On Sunday evening AC Milan and Inter will face each other in what is arguably the most decisive Derby della Madonnina in years as they could be fighting for the fourth and final Champions League place available to Italian clubs for 2018/19.
The two Milanese clubs go into the Milan Derby with contrasting fortunes of late with the Rossoneri having much better form and confidence than the Nerazzurri. A mid-week Coppa Italia semi-final against Lazio might affect their fitness levels but the penalty shoot-out victory will only boost their belief prior to the match.
Inter are fourth in the Serie A table with 51 points after 26 points and Milan share sixth place with Sampdoria on 44 points but the Rossoneri are closing that points gap between themselves and their city rivals.
Recent league form clearly favours the Diavolo, who have won six out of their last 10 matches, scored 14 goals and conceded nine. The Biscione have struggled since the turn of the year, having won just two of their last 10 league fixtures, scoring just nine goals in that time and conceding on 11 occasions.
The Rossoneri have not lost a game in 2018 while the Nerazzurri have only won two Serie A matches since December 2017, which were at home to humble opponents Bologna and Benevento.
Although Inter were on top of the Serie A tables in the early stages of the 2017-18 season, their performances were not convincing and now they are struggling to obtain results. Coach Luciano Spalletti has persisted with his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation but the team is lacking in cohesion and creativity.
Muscular injuries have sidelined centre-back Miranda and striker Mauro Icardi in recent weeks but wingers Antonio Candreva and Ivan Perisic have been completely out of form, Roberto Gagliardini is not playing to his full potential, and Borja Valero is probably not impacting on matches like he should by playing in a more advanced midfield role than what he is accustomed to.
With their commitments in the Coppa Italia and Europa League, Milan are showing that they can juggle three competitions whereas Inter are struggling to remain competitive in one.
Since Milan sacked Vincenzo Montella as coach and replaced him with Gennaro Gattuso, they are playing with greater organisation, discipline, and intensity. Before Gattuso was appointed, there was a lot of reliance on Suso to create chances and score goals but now there is more fluidity in their play and more players are making vital contributions to the team’s performance.
Leonardo Bonucci is finally martialling the defence, Giacomo Bonaventura and Hakan Calhanoglu are providing extra creativity, and youth academy graduates such as Patrick Cutrone and Davide Calabria are adapting to senior football.
Derbies are often matches in which the form guide can often be thrown out the window because of the extra motivation and desires of the two teams. If recent form is anything to go by, Milan can maintain their resurgence under Gattuso and narrow the seven-point gap behind Inter.
Bragging rights in the city won’t be the only thing at stake in the up-and-coming derby because this will be a chance for one of the Milanese giants to make a return to the most prestigious club competition in the world.