Emotion, drama, position. You would think it is a set up for a soap opera. But, no, it is merely Derby della Madonnina week and there is a ton riding on Sunday’s match between AC Milan and Inter Milan.
These are two teams who seem to be on different paths. AC Milan has been on a tear and recently passed Inter for third in Serie A. While Inter has had more off-field headlines than on-field ones.
With that in mind, we reached out to Pete Schlenker with AC Milan Offside to get some insight into the Rossoneri leading up to Sunday’s showdown.
SoM: You guys have been on quite a streak of late. What do you see as the main drivers behind that recent success?
PS: There seem to be a couple reasons. First, the addition of both Krzysztof Piatek and Lucas Paquetà in January have been massive. Piatek has added scoring while Paquetà has added flair and creativity to the midfield, allowing the team to go back to a 4-3-3, which is the most successful formation that they’ve employed over the past couple years.
Second, a fit and consistent defense in front of Gigio Donnarumma has done wonders. Tiémoué Bakayoko playing as a DM in front of the back four has also been vital. I’m a big believer that established partnerships in central defense being crucial, and the more that Alessio Romagnoli and Mateo Musacchio have played together, the better both of them have played. Milan’s defensive record is a little overshadowed by the goal scoring, but after going around a quarter of the season without a clean sheet, it’s impressive how the defense has improved.
SoM: There has been a lot of talk about the impact Krzysztof Piatek has had on the club since joining? Do you think that impact will carry over to the future, or will it be more of a flash in the pan?
PS: I think he’s the real deal. He’s already scored some impressive goals while at Milan after tearing up Serie A at Genoa, and he’s not even really settled yet.
SoM: Speaking of offense, the Derby will be a big match-up of what has become a very potent offense for Milan against a strong defense for Inter. What kind of strategy should Milan incorporate to go up against Inter’s back line?
PS: Get the ball to Piatek early and often. Besides that, get the wingers involved and allow Paquetà to get free and use his creativity to break down the defense and open up spaces for other players. And Franck Kessie needs to practice shooting.
SoM: Knowing the lineup issues that could face Inter on Sunday – with Icardi and Nainggolan questionable – do you still view Inter as a threat? Why or why not?
PS: It’s a cliché to say “throw the records out” before a Derby match, but with all of the emotion and intensity of this match, the records really don’t matter. Even saying that, both teams are in the top four of the Serie A table, and while Inter has stumbled recently, these two teams are some of the best teams in Serie A. The winner of this match has the pole position for third place, while they other will get dragged into a fight for the fourth place with Atalanta, Lazio, AS Roma, and Torino. Neither team will want that, as both teams need Champions League money.
SoM: There is a ton of focus on the Milan offense, but what can you say about the defense, especially considering they have pitched eight shutouts in their last 12 matches?
PS: I spoke to it a little earlier, but key players getting fit and a consistent run of the same back four, and especially the same central defender pairing, has been critical. Musacchio and Romagnoli have been playing brilliantly, and Romagnoli has been in some of the best form of his life. Also, the Monaco Bakayoko seems to be back, not the player at Chelsea who looked out of his depth and poor while in the Premier League.
SoM: Speaking of defense, what should the defensive mindset be for Milan in the Derby?
PS: Milan will have to limit chances for Inter and focus on controlling the ball. Even without Mauro Icardi in the lineup, Inter can still score and has greater quality than some of the other teams that Milan have been rolling over the past few weeks.
SoM: Since the crowd for Sunday’s match may not be a huge factor, what will be the biggest factor in the match?
PS: The fitness of Paquetà. He looked, as our English friends would put it, absolutely knackered during Milan’s match against Chievo Verona and was subbed off. The midfield trio of Bakayoko, Kessie and Paquetà have been absolutely key to the team’s revival, along with Piatek. If they are firing on all cylinders, Milan have a very good chance.
SoM: I’m not a huge fan of predictions, but I will ask anyway. How do you think the match will end and how do you see it impacting the rest of the season for Milan?
PS: I’m gonna go 2-0 Milan and this should cement Milan’s third place spot in the table, which they are unlikely to relent and Milan will go back into next year’s Champions League.
What do you think? Post your comments below!