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Outside of the Romaverse: Milan Derby Could Have a Big Say in Scudetto Race

Matchday 12 is highlighted by the clash at the San Siro, which could have a lasting impact on the top of the table.

FC Internazionale v AC Milan - Coppa Italia Photo by Claudio Villa - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

In the Romaverse we often talk about the importance of head-to-head battles with the other seven sisters of calcio. Those matches usually have a big say in the race for Champions League places. And unfortunately for Paulo Fonseca, his two-year reign as manager was defined by dropped points (and mostly losses) at the hands of the other big sides on the peninsula.

José Mourinho was brought in to help remedy Roma’s ills against those sides by instilling a winning pedigree and mental toughness. And while the Giallorossi put in strong shifts against Juventus and Napoli, they only managed one out of nine points in a brutal three-weekend stretch that ended with a loss to Milan. That means that Mourinho’s Roma now has just one out of a possible 12 against its direct rivals so far.

Nevertheless, even though the Giallorossi have left something to be desired in its four head to heads, Roma has been pretty good in its other seven matches, collecting 18 of 21 points. Couple that with mixed results from some of the other Champions League challenges, and the Giallorossi are still joint fourth with Atalanta.

At this point, it looks like Milan, Napoli, and Inter may be a cut above the competition as they increase their lead in the top three with each passing week. However, the Giallorossi have shown no reason why they can’t compete with the likes of Lazio, Juve, and Atalanta for a top-four spot. That being said, Roma needs to continue its fine form against the lesser sides in the league. This weekend the Giallorossi start a manageable stretch up in Venezia early on Sunday morning (6:30 EST/12:30 CET).

Meanwhile, there is one big head-to-head among the top sides and a couple of the other challengers have tricky fixtures. So, read on as we peruse the peninsula and see where Roma could take advantage if she collects all three points in the Serenissima.

Perusing the Peninsula: Matchday 12 Previews

The Best Non-Roma Match

FC Internazionale v AC Milan - Coppa Italia Photo by Claudio Villa - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

AC Milan vs Inter Milan Sunday 2:45 EST/20:45 CET

All eyes will be on the San Siro on Sunday night in Milan. This one should be a doozie as the two Milan-based clubs have lost just one match between them this Serie A campaign. Milan enters level with Napoli on 31 points, having only dropped points in a draw with Juve.

This is the first time the Rossoneri have won ten of their first eleven matches to open a campaign, and they’ve done so while winning seven straight. The last time they won eight on the trot was back in September 2006 under Carlo Ancelotti.

Meanwhile, Inter sits seven behind its city rivals in the table (7-3-1). This is the first time since November 2016 that Milan has had such a large lead on the table entering a derby.

This match could go a long way in determining if Simone Inzaghi’s side has what it takes to potentially repeat as champions. A win would see Inter pull within four points of AC Milan, while a Rossoneri win would put Inter 10 points behind league-leading Napoli, so there's a lot riding on this derby, even if we're only a third of the way through the season.

The Nerazzurri have had the best of Milan in five of their last six league meetings, scoring 14 times and conceding just six. And the last three “home” matches for Milan have seen Inter emerge victorious. If the Nerazzurri can repeat that feat then it would be the first time since 1929-1934 that they’ve won four straight as the road team.

With so much riding on this one, we turned to two experts to give us their take on the match.

Inter Match Keys to Victory Courtesy of Anthony Privatera (Inter Worldwide)

Why Inter Will Beat Milan:

Inter come into the Derby Della Madonnina on back to back victories away to Empoli and home to Udinese last weekend. The confidence at Appiano Gentile is beginning to rise, and with the familiarity of last season still very much a driving force in this side, Inter’s squad will feel it has the ‘continuity’ to keep the pressure up on the top, and that starts with a victory in the Derby.

Where it will be won:

Man for man, player for player, both sides can be very confident and proud of their progression over the last few years. As has been the case for much of the season, Inter’s midfield continues to be the difference maker. When Marcelo Brozovic is ticking, the Inter engine runs smooth, however, an off day for the Crotian could spell difficulty, Milan would be wise to shut him down. Don’t blink too hard though, because Nico Barella has proven beyond all doubt that he is the best box to box midfielder in Serie A, and his work rate is unmatched.

Defensively both sides will have their work cut out for them, but a focused back three of Skriniar, De Vrij and Bastoni, should provide enough strength and stability to shake this Milan side after they have enjoyed piling the goals on as of late. Up front, expect Dzeko to go quiet at times, but be there when it counts, and if that fails, Los Argentinos in Martinez & Correa can provide a lot of trouble especially if one comes in off the bench fresh. Overall I expect a hard fought, gritty game, hopefully not decided from the spot.

Prediction: Milan 1, Inter 2 (Ibra - Dzeko, Barella)

Milan Match Keys to Victory Courtesy of Matt Santangelo (State of Play Pod)

Goalkeeper: Mike Maignan has been a revelation in net for Milan so far this season, seemingly filling in for Gianluigi Donnarumma without much trouble. However, last month’s wrist surgery means he will be out until January, leaving Ciprian Tătărușanu to undertake the number one spot. So far, the Romanian has for the most part served adequately, picking up one cleansheet in the league and making most of the expected saves. But Inter present a much different test, and although Milan employ a strong defensive line, it’s likely Tătărușanu will have to pull a key save or two to stymie the impressive Nerazzurri assault.

