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Montella throws down gauntlet for first all-Chinese Milan derby

Milan (AFP) – AC Milan coach Vincenzo Montella has thrown down the gauntlet to Inter Milan as the Serie A giants begin life under new ownership and desperate for victory in the first all-Chinese ‘Derby della Madonnina’.

“Inter have top players, but there’s no need for fear. Physically and mentally, we’re ready to give it everything,” Montella said Thursday hours after Milan joined Inter in being taken over by Chinese investors.

Five months after Inter forward Ivan Perisic hit an extra-time leveller to secure a 2-2 San Siro draw, Montella says the Rossoneri won’t make the same mistake twice.

“We’ve prepared to win this game, but we have keep focus right till the very end. We’re still missing two points from the last derby.”

With leaders Juventus away to struggling Pescara and expected to maintain their six-point lead over Roma, who are at home to Atalanta, the fight for European places takes precedence.

And in a huge international media boost for Milan’s clubs, a city derby with ramifications for their Europa League hopes comes two days after Milan’s long-time owner Silvio Berlusconi sold the seven-time European champions.

In a deal worth 740 million euros ($786 million), the takeover by Chinese consortium Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux ends a 31-year Berlusconi reign which garnered an impressive 29 trophies, including five of their seven Champions League titles.

“It is with a mix of sadness and emotion that I leave the club. I will never forget the emotions I felt,” said Berlusconi, who as the club’s “number one fan” will expect a rousing ovation on Saturday.

Milan are now reduced to fighting for the Europa League, and Inter are direct rivals when a sizeable global audience is likely to be fixed on the San Siro on Saturday at 1130 GMT. 

As hosts, the pressure is all on Stefano Pioli’s Inter side after two successive defeats ended their dwindling hopes of Champions League qualification, and showed that outside investment doesn’t always guarantee automatic success.

After a shock 2-1 reverse at home to Sampdoria came the humiliation of 2-1 defeat at strugglers Crotone, which even dented Inter’s Europa League hopes.

“It’s our duty to do everything we can to win the derby,” said Pioli.

“We’ve had two bad half-matches but we still need to look ahead. The Crotone match is behind us, putting things right in such a big match as the derby would be worth double.”

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri is expected to ring the changes for the visit to Pescara, days after a stunning 3-0 win over Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final left the Turin giants with one foot, at least on paper, in the semi-finals.

It would be hard, though, to deprive fans of the on-form Paulo Dybala, who trumped illustrious compatriot Lionel Messi with a double strike in the opening half in Turin before Giorgio Chiellini’s second-half header.

Amid reports of interest from rival clubs in Europe, Juve moved to scare off potential suitors by adding an extra two years to the exciting 23-year-old playmaker’s existing deal on Thursday, tying him to the club until 2022.

Roma, with a four-point lead on Napoli — their direct rivals for an automatic Champions League spot — can ill afford to slip against a solid Atalanta side boasting a two and four-point lead over Milan and Inter respectively. 

While Roma striker Edin Dzeko looks to pull ahead of Torino’s Andrea Belotti in the race for the the top scorer’s award — both are tied at the top on 24 goals apiece — Atalanta will be no pushover.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s beat Roma 2-1 in Bergamo earlier this season thanks to a second-half winner by Roma target Franck Kessie to take their unbeaten streak over the capital side to four games.

Fixtures (times GMT)


Inter Milan v AC Milan (1130), Cagliari v Chievo, Fiorentina v Empoli, Genoa v Lazio, Palermo v Bologna, Pescara v Juventus, Roma v Atalanta, Torino v Crotone (all 1400), Sassuolo v Sampdoria, Napoli v Udinese (1945)

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