Reuters: Resurgent AC Milan, buoyed up by their win over Barcelona, meet an Inter Milan side mired in a mid-season crisis in Sunday’s Serie A derby (1945 GMT) which also features maverick striker Mario Balotelli facing his former club.
The mood in the two camps could not be more different with Inter, who at one stage were one point behind leaders Juventus, in a slump and their rivals on a high after Wednesday’s 2-0 win in the Champions League.
Milan have also enjoyed a resurgence in the league, helped greatly by the signing of maverick striker Balotelli who has scored four goals in three games since his move from Manchester City.
The wildly unpredictable “Supermario” will be facing the club where he spent four seasons and made his top-flight debut.
Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni has emerged victorious from both his previous meetings with AC Milan and badly needs a third win to rescue his side’s season.
Cagliari will have to host Torino behind closed doors after the latest saga involved their scandal-plagued Is Arenas stadium while leaders Juventus are at home to lowly but improving Siena (both 1400).
The Milan rivals have undergone a role reversal since the start of the year with AC Milan, whose early-season struggles led to weekly speculation over the future of coach Massimiliano Allegri, now ahead of Inter.
Milan have taken 23 points from 10 games since the start of December and are third with 44 points, one ahead of Inter.
Inter have taken 15 points in the same period and have suffered three bad defeats since the start of the season, at Udinese, struggling Siena and a 4-1 thrashing by Fiorentina last Sunday.
Former youth team coach Stramaccioni was promoted to Inter coach late last term and their 4-2 win over Milan ended their rivals’ hopes of winning the title. They also won this season’s first meeting 1-0.
“The good and bad thing about being coach of Inter is that this pressure is on me from the first day I took charge of this great team,” said Stramaccioni, whose side must first visit Romania for a Europa League tie in Cluj on Thursday.
“If a coach at this level thinks about these things, then he is finished before he even begins,” added the 37-year-old.
“There is a lot of pressure, as we lost 4-1 on Sunday and it’s only normal to be criticised, but I think we will do well against Cluj and in the Derby. We will go forward. “The club is working on the renewal of the team and this is only the first year of that process.”
Cagliari have agreed to host Torino behind closed doors after president Massimo Cellino was arrested last Friday on charges of embezzlement and false representation over the rebuilding of the stadium.
The Sardinians moved to Is Arenas, which had previously hosted third-tier matches in the 1980s, at the start of this season but, with only one permanent stand, they have had trouble from the outset.
Three temporary stands were built on the other sides of the pitch but the side’s opening match against Atalanta was staged behind closed doors after local authorities ruled that it was not ready.
A match against Roma was cancelled and they had to face Juventus in Parma as safety worries continued.
Juventus, four points clear at the top, face relegation-threatened Siena while second-placed Napoli have a difficult match at midtable Udinese (1800).
Saturday’s match between strugglers Palermo and Genoa (1945) features two sides who have employed six coaches between them so far this season.
Palermo incumbent Alberto Malesani has had two stints at Genoa, the second last season lasting less than one month, while Genoa’s Davide Ballardini spent most of the 2008-09 season with the Sicilians.