AC Milan face off with fierce rivals Inter Milan at the San Siro this Thursday, for the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final.
Both teams are presently engaged in an intense battle for the top spot in the Serie A, with only 2 points separating them.
With thoughts of the Scudetto race momentarily on hold, both Milanese giants now turn their thoughts towards chasing Coppa Italia glory, after a prolonged barren spell for Italy’s second city in the competition.
While Inter have not lifted the cup for over a decade, and still dream of a first domestic double since the Jose Mourinho era, AC Milan’s drought goes back further – to 2003, when Andriy Shevchenko and Rivaldo were among the scorers in their final win over Roma.
It was AC Milan that emerged victors in the last meeting between the two, with a dramatic 2-1 comeback win just a few weeks ago, where Olivier Giroud stole the points with a late brace – and they are still marginally ahead in the Serie A pecking order after last Friday’s events.
Having seen Inter beaten by Sassuolo after they had drawn at rock-bottom Salernitana a week previously, Stefano Pioli’s side again slipped up in the opening game of the weekend – being held 1-1 at home by lowly Udinese. They retained their slim points advantage, though, as their rivals were unable to see off another struggling side – 19th-placed Genoa.
Unlike their rivals Inter, AC Milan have been knocked out of the Champions League after only managing a measly 4 points from the group stages, and now turn their attention to the domestic cup as they aim to win the domestic double.
The five-times cup winners have lost only two of their last 18 home games in the competition – though, of course, such an advantage counts for far less when encountering Inter in the Derby.
After three successive exits in the last eight, Inter have now progressed from their last two Coppa Italia quarter-finals following victory over Roma in the previous round.
However, that 2-0 victory over former boss Mourinho’s current side remains their most recent, as Simone Inzaghi has seen his team draw two and lose two of their past four outings.
In fact, starting with coming unstuck in the final stages against Milan at the start of February, Inter have won just once in six games – being beaten at home by Champions League opponents Liverpool and mid-table Serie A side Sassuolo, while taking a point home from trips to title rivals Napoli and lowly Genoa.
The Nerazzurri still have a game in hand on their fellow Scudetto hopefuls, though, and could yet go one better than last year’s long-awaited championship triumph by going on to claim a domestic double in spite of Milan’s best efforts to stop them.
Now at the only stage of the Coppa to be played over two legs, the competition still retains the away goals rule until next term, so Inzaghi will be keen to earn an advantage this week by scoring at least once in Tuesday’s ‘away’ leg.
Stefano Pioli has a number of selection issues to resolve ahead of this latest Derby against his former club, as the Coppa Italia’s joint-top scorer this term, Olivier Giroud, has been continuously leading the line for Milan in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s ongoing absence and may need a rest.
‘Ibra’ – another ex-Inter man – is still short of fitness after several weeks on the sidelines with an Achilles problem so is set to miss out again, but in-form forward Rafael Leao may be asked to deputise through the middle instead; offering Giroud a breather.
Due to suspension, midfield mainstay Sandro Tonali will be missing from the Rossoneri’s lineup on Tuesday, so Ismael Bennacer will take his place after returning from a one-match Serie A ban. Meanwhile, Franck Kessie and Rade Krunic are expected to contend with Brahim Diaz to start in a more advanced position.
After resting Lautaro Martinez and Milan Skriniar on Friday, Inter coach Simone Inzaghi is likely to bring both back into the side this week, and after welcoming back Matias Vecino from injury last week, can now also call upon January signing Robin Gosens.
The latter signed on loan from Atalanta despite being sidelined since September, but is now finally ready to make his debut. The German wing-back could even do so from the start; taking Ivan Perisic’s long-held spot on the left.
Up front, Martinez is suffering his worst Serie A drought in over two years – going goalless in his last eight league outings after Friday’s stalemate at Genoa. Nonetheless, the Argentina striker will battle it out with Alexis Sanchez and Edin Dzeko for a place in the front two, while fellow forward Joaquin Correa is not expected to complete his return from injury until the weekend.
Both teams have had decent showings in their respective 2021-2022 campaigns. That being said, Inter Milan has been on unstable ground recently, more so than AC Milan.
Coupled with AC Milan’s exit from the Champions League, we could be seeing a more determined AC Milan go up against Inter who have more on their plate to deal with.
We predict another 2-1 victory for AC Milan.