Vincenzo Montella will be in the firing line as AC Milan look to kick-start their season against city rivals Inter in the highly-anticipated derby of the Chinese-owned sides on Sunday.
The clash takes on even more significance as both teams are now under Chinese ownership — Inter on the payroll of the Suning Group and Milan, the Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux Group.
The last time the two Milan giants clashed in the Derby della Madonnina was back on April 15, after Li Yonghong completed his takeover of AC Milan to put both city sides under Chinese ownership.
It was a dramatic game with Cristian Zapata’s equaliser deep into injury time grabbing a crucial point, which kept Milan in the running for a Europa League spot.
Both teams — who share the San Siro Stadium on the western outskirts of Italy’s industrial and financial capital — have seen their fortunes decline in recent years.
But for the new Asian owners it’s payback time on their multi-million euro investments with Milan’s last Serie A title in 2011 and Inter hitting a barren run since the 2010 treble.
While unbeaten Inter are riding high just two points behind leaders Napoli after seven games this campaign, Montella’s side have already notched up three losses, most recently at home to Roma two weeks ago.
After the international break the next three weeks will be make or break for Montella with seven games on the trot including Juventus on October 28 and Europa League action against AEK Athens.
“The derby is fundamental,” warned coach Montella as Milan look to close a seven-point gap on Luciano Spalletti’s side. “We need to win by any means, with a convincing performance would be better but it would also be alright even with an own goal.
“We need to be more cunning than against Roma.”
– ‘Stamp mark’ –
Inter Milan midfielder Antonio Candreva — who scored the crucial goal in Italy’s World Cup qualifying win in Albania — believes he can again make the difference.
“I hope I can score a decisive goal this time,” said Candreva, who scored a brace in last season’s derby fixture.
“Goals scored with the national teams can give us confidence, but are now forgotten.
“We know it’s an important game, and are preparing for it as such. We want to stamp our mark on the championship starting with this important match to keep Milan at bay.”
Leaders Napoli travel to Roma and champions Juventus host Lazio on Saturday before next week’s Champions League fixtures in Europe.
Napoli have a maximum 21 points from seven games with Roma six points adrift but with a game in hand.
“It’s a direct clash for the top places,” said Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini of the duel between last season’s second and third-place sides at the Stadio Olimpico.
Pellegrini missed Italy duty with Macedonia and Albania, but returns this weekend.
“I’ve been fine for the past few days, I’ve been back with the group and the pain has disappeared. I’m ready for Saturday.”
Despite Napoli’s charge this season, Juventus’s new French recruit Blaise Matuidi believes the Turin side will have the staying power once again.
“I’m not surprised to see Napoli so high, they’re getting better. They will stay with us until the end, but the season is long and I’m sure that Juventus will eventually win the title.”
In mid-table clashes, Fiorentina host Udinese, just one place below them in 12th, as SPAL travel to Bologna and Crotone host Torino.
Cagliari host Genoa in Sardinia while Benevento travel to Verona, with both teams still looking for their first three points of the season.
Fixtures (all times 1300GMT unless stated)
Juventus v Lazio (1600), Roma v Napoli (1845)
Fiorentina v Udinese (1030); Bologna v SPAL; Crotone v Torino; Sampdoria v Atalanta; Cagliari v Genoa; Sassuolo v Chievo; Inter Milan v AC Milan (1845)
Verona v Benevento (1845)