The 19-point gap between Milan and Inter in the Serie A table ahead of this weekend says it all, as we’ll have to produce a top performance in the Derby della Madonnina.
While our rivals are chasing a Scudetto this year and could go level at the top if they win, we continue to try and claw our way back into the scrap for fourth place.
SEE MORE: Three crucial decisions Pioli must make as Milan prepare to face Inter
After Atalanta’s win on Saturday, the gap is back to 10 points, and so we can ill-afford a slip up this weekend which in turn would see us lose further ground.
The table doesn’t lie, and so it would suggest that Inter have more quality than us. However, there are specific battles in this showdown which could determine the outcome.
Probable Milan XI (MilanNews): 4-4-1-1; Donnarumma; Conti, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Theo; Castillejo, Kessie, Bennacer, Rebic; Calhanoglu; Ibrahimovic.
Probable Inter XI (La Gazzetta dello Sport) 3-4-1-2; Padelli; Godin, De Vrij, Skriniar; Moses, Barella, Brozovic, Young; Eriksen; Sanchez, Lukaku.
Lukaku vs Kjaer
The expectation is that Simon Kjaer will get the nod ahead of Mateo Musacchio, and while Alessio Romagnoli will of course have a big role to play too, it points towards a physical battle between Kjaer and Romelu Lukaku for the most part.
Lautaro Martinez’s absence is a big boost as his link up play with the Belgian would have been a problem, but Alexis Sanchez will still be a potential headache.
Nevertheless, whether it’s marking on set pieces, disrupting his ability to hold the ball up to link up play or simply being outmuscled and outworked off the ball, Kjaer needs to stand up to the challenge from Lukaku and not allow Inter’s talisman to boss our backline around.
If he does, not only will he be a threat himself, but others around him will benefit and be brought into the game and our defence could have a torrid time.
Conti vs Young
Milan have continued to look vulnerable at right-back regardless of personnel changes, with both Davide Calabria and Andrea Conti struggling defensively.
If we leave them exposed again on Sunday, it’s only natural that a quality operator like Antonio Conte will identify it and take advantage.
Whether it’s Calabria or Conti and if it’s Ashley Young providing width down Inter’s left flank and getting help from elsewhere, Milan must shut up shop on that side of the pitch and not allow it to continue to be a clear weakness.
Eriksen vs Kessie
There’s still some uncertainty over the exact role Christian Eriksen will have, but with his ability to pull the strings and create for the frontmen, Milan have to cut that line of supply off.
The responsibility of doing that could primarily fall on Franck Kessie, and so while he continues to fall short in terms of what he offers going forward, we need a solid defensive shift from him.
Eriksen isn’t the only threat in that department we have to be concerned with, but if Kessie can shackle him and allow Ismael Bennacer to focus more on his quality in possession rather than chasing down Inter’s midfield all night, it could be pivotal in swaying the game in our favour.
Hernandez vs Moses
Theo Hernandez has been off it slightly in recent outings, but given how influential and impressive he was, it’s to be expected that he’ll experience a drop off.
Nevertheless, in this particular encounter we need him to create problems for Inter going forward and so whether it’s Victor Moses or Antonio Candreva, our marauding left-back must pin them back, provide us with width and break in behind where possible.
With Ibrahimovic expected to be deployed up top on his own, we’ll need the deliveries from out wide to give him something to feed off, and that’s where Hernandez has been effective when he’s not too busy scoring goals.
Ibrahimovic vs Inter back three
This will be fundamental to our hopes to breaking Inter down and posing them a genuine threat throughout the game.
If Ibrahimovic is up top alone, he’ll have plenty of attention. In turn, his first touch, his first pass and ability to use his physical presence and technical quality will be vital to our build up play.
That said, this isn’t a battle he’s going to win alone. We need the likes of Hakan Calhanoglu, Samu Castillejo and Ante Rebic, assuming they all start as touted above, to feed off the scraps that he provides with his layoffs and knock downs, and only then can we really worry Inter enough to make them respect the threat that we carry.