Mancini set for Milan derby in 1st match back
MILAN (AP) — The Milan derby is still the standout match of the weekend, despite both teams having little chance of competing for the Serie A title.
In seasons past, the derby would often be vital for the destination of the title, but AC Milan is seventh and already 11 points behind Juventus, while Inter Milan is a point further back.
Competition will still be fierce and will pit fledgling coach Filippo Inzaghi against wily veteran Roberto Mancini, who has returned for his second spell at Inter.
On Saturday, leader Juventus visits Lazio, with second-placed Roma travelling to Atalanta.
Also on Sunday, Napoli will look to continue its good run at Cagliari, with Sampdoria, Lazio and Genoa only a point behind in the race for the top three.
Samp visits relegation-threatened Cesena on Sunday, with Genoa hosting Palermo the following day.
Here are some things to know about the Italian league:
DERBY DELLA MADONNINA
The match between the two Milan teams is known in Italy as the Derby della Madonnina. The derby derives its name from the statue of the Virgin Mary on top of Milan’s Duomo, known as the Madonnina. Whichever team wins is said to have been favored by the Madonnina.
It is considered one of the major derbies in the world. But unlike in other major derby matches, it is rare to see trouble between the two sets of fans.
That was not always the case but a non-aggression pact made in 1983 — following the death of an Inter fan — still holds firm today.
The fans pour their energy instead into creative pre-match displays.
It is a baptism of fire for Roberto Mancini in his second spell as Inter Milan coach.
Mancini was appointed last week as a replacement for the sacked Walter Mazzarri and the Milan derby is his first match back in charge before a daunting trip to second-placed Roma.
“It is an interesting coincidence,” Mancini said. “No game would’ve been easy in Serie A, but I have to say starting with Milan and Roma is both fascinating and difficult.”
Mancini won four derby matches during his first stint as Inter coach, losing five and drawing one.
It is new coach Filippo Inzaghi’s first Milan derby in charge — although he played in several.
WAR OF WORDS
Less than halfway through the Serie A season and already the psychological warfare between the clubs jostling for the title has been ramped up.
Last year’s runner-up Roma has been very vocal about its chances of winning the league, with coach Rudi Garcia and president James Pallotta among those stating publicly that the team will triumph.
“Roma believe they can win the title? I think they really believe what they say, and they’ve done well,” Allegri said. “The fact is that they can’t hide now. The pressure will be too strong for them, because now another second place wouldn’t be good enough.
“It would be a big disappointment, a kind of small failure.”
Juventus visits Roma’s city rival Lazio on Saturday, while Garcia’s side travels to Atalanta.
Napoli had a woeful start to the season but has slowly crept up to third spot in Serie A and could emerge as a potential title challenger.
Coach Rafa Benitez appeared to be on the verge of being sacked after Napoli won only one of its first four Serie A matches and was knocked out of the Champions League at the qualifying stage.
However, it has recovered from that and put together a string of results to leave it seven points behind leader Juventus in the table and four behind Roma.
“I don’t want to be boring, but I’m taking it one game at a time,” Benitez said. “Otherwise you run the risk of not doing on the pitch what you say you’ll do off it and then everything becomes more difficult.”
Napoli hosts Cagliari on Sunday and Benitez’s opponent is in no doubt that it will be a “three-sided race” for the title.
“They had a bad start, but they’re a very good team and they’re proving that,” Zdenek Zeman said. “They’re the team which has played the best football over the last month.
“But something which is concerning about Napoli is that their mood seems to change week by week.”