Rarely has the Derby della Madonnina been contested by teams so far removed from the top of Serie A. Rarer still has it been as important to either of them.
"I do not look at the standings," remarked AC Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati in a pre-match press conference. "I saw them once and felt like crying."
Abbiati's Milan are currently 10th in the Italian top flight and have won just one match in their previous eight.
Off-field chaos, highlighted by a feud between one-time sporting director Adriano Galliani and Barbara Berlusconi, daughter of club owner and former Italian president Silvio Berlusconi, has been a major distraction and only ended this week when Don Silvio himself instructed the two to play nice.
Form doesn't matter much. The derby is the derby and goes beyond these kinds of things'
But even the nasty boardroom politics have paled in comparison to the turmoil on the pitch, where the Rossoneri have failed to generate enough offence to be competitive (Genoa and Lazio are the only top-half sides to have scored fewer goals) while posting one of the worst defensive records in the division (only the bottom-four teams have conceded more often).
Still, as Abbiati pointed out, a Sunday win over local rivals Inter Milan (the match can be seen at beinsportplay.ca) would make for a nice Christmas present, as Serie A will be breaking for two weeks following the contest.
On the other side of the ball, Inter midfielder Esteban Cambiasso has claimed the poor starts to the season by the Milan clubs will have little bearing come kickoff at the San Siro.
"Form doesn't matter much," he told Italian television Friday. "The derby is the derby and goes beyond these kinds of things."
Currently fifth in the table and nine points clear of their derby rivals, the Nerazzurri have nevertheless struggled for a foothold through much of the season despite a schedule that, without the rigours of continental competition, should be allowing them to focus their attentions solely on Serie A.
Coming into Sunday's match, Inter, who sit seven points adrift of the final Champions League berth, are winless in four and still reeling from a loss away to Napoli in which they played well at times but ended up finishing with 10 men following the dismissal of Ricardo Alvarez.
They'll miss the Argentine's playmaking ability in the derby -- he leads the team in assists -- and as a result, it will likely fall to 19-year-old Croatia international Mateo Kovacic to provide the service for top-scorer Rodrigo Palacio, who will be part of a four-man midfield alongside Cambiasso, Fredy Guarin and Taider.
Milan meanwhile, will have the veteran Kaka looking to combine with striker Mario Balotelli, as they did in a recent 2-2 draw at home to AS Roma.
But, says Cambiasso, when it comes to the Derby della Madonnina, stats and formations and strategies can pretty much go out the window.
"The derby is a different game from any other," he reminded viewers. "It's always special for us and Milan, and we'll try to do everything we can to try and bring joy to our fans.
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