Inter Milan v AC Milan, January 24, 2010
The Milan derby has all the makings of a classic as Leonardoâ€™s Rossoneri come into the match in terrific form hoping to track down leaders Inter Milan, who have long been favourites to secure another Scudetto.
The maths coming into the match is pretty simple, AC Milan are six points behind Inter Milan with a game in hand. The rest of Italy is praying for a tight title race and with Juventus languishing in fifth place, Leonardo and his side will be hoping to continue in their swashbuckling style that has won many admirers in recent weeks. (AC Milan are 14/5 to win the Scudetto, Inter Milan are 4/9.)
Ronaldinho will be hoping to continue his wonderful form against Jose Mourinhoâ€™s side after scoring six goals in three Serie A matches since the winter break. His hat-trick against Siena last week led to Leonardo calling the buck-toothed one the best in the world and in his current irrepressible form, Dunga will have to include Ronaldinho in the Brazil World Cup squad.
Milan have won their last three Serie A games, scoring 12 goals in the process since the winter break and the front three of Dinho, Marco Borriello and David Beckham has been impressive. The triumvirate will continue against Inter as Alexandre Pato is injured, the other main worry for Leonardo is Alexandre Nesta who is a doubt to face the Nerazzurri.
Much has changed for the red and black side of the city since the start of the season when Leonardoâ€™s job was under threat and they looked unlikely to mount a title challenge. The nadir came in their â€œhomeâ€ derby with Inter at the back end of August when they lost 4-0 and were thoroughly outplayed in a match that became famous for Gennaro Gattussoâ€™s sending off, just minutes after he had asked to be substituted.
At that point in the season Inter were cruising and they remain the clear favourites to win Serie A again. However, they have not looked at their best in 2010, scraping a 1-0 win at Chievo, sensationally coming from behind to see off Siena 4-2 and then drawing 2-2 at Bari last week.
It can be tough to see a lead cut down and Inter are without Samuel Etoâ€™o due to Africa Cup of Nations involvement for this encounter. Midfielders Thiago Motta, Dejan Stankovic and Sulley Muntari are all injury doubts and this game, along with the Champions League tie with Chelsea, is likely to decide Jose Mourinhoâ€™s reign at the San Siro.
The â€œSpecial Oneâ€ has already got his mind games in, joking that this fixture should be postponed due to injuries after AC Milan managed to get their Coppa Italia tie with Udinese moved to next week to ensure they had a free week to prepare for the Derby della Madonnina.
With so much riding on this game it will be intriguing to see how the clash of styles develops. AC Milan with their Brazilian flair, led by Leonardo and Ronaldinho, facing the functional Inter Milan of Jose Mourinho would be a match not to be missed at the best of times. With the Scudetto on the line, this could be a classic.
101gg predicts: Inter Milan 2 â€“ AC Milan 3 (37/1)
Full match odds here.