Preview - Milan revival, Pioli debut put derby back in spotlight
MILAN, (Reuters) - AC Milan's revival and the debut of yet another coach at neighbours Inter should add much needed spice to a clash that has fallen out of the limelight in the last few seasons.
The Milan derby used to be one of the world's great fixtures and a centre-piece of the Serie A season but the indifferent form of both teams have stripped it of its gloss.
Recently, with neither side in the Champions League or in the running for the Serie A title, it has struggled to be billed as the top match of the weekend, let alone the season.
When the teams meet on Sunday, however, all eyes will be on San Siro.
Milan, enjoying an unexpected revival under new coach Vincenzo Montella, are third in Serie A and five points behind leaders Juventus.
The seven-times European champions appear to have finally come good on a promise they made years ago to use locally-raised players more, with 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli and 17-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma the pick of the crop.
It is a very different story at Inter who are eight points behind their neighbours in ninth place after a miserable start which led to Dutchman Frank de Boer being fired after 85 days in charge.
Replacement Stefano Pioli will make his debut on the Inter bench where he has become the ninth occupant of the hot seat since Jose Mourinho's departure little more than six years ago.
Due to the international break which sent several players off to South America, Pioli, in his first job at one of Italy's big three clubs, will have two full days to work with his squad before one of the most important matches of the season. Even so, Inter's director of sport Piero Ausilio believes the timing is perfect.
"It's the right match at the right time," he said. "We think we can start a new championship. We know we have dropped behind in the table but we have to do the impossible to get back in the Champions League."
There is extra motivation for Inter’s captain and leading scorer Mauro Icardi who has yet to find the target in a Milan derby.
The match is widely expected to Milan's last derby under the 30-year reign of Silvio Berlusconi and his chief executive Adriano Galliani. Berlusconi has agreed to sell the club to Chinese electronics retailer Suning with the deal expected to be completed in December.
Galliani, who has seen Milan crowned European champions five times and win eight Serie A titles during his reign, has said he will step aside once it goes through.
"I haven't decided what to do yet," the 72-year-old, whose shaven head and often forlorn expression makes him one of the most easily identifiable figures in Italian football. "It's not easy to change your life after 30 years at Milan."
(Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)