we’ll have to go back to being the team we were at the start of the year.”
Are you more worried about Roma or Lazio in the race for the top four, or do you think Milan could force their way back in?
“Let’s not forget Sampdoria either, they’re there and they’re not backing down. There are a series of head-to-heads this weekend that will enable us to understand a lot of things.”
Will you leave Inter if they don’t make it into the Champions League?
“The Champions League is important but not decisive for my future, not least because I’m convinced we’ll get there at the end of the season.”
Are you not distracted by all the rumours about big European clubs coming after you?
“I’ve heard and read certain rumours myself, but I’m only focused on our upcoming games: that and training is all I need to think about, not the transfer stories.”
There were a lot of people who weren’t sure about you when you first arrived, not least because Inter had paid €35m to sign you. Your sceptics have all changed their minds now...
“Everyone was saying to me that my price tag was too high. Maybe they think I was worth the money now...”
Did you ever have any doubts over choosing Inter?
“None. I spoke to Ausilio and Spalletti when they were after me and I immediately said I wanted to go to Inter.”
Last season at Sampdoria you and the rest of the team turned a corner when you beat Genoa in the derby.
“That win changed our entire season. Perhaps that will happen again this time. Playing good football doesn’t matter, I want three points.”
Milan are conceding very few goals at the moment, whereas Inter are letting in a bit too many. Why so?
“We’ve been a bit unlucky in defence recently as we’ve been conceding from other teams’ first shots on goal, whereas at the start of the season that wasn’t happening. The important thing now though is to invert the trend.”
Is it harder to play at San Siro at the moment now things aren’t going so well?
“Yes, because at the beginning of the season the fans got used to seeing us win. But we’re happy that even in this difficult period they’re still right by our side.”
What has Spalletti been saying to you all ahead of the derby?
“That we need to do better and give more. What we’ve been giving over the last few weeks is not enough.”
Be honest, did you think you’d be this important for Inter so quickly?
“When I first got here I wanted to help the team, but I didn’t think I’d be this much of a hit straightaway. Having said that, after spending all of pre-season in the starting XI I had kind of... got used to being first choice.”