The Derby della Madonnina is renowned as one of the most fiercely contested and dramatic rivalries in football history, but it’s gone up a whole other level this season.
While never lacking in passion or history, there has been an undeniable lull in its significance on Serie A as a whole, and in the race for the scudetto. That couldn’t be further from the truth this year, though.
The league trophy seems destined to be returning to San Siro in 2021, after a nine-year vacation in Turin. With Juventus not quite looking like the Juventus we’ve grown accustomed to over the past decade, a Milano one-two has opened up at the top of the table.
And that recipe has already led to two of the most pulsating and engrossing derbies in recent history taking place thus far. The first saw Milan lay down a marker to the rest of the country in October, announcing their intentions to remain in the title race for the long haul with a 2-1 victory over their enemies.
Inter then reciprocated the favour at the end of January, knocking I Rossoneri out of the Coppa Italia by the same scoreline to reclaim the city’s bragging rights, and plant a seed of doubt into the then-league leaders’ minds.
That battle also bore witness to a bitter feud between top scorers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku, as bad blood spewed onto the pitch, and cutting insults audibly tumbled out of the stars’ mouths. It was ugly and made for uncomfortable viewing – yet no one could avert their gaze.
And all of that has culminated in the football world waiting with bated breath for round three of this derby, which will unfold before our very eyes on Sunday afternoon. The narrative is much changed from their first meeting, with Inter now sitting pretty at the top of Serie A, with the chance of opening up a four-point gap on their rivals by the weekend’s close.
Antonio Conte has got his side firing in recent weeks, and the 3-1 victory over SS Lazio offered up a performance of champions. The coach possesses a genuine champion at the heart of his midfield in Nicolo Barella, and the Italian superstar will be pivotal to their success, as he was in the huge win over Juve.
All eyes will be on strike partners Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, and just how Milan can nullify them, after they both found the net against le Aquile. The Belgian was particularly impressive in that fixture, running the defence ragged with his power and clinical finishing.
Alessio Romagnoli and Simon Kjaer will have to be at their very, very best to stop the devastating duo, and they’ll be hoping midfield creator Hakan Calhanoglu will take the pressure off them by carving out some good goalscoring opportunities for his forwards.
Among the attackers is Ibrahimovic.
The Swede will be desperate to get revenge over Lukaku and Inter, after it was his red card that ultimately cost them dearly against I Nerazzurri in the Coppa Italia. Stefano Pioli’s men lost their place at the top of the table after a shock 2-0 defeat to Spezia last weekend, and just how they react to such a psychological blow will come under close scrutiny.
Whatever happens, there promises to be fireworks from start to finish, with the fiery Conte, Ibra and Lukaku at the centre of proceedings.
Both sides know that this may be the best chance they’ll be handed to reclaim the Serie A throne – but they’ll both be painfully aware that only one of them will end the season with the crown resting on their heads.
And come the end of May, which team will look back on February 21 as the moment the trophy slipped from their grasp, and which will remember that derby as the day they took a gigantic step towards becoming champions of Italy?
We’ll find out soon enough.