Derby della Madonnina returns to the UEFA Champions League for a third time in UEFA club competition. AC Milan got the better of Inter in the last two meetings, in the 2002/03 semi-finals and 2004/05 quarter-finals, but plenty of water has passed under the bridge since then. Both affairs were just as fiery as one would expect. The fireworks incident involving AC Milan’s Dida being struck was definitely a moment that many will not forget.
Both Milan teams have experienced somewhat of a resurgence in the last couple of years but still are far from what they used to be. However, it must be stated that even if you are not a fan of either team, it is nice to see two teams with so much history in this tournament return to this stage.
AC Milan were Champions in 2021/22 seasons after a massive 11 years, there was a time this was unthinkable for fans from the red side of Milan. Inter were the Champions in the 2020-2021 season just the year before and even though they are in quite a financial crisis and erratic form, the team has managed to get it right in the Champions League and seems to be hitting form at the right time in Serie A.
Stefano Pioli’s Milan won their first derby meeting of the campaign, 3-2 in September, but have lost twice since 3-0 in the Italian Super Cup in January and then 1-0 in February in Serie A. The notable goal scorers in this fixture for Inter are both Lautaro Martínez and Edin Džeko, who have both scored twice against the Rossoneri this season.
INTER MILAN CAMPAIGN SO FAR:
They managed to qualify from a strong group also including Bayern and Barcelona and have now reached the semi-finals after eliminating Portuguese powerhouses Porto and Benfica. They have put in four solid knockout stage performances, keeping three clean sheets thanks in large part to a series of fine saves from André Onana. As stated previously Izaghi and his men have been highly inconsistent in Serie A this season but seem to be hitting a nice run of form domestically and it will serve well in terms of confidence heading into this tie.
How do Inter play?
Simeone Inzaghi’s team uses the 3-5-2 system. Even though technically his predecessor used the same formation, the approach is very different. The wing-backs are required to cover the entire flank as expected. Both wingbacks are often rotated in games with Matteo Darmian and Robin Gosens good alternative options to Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco. The signings of Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have given different solutions in midfield for Inter. One of the midfielders takes up the deep-lying playmaker role with the other 2 in more advanced roles. It seems when fit, Hakan is now preferred the choice to Marcelo Brozović for this role. The two other advanced midfielders usually Nicolò Barella and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are given more responsibility to attack, create, press and support the attackers. It seems in recent weeks that Romelu Lukaku is slowly starting to look close to his old self and reigniting the beloved ‘Lu-La’ combination from the past. Inter is a team that is definitely a team that thrives on the counterattack but when required are capable of taking initiative and dominating possession. The attacking play can be breathtaking at times but what has hurt Inter was the lack of finishing, something that they seemed to have rediscovered. Inter can lock things down if required or attack and take initiative depending on the needs of the day. This makes them quite a tricky team to play against.
Key player: Lautaro Martínez
This is quite difficult but the man nicknamed ‘The Bull’, Martínez has been the most consistent performer for a team that has been inconsistent this season. He ended the 2021/22 campaign with 25 goals in 49 appearances across all competitions, his best tally since arriving from Racing Club in 2018. Lautaro’s other attributes is what makes him a truly invaluable player for Inter. His off-the-ball play, aggression in pressing and ability to drop deep when required to contribute to attacking play is very crucial. He has his moments where may not be as clinical as one would want him to be but when he is on form he contributes all the previously mentioned attributes plus a grit that Inter sorely needed when they were struggling to get wins. While Inter has many players who are game-changers ‘El Toro’ has shown to be the most consistent.
MILAN CAMPAIGN SO FAR:
Pioli’s Milan did have to struggle a bit, especially against Chelsea in the group stages but eventually comfortably secured second spot and a place in the round of 16. The Rossoneri even though they seemed to struggle at times seemed to have also gone up a gear in the knockout stages, succeeding in eliminating Tottenham and an in-form Napoli, defensively conceding only once in those four games. The ability to manage both legs against a very potent Napoli, a team that many had as favourites was quite impressive. Their form in Serie A is also like Inter’s quite inconsistent but they seem to get the decisions right in the Champions League.
How do AC Milan play?
Stefano Pioli has built a tactically flexible side with a strong attacking mentality. Milan tends to use the 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-2-1 systems, with attacking full-backs, dynamic midfielders and when they attack use three or four attacking players. The combination that has been quite effective is that of Rafael Leão and Theo Hernández on the left, the defenders are quick and tend to press higher to try to get the ball forward quicker. This may sometimes leave them at times vulnerable to counter attacks it comes with the territory when you play this type of system. They have shown, in particular against Napoli, how if required in typical Italian fashion they can keep things very tight at the back and pick teams off, perhaps at the cost of some offensive capabilities. It is precisely this type of flexibility that has allowed them to be able to navigate a tough Champions League campaign to get where they are now.
Key player: Rafael Leão
This is quite difficult to choose between Maignan and Leão, but the star Portuguese forward is quite an amazing and lethal player. In many matches, he is proving to be quite crucial in the outcome of games. He is fast, has excellent technical ability and is able to conjure up individual moments of brilliance that you often need to get the breakthrough in difficult ties at this level. If given space and time, he can hurt any opposition to devastating effect.
Milan: Maignan; Calabria, Kjær, Tomori, Hernández; Tonali, Krunić; Brahim Díaz, Bennacer, Rafael Leão; Giroud
Inter*: Onana; Darmian, Acerbi, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Brozović, Mkhitaryan, Dimarco; Martínez, Džeko
Form (all competitions, most recent first): DDWDDW
Where they stand: 6th in Serie A
Form (all competitions, most recent first): WWWWDL
Where they stand: 4th in Serie A, Coppa Italia final
A lot has happened since both teams last met. Even though Inter came out 3-0 winners, it seems both teams have had inconsistent form in the domestic leagues but Inter seem to be hitting a nice run of form at the right time. Even though AC Milan are 7-time winners, it is hardly a guarantee of victory and the first leg of this affair will be a very cagey one between two very tactically astute coaches. Inter Milan traditionally is a hard team to predict because they can be absolutely brilliant one day and extremely poor in others. However, the scale of the game may give Inzaghi and his men the narrow edge they need. While both teams are tactically sound and have great individuals, Inter arguably has the better in-form squad at the moment and may edge Milan in the first leg. Both teams will be facing tough fixtures before this massive matchup against Roma and Lazio respectively and it will definitely require some clever rotation and management by both coaches as they head into this massive tie.
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