Attack: Brahim was welcomed back to action on Wednesday in the 1-1 draw with Porto after his recovery from Covid. Although Ante Rebic’s return awaits Stefano Pioli, the Italian should be able to field something close to his ideal attack in the derby. Olivier Giroud played for most of the match against the Portuguese side, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic picking up about 15 minutes, leaving many to assume he will get the nod. Hardly surprising considering his track record in this fixture and his desire to compete when the lights are shining the brightest. Between the Swede serving as the reference point up top, Brahim occupying the primary playmaking role and Rafael Leão and Alexis Saelemaekers as wingers, fans should feel confident knowing there is plenty in this attack to drum up chances that’ll be necessary to remain unbeaten in the league.

Left-Back: The moment Theo Hernandez picked up his second yellow in the 1-2 win over Roma, sighs of relief came from Interisti knowing the Frenchman will be suspended for the weekend clash at San Siro. Between him and Leão’s overlapping and interchanging play, the left flank promised to be a real concern for Inter’s defence, even with their star power at the back. Remove Theo from the equation and the assignment becomes significantly easier to deal with. Fodé Ballo-Touré is still working his way back from an injury he sustained in the roller coaster victory in Bologna, but his performances to date do not exactly exude confidence. Yet, there is something to be said about a player repaying the confidence given by his manager. If Ballo-Touré is fit and has his name called from the start, the opportunity may present itself for him to show up and finally being to earn his red and black stripes.

Prediction: Milan 1, Inter 1


Match Prediction?

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Other Matches Featuring Top Four Challengers

ACF Fiorentina v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/undefined

Juventus vs Fiorentina Saturday 1:00 EDT/18:00 CET

Juve's league struggles have been perhaps the most surprising thing about the season so far. The Bianconeri currently sit ninth on the table with 15 points and are coming off back-to-back 2-1 losses to Sassuolo and Milan. Meanwhile, the club hasn’t lost three straight since March 2011 under Luigi Delneri. Max Allegri will have to right the ship soon or the top four could slip away a lot more quickly than we’ve seen in well over a decade in Turin.

This weekend, things will get no easier for Juve, as seventh place Fiorentina comes to the Allianz. La Viola has shown notable improvement under Vincenzo Italiano and is firmly in the top-four mix as well. A win could further solidify Italiano’s side as a legit threat after some lean years.

And the Viola is no stranger to winning in Turin either. They won up in Italy’s industrial north last season and also managed a draw in the sides’ other meeting. If Fiorentina could manage another result in this one, then it would be the first time since 2008 that they’d manage to go three unbeaten against Juve. La Viola has yet to register a point against a top-four challenger in five matches this season. The way things are setting up this could be the match where Italiano gets his first big win at the helm.

Atalanta BC v Cagliari Calcio - Coppa Italia Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Cagliari vs Atalanta Saturday 3:45 EDT/20:45 CET

Things have gone from bad to worse on the island of Sardegna despite hiring Walter Mazzari (five points in eight matches). Cagliari now sits bottom of the Serie A table with six points after 11 matches and things will get no easier with Atalanta coming to the Sardegna Arena.

La Dea for its part has also been underwhelming this season, thanks in part to a boatload of injuries. However, a late draw against Lazio last weekend pulled Atalanta level with Roma on fourth.

In this one, Atalanta will attempt to win its fourth straight against Cagliari, as well as its fourth straight at the Sardegna Arena. The key man could be Luis Muriel who has scored the winner in the last two 1-0 wins at Cagliari. Playing away from home could be just what the doctor ordered for La Dea as they’re undefeated in 11 straight away from home and have collected 13 of their 19 points on the road this season.

SSC Napoli v Hellas Verona FC - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Napoli vs Verona Sunday 12:00 EST/18:00 CET

Napoli enter this match looking to make history by winning 11 of their first 12 league matches—a feat only accomplished by Juve (2005-2006 & 2018-2019). Through the first 11 matches this season the Partenopei have conceded only three goals and kept eight clean sheets— the most in Europe’s big five leagues.

That defense will have a tall task trying to stop the hottest striker on the peninsula: Giovanni Simeone. Simeone has scored eight times this season and six in his last three matches, including a brace that sunk Juve last weekend.

Home matches against Verona usually go well historically for Napoli (71% win rate), but Verona managed four points last season against Napoli. And the Mastiffs enter this one in good form (3-1-1) in their last five. Plus, the Veronese have been giant killers defeating Juve, Roma, and Lazio under Igor Tudor.

SS Lazio Training Session Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Lazio vs Salernitana Sunday 12:00 EST/18:00 CET

The Spider-Man meme that’s all over the internet would fit this match perfectly as Claudio Lotito’s Lazio hosts Claudio Lotito’s Salernitana. The Serie A new boys, who are under the control of a trust due to Serie A conflict of interest rules, come to the Olimpico fighting relegation—and things will get no easier this weekend.

Lazio enters on 18 points, just one behind Roma and Atalanta for a spot in the Champions League. One reason for this is the Biancoceleste’s home form, which has seen them make the Olimpico a fortress. In fact, Lazio hasn’t lost in 17 home matches this calendar year (15-2-0). So, the odds would suggest that Lazio extends that streak against a weak Salernitana side.

Other Matches

  • Empoli vs Genoa: Friday 3:45 EDT/20:45 CET
  • Spezia vs Torino: Saturday 10:00 EDT/15:00 CET
  • Sampdoria vs Bologna: Sunday 9:00 EST/15:00 CET
  • Udinese vs Sassuolo: Sunday 9:00 EST/15:00 CET