The Milan derby crowns the return of Serie A, but it also means much more

In the training camps of both clubs in Milan this week, the players have been experiencing the same sentiment that many of their more distinguished predecessors had in 2003. It’s one that could go against all the understandable excitement leading up to a second semi-final. of the Champions League. -Final derby between Internazionale and AC Milan. That feeling is that this is not a game to really enjoy, or even look forward to in any way. Then, 20 years ago, Alessandro Costacurta was already one of the most successful players in soccer, but before that game he felt a tension that he had not experienced in his career. Not before their first European Cup final in 1989. Not before the World Cup final in 1994.

It was a fear of failure, that the cost of defeat to your greatest rivals was far greater than the value of victory. Not surprisingly, the tie only featured one goal. And these were teams that had far more medals and football status than their successors today.

That is what makes the feeling deeper now, because the stakes are consequently much higher. It’s not just a precious opportunity to achieve Champions League glory, with the pride of beating your hometown rivals. It’s just that there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back next season, or anytime soon. This is not about Andriy Shevchenko, Javier Zanetti, Hernán Crespo or Fabio Cannavaro, who would have seen the 2003 tie as the type of game they should be regularly involved in. Many of these players might not have that opportunity, at least right now. clubs.

That is just another way that the atmosphere around this Milan derby goes against reality.

The very story and setting further the feeling of the game’s heightened glamour. No wonder the San Siro has been described as “the Scala of football”. For a long time it was the home of the biggest stars of this sport, as well as the European Cup itself. With 10 wins between them, Milanese clubs have been champions in 15% of the competition’s 67 seasons so far. Madrid is the only city with the most European Cups, with 14, but they are all hosted at the Bernabéu.

“Right now, Milan is the biggest footballing city in Europe,” Shevchenko said in 2005, when the two clubs met again in the 2005 quarterfinals. gray columns and red beams of San Siro on Wednesday night. The very fact that Milan and Inter meet again at this stage has also triggered the argument that Serie A is back.

This, a bit like the excitement of the players entering the game, is where it gets complicated. Serie A have clearly made great strides in the last half decade, and that’s from a situation where they were facing total crisis. You could even say that it is already the second league in Europe behind England. Italy remains the home of tactical innovation, mainly due to the depth of thought that comes from Coverciano’s coaching school.

The starting eleven of the 2002-03 Champions League semi-final second leg

AC Milan: Dida, Alessandro Costacurta, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Khaka Kaladze, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, Rui Costa, Andriy Shevchenko, Filippo Inzaghi

International: Francesco Toldó; Ivan Cordoba, Marco Materazzi, Fabio Cannavaro, Francesco Coco, Javier Zanetti, Sergio Conceicao, Luigi Di Biagio, Emre Belezoglu, Alvaro Recoba, Hernan Crespo

That has translated into a refreshing variety of playing styles, setting them apart from the frenetic homogeneous pressing of the Bundesliga and the increasingly stagnant possession of La Liga. That variety is also matched by a newfound competitive vitality, largely because of the void left by Juventus. Napoli may have clinched the league this season, but they will be the third different champions in three years, with plenty of unpredictability under them.

This is the new reality of Italian football, which makes it more convincing. Clubs that are quite low in the table may think they have a chance to fight for the title. So these two big clubs can make it to this big stage as they both battle to finish in the top four this season.

Much of this has been influenced by innovative and influential work at clubs like Atalanta, Sassuolo and Napoli, but also by a specific type of American owner who wants to do things differently. They have identified an underrated value in football, for lack of a better phrase, and feel that it can be maximized through the most modern methods.

All these factors have come together to force one of the most conservative and protective football cultures in Europe into a new era.

