Despite arriving at a somewhat premature timing, the Derby della Madonnina will bear significant implications as ever. Aside from being one of the most prestigious fixtures in world football, this one will pit the two Serie A leaders against one another. Both Inter and Milan currently enjoy perfect records three rounds into the Serie A campaign. So for the first time in 2023/24, one of them – if not both – will drop points.
As is always the case, these major showdowns are shaped by a series of small battles that ensue all over the pitch. So we’ll take a closer look at six key duels between Inter and Milan players, skirmishes that will eventually decide the outcome of Saturday’s clash.
Denzel Dumfries vs Theo Hernandez
We begin with arguably the most obvious one. This duel has been well-documented in the past, yet, we simply can’t overlook it due to its significance.
In the current day and age, wingbacks/fullbacks are no longer perceived as additional cast members as some used to suggest. Their tactical importance has been rapidly increasing in recent years, partially thanks to Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and his unforeseen tweaks.
In Serie A, Theo Hernandez has been serving as the blueprint of a modern fullback. The Frenchman is vastly talented, incredibly explosive and can even cut through the middle of the pitch, something which used to be an unfamiliar territory for fullbacks.
On the other hand, Denzel Dumfries might be a less prominent name compared to his adversary, but what he lacks in talent, he makes up for it with sheer tenacity and determination.
As always, this one will be a thrilling battle on the flank, one that is bound to turn physical, and perhaps even ugly, on certain occasions.
Federico Dimarco vs Davide Calabria
On the opposite side of the pitch, two Italian internationals will renew their rivalry in a battle that isn’t any less intriguing than the previous one.
Federico Dimarco has now established himself as one of the best wingbacks in Serie A. The 25-year-old has a menacing presence on the left lane, especially when Inter are on the counter. His crossing accuracy is second to none, and he can also go for goal himself once he storms into the box.
Nevertheless, Davide Calabria is no slouch either. The Milan captain might be less influential than his compatriot in the final third, but is certainly more solid at the back. While many continue to overlook him, the right-back will be looking to respond on the pitch as he has always done in the past.
Lautaro Martinez vs Simon Kjaer
With Fikayo Tomori suspended and Pierre Kalulu injured, Milan manager Stefano Pioli has no other choice but resorting to Simon Kjaer at the back. The Dane will start at the heart of the defense alongside the young Malick Thiaw.
The 34-year-old is one of the most experienced players in the league, but his physical condition has been the main concern, with recurring injury problems plaguing his late-career years.
Nonetheless, Kjaer will have to muster his powers, as he’ll arguably have the most daunting task of the evening. He will be entrusted with marking one of the most devastating and complete strikers in world football.
After inheriting the captain’s armband from Samir Handanovic, Lautaro Martinez hit the ground running this season. He already has five goals to his name from three appearances (none from a spot kick).
So the Rossoneri faithful will be praying that Kjaer fares well against the Argentine, otherwise, the team will struggle to gain a result against their crosstown rivals.
Matteo Darmian vs Rafael Leao
Luckily for Milan, they possess an attacker who’s as dangerous and brilliant as the Inter captain. When Rafael Leao is in the mood, even the best defenders in the world would struggle to contain him, and many would argue that Matteo Darmian isn’t a member of this elite group.
The Inter veteran is originally a fullback, but to his credit, he has filled in admirably in Simone Inzaghi’s back-three since Milan Skriniar’s injury last season.
Nevertheless, the Italian will require some assistance from his teammates, as Leao is bound to dribble past him at least on a couple of occasions in one-on-one situations.
The Nerazzurri are yet to concede a goal this season. So will the Portuguese star bring this streak to a halt?
Nicolò Barella vs Tijjani Reijnders
Mr. Barella, say hello to your alter ego.
In the past, the battle of Azzurri stars between Barella and Sandro Tonani used to be the most anticipated duel in the middle. But with the latter famously gone, Milan filled their ranks with a string of new signings, but his most direct replacement might be Tijjani Reijnders.
The Dutchman has been incredibly efficient in his early outings, swiftly cementing himself as a key player in Pioli’s jigsaw.
The 25-year-old is a well-rounded midfielder: Fast, strong, dynamic and technical. In short, he’s the perfect dance partner for the Sardinian star. We can expect these two will battle it out all over the pitch.
Whoever prevails in this mouth-drooling duel will give his side a major edge.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Davide Frattesi) vs Ruben Loftus-Cheek
In the most recent Derby editions, Inter had managed to overwhelm Milan in the middle of the park thanks to their superior numbers and technical capabilities. Nonetheless, the introduction of Ruben Loftus-Cheek could be a major game-changer.
Following the departures of Brahim Diaz and Charles De Ketelaere, Pioli decided to drop his longtime preferred 4-2-3-1 lineup in favor of a more balanced 4-3-3 formation. In this regard, the Chelsea youth product has a substantial role to play.
With the Englishman acting as a second box-to-box midfielder (alongside Reijnders), the Diavolo now have a compact midfield three, one that is able to match Inzaghi’s formidable trio.
At the start of the match, Loftus-Cheek will be dueling with a Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an aging, yet, tricky counterpart. The Armenian adds a certain flair to Inter’s play and the experience required on such grand occasions.
The 34-year-old’s pace will naturally slow down as the encounter progresses, and this is when Inzaghi will most likely introduce Italy’s most recent hero, Davide Frattesi, in his stead.
The former Sassuolo man will add a burst of energy straight after his introduction, which could make all the difference in a razor-tight affair.
So we’ll see if the Englishman and his Milan teammates will be able to withhold the mounting pressure that accompanies the introduction of Frattesi and the other Inter super-subs.
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