After Inter stormed to a two-goal lead in the clubs’ Champions League semi-final clash, the fifth and final Derby della Madonnina of the season decides whether it will be the Nerazzurri or Rossoneri half of Italy’s second city that journeys on to next month’s final.
INTER PEAK AT THE RIGHT TIME
Peaking at precisely the right time, after a season littered with Serie A shortcomings, Inter put one foot in the C final by battering their old foes during a whirlwind first-half last Wednesday, when Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan turned back the clock to give the Nerazzurri a dream start.
The ex-Roma pair both struck within 11 minutes of the first whistle, and the first Milan derby to be held in Europe’s top club competition for 18 years was always going Inter’s way thereafter: Simone Inzaghi‘s side have now beaten their Rossoneri rivals three times this season, following earlier wins in the league and Supercoppa Italiana.
Remaining resilient throughout their run to this stage – in stark contrast to a record of 11 league defeats so far this season – Inter have yet to trail at any point in the knockout phase; keeping a clean sheet in four of five games.
PRECIPICE OF 6TH CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
Now on the precipice of a sixth European Cup or Champions League final – and the club’s first since 2010 – the Nerazzurri are within 90 minutes of taking their place in next month’s showpiece – Manchester City or holders Real Madrid will await in Istanbul, if they can hold their nerve.
The form book suggests that should be the case, as Milan have continued dropping points domestically and now trail Inter by five in the Serie A standings, while Inzaghi’s men have found top form and will kick off the second leg on the back of a seven-match winning run.
With all their vast experience and the recent resurgence of Romelu Lukaku aiding their cause – the Belgian striker scored twice in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Sassuolo – they will surely expect to progress in front of a mostly blue-and-black crowd at the teams’ shared San Siro home.
AC MILAN’S PSYCHOLOGICAL BURDEN
Heightening their psychological burden ahead of the second leg, Milan have now lost their last three games against Inter without scoring a single goal – despite attempting 31 shots in total.
The seven-time European champions have never before gone four in a row without finding the net against the Nerazzurri, and such a sequence simply cannot continue if they are to salvage something from the clubs’ semi-final tie.
The thinness of Pioli’s squad was exposed again at Stadio Picco, as a much-changed side hampered by several injuries were humbled by the Serie A strugglers; leaving Milan four points adrift of the top four with just three games to play.
After deposing Inter as Italian champions last year, they recently passed the Scudetto on to their Champions League quarter-final victims Napoli, and hopes of a first European title since 2007 now hang by a thread heading into another clash between two kings of Calcio.
ABSENTEES & INJURIES
Having made a number of changes at the weekend – to preserve his star men for Tuesday’s defining derby – Inter coach Simone Inzaghi will recall players including Lautaro Martinez, Denzel Dumfries and Andre Onana against Milan.
Milan, meanwhile, are dealing with a potentially lengthy absence list, as Junior Messias, Rade Krunic and Ismael Bennacer – whose season has now been ended by a knee injury – all joined star man Rafael Leao in missing the trip to La Spezia.
As the Rossoneri’s hopes of reaching the final could hinge on Leao’s availability in midweek, he will be given every chance to recover; Alexis Saelemaekers is likely to deputise if the Portugal forward fails to pass a fitness test. Olivier Giroud returns up front, meaning demotion to the bench for Divock Origi.
Full to the brim with confidence and knockout-football nous, Inter’s depths of talent are also more substantial than Milan’s – the first leg demonstrated that much very clearly – so the Nerazzurri are set to march past their Rossoneri rivals and into the Champions League final.
Inter Milan possible starting lineup:
Onana; Darmian, Acerbi, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Calhanoglu, Mkhitaryan, Dimarco; Martinez, Dzeko
AC Milan possible starting lineup:
Maignan; Calabria, Tomori, Thiaw, Hernandez; Tonali, Pobega; Diaz, Krunic, Saelemaekers; Giroud
Barcelona is Messi’s home -Joan Laporta
Barcelona president Joan Laporta says the club is Messi’s “home” as they look to re-sign the forward this summer.
The Argentine’s contract at Paris St-Germain expires in June, with reports linking him to Saudi Arabia.
But in an interview with Spanish broadcaster TV3, Laporta said Barcelona can compete with anyone for the 35-year-old’s signature.
“History backs us, the feelings are too strong, we have 400 million fans around the world too,” he said.
Messi left the Catalan giants two years ago after 21 years at the club but has struggled during his two seasons in France, with fans booing him after their 5-0 win over Ajaccio at the weekend.
Laporta said there had been an “affectionate conversation” between the two and that he congratulated Messi on winning the World Cup in Qatar last year.
“He is a Paris St-Germain player and we have to wait until the end of the season, until it is over, and then we can talk more calmly about this,” Laporta added.
“With all due respect to Saudi Arabia, Barca is Barca, and it is home.”
The comments come after Barcelona won their first La Liga title in four years with a 4-2 win over Espanyol on Sunday.
Laporta appeared to be more reserved than during a late night Twitch stream after the win, on which he is reported to have said the club would do “everything possible” to sign Messi.