Coaches’ expectations declared ahead of derby in Milan

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Inter Side – Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte said Sunday’s (Feb 21) top-of-the-table Milan derby in Serie A will be different to recent encounters between the city rivals given what is at stake this time.

Inter lead Milan by a point heading into the game at San Siro with this season’s title race the most exciting in years.

This is the first time Inter have been top in the second half of the campaign since May 2010, the last season in which they won the Scudetto, and Conte knows how important the derby is as his side look to end their title drought.

“This will be a different derby compared to the derbies of past years because it concerns who will be top of the rankings,” Conte told a news conference on Saturday.

“We are paired, first and second, and I think Milan is in a great place right now. They have improved a lot, and beating them now will mean even more.

“We still need a lot of work and organisation. We need to play well to get the win.”

Christian Eriksen has played a more prominent role for Inter in the last month, having previosuly been on the periphery of the first team since signing for the club in January 2020.

Conte said Denmark midfielder Eriksen was in contention to start on Sunday but he had yet to decide on his selection.

“I don’t know if he (Eriksen) will play,” Conte added. “I still have three doubts for tomorrow.

“Christian is improving, now we have had more time to work with him since the Christmas break. He has made progress and has become important to us.”

AC Milan Side – AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli said that if he had to choose between his side’s striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku, he would pick the Swede “all his life” ahead of the Milan derby in Serie A on Sunday.

Former Manchester United team mates Ibrahimovic and Lukaku meet for the first time since their fiery exchange in last month’s Coppa Italia fixture, a clash that was so heated it resulted in an inquiry by the Italian Football Federation.

Pioli believes that episode between both club’s top goalscorers this season will not spill over into Sunday’s encounter.

“What happened is now over,” Pioli told a news conference ahead of the derby at the San Siro. “It will be a heartfelt battle between them but also one with great respect and sportsmanship.

“Tomorrow we have to be an attentive and determined team, to defend well and attack well. If had to choose between Ibra and Lukaku as my striker, I would keep Zlatan all my life.

Milan led the way in Serie A for much of the season, but a surprise defeat at Spezia last weekend opened the door for Inter to move to the top of the standings. Antonio Conte’s side are one point ahead of their rivals, with champions Juventus eight points adrift in fifth.

There is a long way to go in the season, but the title race looks set to be an enthralling one, with Juventus’ nine-year monopoly over the division under threat.

“Sunday is not decisive for the fate of the championship but it is important because we have been in the lead all season,” Pioli added. “We are prepared for it being very important in the race for the title.

“If you approach a match looking for a draw, it may suit you, but you are closer to defeat than to victory. We will go out on the pitch to win.”

(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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