Milan and Inter have had their problems this season, but, as Scott Fleming notes, both are getting their act together just in time for Sunday's derby.
Neither the jaunty soundtrack nor the smiles on the faces of those holding the Milan Channel microphone could disguise the sheer desperation of it all. With the Derby della Madonnina – supposedly one of world football's grandest fixtures – just four days away, the designated hosts were reduced to posting a video on their website on Wednesday, practically begging fans just to turn up.
“A derby without you guys just isn't the same,” pleaded Massimo Ambrosini.
“We need your help more than ever,” said a refreshingly frank Stephan El Shaarawy.
Between them Milan and Inter have managed just two wins from 10 home games this season.
Coaches Massimiliano Allegri and Andrea Stramaccioni have been placed under varying degrees of pressure, new signings have been compared unfavourably to those they have replaced, attendances have dipped, Sampdoria, Atalanta and Siena have left San Siro victorious.
Milan began their Champions League campaign with a dismal goalless draw against Anderlecht and – as if competing in the competition wasn't demeaning enough for them in the first place – Inter were perilously close to being knocked out the Europa League qualifiers by the hardly stellar duo of Hadjuk Spilt and Vaslui.
The video reinforced the sense that this derby will be quite unlike any we've seen for some time, surreal, subdued, strangely lacking in lustre, a meeting of two outfits in transition or indeed decline.
If you can look beyond those alarming ticket sale figures however, there is evidence that both the Rossoneri and the Nerazzurri are getting their acts together just in time for Sunday's big game.
For Inter, three is the magic number. Since switching to three at the back, they have won three on the trot in all competitions, and risen to third in Serie A. Milan are five points behind in 11th, but reinvigorated by Wednesday's 3-2 Champions League win away to Zenit St Petersburg.
For a team that have toiled against much more meagre opposition domestically, it was a remarkable performance and result, and significantly, it also showed that the hitherto uncompromising Allegri is willing to take risks both in terms of tactics and personnel, the blistering early salvo that saw Milan two up inside 16 minutes achieved with Bojan Krkic up front on his own in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
This is Allegri's sixth derby in charge of the Diavolo, yet Stramaccioni will be the first Inter boss he has faced more than once. Their previous meeting, Inter's enthralling 4-2 victory in May, is what got the younger man the job – whilst simultaneously killing off Milan's Scudetto aspirations.
This will also be the first derby since the infamous Antonio Cassano-Giampaolo Pazzini swap deal took place, and it’s tempting to characterise the clash as a battle between the former Sampdoria strike partners. However, if the game can be said to be a battle between two players, those two would be Cassano and El Shaarawy, very much the men of the moment.
Since crossing the divide Cassano has stressed both his respect for the Milan fans, and contempt for Vice-President Adriano Galliani. 'Peter Pan' has dumbfounded those that thought he'd never be the same player again after his health scare, hitting four goals in his first four Serie A starts for the Serpenti. His first derby appearance as a Milan player saw him score a penalty and receive a red card all in the space of a 10 minute cameo – so don't be surprised if his contribution on Sunday is similarly action packed.
El Shaarawy, meanwhile, has gone from rough diamond to reference point in double quick time, the 19-year-old outdoing Zlatan Ibrahimovic's strike rate with five goals in his last four, including a marvellous individual effort against Zenit.
Cassano, El Shaarawy, Allegri, Stramaccioni, the three-man defence – the ingredients may be different to Milan derbies past, but the end result should be no less appetising.
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