Can Milan close the gap on Mourinho’s Inter?
Will this be the year where Inter Milan’s dominance over the destination of the scudetto finally comes to an end?
If that question had been tabled a few months ago the response would have most likely been one of resigned humour. But at last Leonardo’s Milan side, pilloried earlier in the season as they limped into the campaign, have hit their stride with eight wins in the last nine games.
They remain six points behind Inter but a victory at the San Siro on Sunday and 3 points from their game in hand would draw them level.
Not long ago it seemed as if Juventus would be the team to cause Inter most problems but Ciro Ferrara’s side have capitulated and are currently lying outside the Champions League positions ahead of a crucial home match with Roma on Saturday.
Milan’s resurgence has breathed new life into a league which has suffered in the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal in 2006. They had become something of a joke, particularly in the rest of Europe, for a perceived over reliance on older, seemingly past it players such as Massimo Ambrosini, Andrea Pirlo and the increasingly portly Ronaldinho but Leonardo appears to have reinvigorated them.
Marco Borriello has provided a new alternative in the striking position after Klass Jan Huntelaar failed to impress and David Beckham has settled in comfortably as a right-sided attacker. He may yet have to find an alternative when the influential Pato returns from injury but for now Beckham is once again finding Milan a home from home.
It is Ronaldinho’s return to form however which makes the derby essential viewing. This might not quite be the footballer who drove Barcelona to the 2006 Champions League with a boundless repertoire of tricks and flicks but it as close to it as we have seen since.
He lacks the explosive pace which once took him beyond defenders with ease but given space and time, the magic still spills over. With six goals in his last three games, all eyes will once again be on the Brazilian.
Conversely, Inter’s scratchy form makes the fixture even more mouth watering. Their last two matches read win-draw but could easily be two defeats. They were forced to perform a stunning comeback from 3-2 down with just 2 minutes remaining to beat lowly Siena before repeating the trick to pick up a point at Bari after the hosts had raced into a 2-0 second half lead.
Those results displayed both sides of Inter; the talented side struggling for fluency and form and the tenacious, belligerent team determined to defend their title at all costs.
Mourinho’s side have their problems, most notably an over reliance on the creative influence of Wesley Sneijder, but four consecutive championships speak volumes and they are still firm favourites in the eyes of the bookies at 4/11.
Milan too though have players who know all about winning titles and a victory on Saturday would make for a thrilling title run-in.