Inter have racked up 19 points out of a possible 21, have the best defence in the league and are going into a big game against an AC Milan team that have lost almost half their matches despite investing over €200 million in the summer window.
With coach Vincenzo Montella under pressure, the Rossoneri have even drawn criticism from former owner Silvio Berlusconi, who timed his usual rant for maximum impact just before the big game. On paper, everything is going in Inter’s favour.
But you won’t find many Nerazzurri looking to this Sunday’s 219th Derby della Madonnina with expectation. It’s hard to be confident ahead of a derby — games which, the tradition goes, are most likely to flip the script and leave sad Interisti reading some awfully cheesy “Milan rise from the ashes” headlines in the Monday papers.
After all, it’s not like Inter are perfect. Their football hasn’t quite shined so far. They’ve played poorly against some low-grade opponents, and were spared when Roma hit the post three times against them in September.
Milan, for their part, have signed some genuinely exciting players. Nikola Kalinic and Lucas Biglia are good enough to send shivers down to the Nerazzurri faithful’s spines, while Leonardo Bonucci is one of the best defenders in the world. Montella is also a genuinely good coach.
What is so remarkable about this particular rivalry is how this game tends to bear out these teams’ weaknesses: neither could win last season because they were incapable of defending and/or holding on to a lead.
Inter’s failure to beat Milan from 2001 to 2005 owed to the fact that Carlo Ancelotti’s men were more talented and more organized. By the same token, Jose Mourinho won almost all of his rivalry games because his side were obviously superior.
There is no doubt that this Inter side is better. Unlike Roberto Mancini, Luciano Spalletti is building something, not just improvising week by week, and the poor play seen so far is an attempt at focusing on long-term results.
Matias Vecino is an excellent signing and someone capable of bossing the midfield and spreading it around with aplomb.
Despite all the impressive signings, this Rossoneri team really is a mix of random talents fitted into an awkward 3-5-2. The idea of Mauro Icardi facing off against a very unconvincing Bonucci is an ominous one for Milan while Suso and Giacomo Bonaventura have been effectively pigeonholed into roles that don’t suit them. Meanwhile, Fabio Borini is starting as a wing-back. At Inter, you have an improved midfield, Ivan Perisic and the beast that is Milan Skriniar.
Inter aren’t just better on paper. They’re better full stop. They’re not the team undergoing an extreme makeover.
This derby shouldn’t be a contest … should it?