Early derby brings season’s first test to Milan’s new look giants

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“Disappointing.” “Frustrating.” “Dire.” Not words that would recommend the Derby della Madonnina, yet the writers keep trying. Perhaps it’s nostalgia that keeps us telling everyone to tune into this showcase feature between Inter and Milan – we long for the days that featured not just a plethora of goals, but those good ol’ games filled with frenetic energy and steely determination, with sneaky elbows and multiple sendings-off, with Inter’s Marco Materazzi donning a mask of Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi simply to ruffle a few more feathers.

Yes, it’s been difficult for us writers over the past few years. As the fortunes of both Inter and Milan fell, so too did the displays on the field. The teams’ most recent meeting back in April resulted in a dreary goalless draw, the first time a goal hadn’t been scored in over a decade. There were a plethora of fouls, to be sure, but even then the players’ hearts just didn’t seem to be in them. Both sides looked like they were waiting for better days to return.

So, too, are we writers, if only so we can stop predicting the renaissance of the Milan sides in season previews. But surely this time the tides have turned. Surely this weekend is the weekend we see a decent Derby once more. Surely this year is the year both Inter and Milan challenge for Italy’s top three.

Milan, who won the scudetto in 2010-11 yet finished 10th last season, has given us reason to think they’re finally serious about returning to the top of the food chain. Rather than appoint yet another inexperienced rossoneri icon to the bench, the club followed up the short tenures of Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi by bringing in Siniša Mihajlović, who’d steered a disciplined Sampdoria side away from relegation in 2014 and into seventh  last season.

Discipline was something sorely lacking in last season’s Milan side, who seemed to fall apart with every set piece. But investment, too, was missing, with the club sniffing around for the cheapest available players rather than seeking out talents to fill the squad’s holes.

But this summer, Milan’s reported to have spent €100 million, including an astonishing €25 million for young defender Alessio Romagnoli, €30 million for Carlos Bacca and the 20 goals he scored for Sevilla last season, and €20 million for central midfielder Andrea Bertolacci. Trouble is, Milan seem to be spending without considering just what issues need to be resolved.

SEE MORE: Why Juve fans should (or, shout not) be worried about their team’s start?

Luiz Adriano and Mario Balotelli were brought in as well, making the rossoneri look decidedly top-heavy. Meanwhile, talented as he might be, Romagnoli can’t prop up the defense all on his own. Bertolacci has looked unworthy of his high price thus far, and picking up Juraj Kucka, more a workhorse than a true creator, leaves Milan still lacking balance in the center of the pitch.

It feels as though Milan spent money simply because it was there, rather than formulating a concrete plan to help the club return to its glory days. Rivals Inter, on the other hand, spent their summer landing targets specifically geared toward creating a team that can challenge for the scudetto.

Watching Inter over their first two games, both narrow victories, it’s easy to be skeptical about their title chances. Milan went for the shine with their summer spending, while Inter forked over the cash for Geoffrey Kondogbia, a defensive midfielder bought from Monaco for an eye-watering €30 million. Meanwhile, Mateo Kovačić, by far the most creative player in the nerazzurri side, went to Real Madrid, and Inter let their last scrap of imagination go when Hernanes moved to Juventus.

SEE MORE: beIN to send Ray Hudson to select Serie A matches this season.

That, however, is how Roberto Mancini operates. Premier League fans may shudder to remember Mancini’s first season in charge at Manchester City, when more often than not the team tortuously ground out its results, and even though the Citizens recorded some impressive blowouts when winning the title in 2011-12, that was more of a result of the collection of world-class talent in the side than it was a considered decision by Mancini to encourage a free-flowing attack.

It’s reasonable to wonder, then, how new additions Stevan Jovetić and Adem Ljajić might hope to display the same sort of numbers they saw when playing together at Fiorentina, considering that when with the viola, a surplus of creativity lay behind them. Jovetić has already scored all three of Inter’s goals, but the attack looks ponderous, and it remains to be seen whether success will come when not playing Carpi or Atalanta, the former freshly promoted and the latter having narrowly escaped relegation last season.

This Sunday’s Milan Derby, then, is Inter’s first chance to really show that they’re prepared to make a title challenge. Milan may not still be world-beaters, but their fresh influx of talent makes them a more formidable opponent. It may be only the third week of the season, but if Inter fail to win, suddenly everyone starts wondering if the problems plaguing the club since José Mourinho walked away after the treble-winning 2010 season have really been resolved.

Which at least means we writers don’t have to fabricate reasons to encourage people to watch this match – no more insisting the “passion on the pitch” is enough. This early meeting of the Milan clubs gives us a chance to judge whether Mancini’s new-look Inter is really in the title conversation, while also seeing if the skepticism over Milan’s big money talent is warranted.

And yeah, there probably will still be cards. There’s even a chance that the likes of Philippe Mexes and Felipe Melo might end up being sent off without even seeing the pitch, which would at least be a laugh, if once again a writer’s prediction of a meaningful Derby della Madonnina fails to come true.

 

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