Sandro Tonali battles with Nicolo Barella in the derby

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Milan, by winning the Scudetto last season for the first time in 11 years, arguably typifies this more than anyone. That comes from a situation where the two clubs had to adjust to a new reality, where they no longer represent the most dominant model in the game. After all, for more than 40 years, Milan and Inter were run by a series of emotionally invested industrialists and tycoons who could basically outplay anyone in football. So, a bit like the Premier League now, Serie A could pay salaries that no one else could match. That brought so many of the stars that lit up the atmosphere of that 2003 tie and so many decades of football. That’s why, when you think of a Milan derby in the Champions League, you don’t really think of Nicolo Barella or Fikayo Tomori, with respect. You think of so many that came before, from Ronaldo to Marco van Basten.

The Premier League has now just reached a much larger scale, fueled by broadcast revenue and a new ownership branch attracted by such economic and social capital. The most recognizable of those moguls, Silvio Berlusconi and Massimo Moratti, gradually realized they couldn’t compete in a state-owned soccer market like Manchester City, so they pulled out.

The issue sparked a debate inside the San Siro, where former players such as Zvonimar Boban sparred over the idea of ​​”a Milan player” who had to be big enough to wear the shirt. The modernists within the club’s new infrastructure insisted that it would be a waste to spend too much trying to pay for such players. It is largely this, after all, that has Internazionale in such financial trouble now.

So while their rivals will decide to start a £100m signing like Romelu Lukaku on Wednesday, Milan will turn to the likes of Rafael Leao who may be worth £100m in the future. They went against Boban’s arguments and went the modern route. Analytics would be prioritized to find undervalued players and build the future. Inter have focused much more on the present, which was never more evident than when they finally won the league again under a coach like Antonio Conte.

He also points out how this is all just an adaptation to the modern game, which has more or less been the case with the Champions League this season. One of the only reasons why the possible return of Serie A is being discussed is because of the blind luck of the draw. The three strongest teams remaining in the competition at City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, were sidelined. All the remaining Italians were put in the other. We may not have that accessory at all with a change.

Marco Materazzi and Rui Costa look on during the 2005 Champions League quarter-final

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However, the Milan clubs made the best of this. Inter were already developing that kind of dogged drive that comes with cup races, epitomized by Milan Skriniar. Coach Simone Inzaghi doesn’t have a defined style, but he knows how to adapt to individual matches.

Meanwhile, Milan decided to define their new era with that modern pressing game, but Stefano Piolo of course had the presence of mind to fully temper it for Napoli. They chose the new Serie A champions, just as they did in the league.

This is a contrast that determines the tie.

Due to their high spending, Inter is based more on the individual, with more decisive attacking players. Suggestions are that Inzaghi can go for both Lauturo Martinez and Lukaku, both of whom have the ability to be a tough challenge for any team. They also have the capacity for games in which they do nothing, a problem accentuated by the fact that Inter usually create very little. They do not have the tactical ideology of Milan, so they are more dependent on rising to the occasion in any game. Luckily Inzaghi has brought it up so far in the Champions League. As a figure who has worked with both clubs says, “there is a huge difference between Inter’s worst performance and the best.”

That is not the case of Milan, due to a more defined way of playing. That approach means there is always an attacking service. Such underlying consistency has fueled this Champions League run and ensured they have overcome poor Serie A form.

Many in Milan would also insist that it is also just the “magic” that comes over the club when playing in the Champions League. In those glory days of the mid-2000s, some players would occasionally use the famous competition theme to try to get a response on poor league seasons.

Milan celebrate after knocking out Napoli

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“I don’t know what happens to us when we listen to the music of the Champions League,” former chief executive Adriano Galliani once said. “We’ll have to ask a psychologist.”

Mentality weighs similarly on this draw, but potentially with the opposite effect. It may well stifle the game. There’s also the fact that, as both clubs have discovered over the past decade, “magic” can only go against reality for so long.

This is what dyes the debate about whether Serie A is back. Both clubs know that the richest clubs, most of them coming from the Premier League, are just waiting to eliminate their teams. That can happen in Istanbul, after this semifinal.

Milan have made it part of their strategy. Inter this summer needs him. He points out how both have adapted to the modern game. This semi-final will showcase that, rather than the traditional glamor of Milan, the city of soccer. That’s why it means even more, even if it doesn’t look like what it was.

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