Familiar-looking Milan face early derby test

ROME - Owner Silvio Berlusconi's policy of putting faith in AC Milan's existing players rather than opening his wallet for fresh talent faces a stiff test in Saturday's derby against Serie A champions Inter Milan.

Some Milan fans called on the Italian premier to sell up after seeing their best player Kaka join Real Madrid in the close season with the only major buy being Dutch forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar moving in the opposite direction.

Saturday's impressive 2-1 win at Siena on the opening day gave credence to Berlusconi's argument that there was no need to splash out when the club already had plenty of big names looking to prove their worth after two disappointing seasons.

Ronaldinho responded to Berlusconi's calls to show he could make up for Kaka's loss by inspiring both of the goals scored by his 19-year-old Brazilian compatriot Alexandre Pato.

"We have a 29-member squad. We can field two quality teams with champions others can only envy us," Berlusconi said on Italian television this week. "I wouldn't swap Ronaldinho with anyone I know, even though he is 29".

One area of concern before the season was that the signing of American defender Oguchi Onyewu, who came as a free agent from Standard Liege, was not enough to reinforce a back-line weakened by captain Paolo Maldini's retirement.


However, new coach Leonardo has Alessandro Nesta back from a year out with a back problem and Thiago Silva is now available for selection.

The Brazilian could not play last season after moving from Fluminense in January because Milan already had their full quota of non-EU signings and the understanding the two centre-backs displayed in Siena gave cause for optimism.

"He's a great player. Together we can form a really good partnership," Nesta told the club's in-house TV channel.

But Inter, who beat Milan twice in pre-season friendly contests, will pose a bigger challenge than Siena and Nesta was quick to warn against the danger of Milan letting the good start go to their heads.

"It was a good performance and a good result but we have to be consistent," he said. "We're just at the beginning."

Inter boss Jose Mourinho is already under pressure after the champions were held 1-1 by promoted Bari last weekend.

Wesley Sneijder is set to sign from Real Madrid, which should add creativity missing against Bari, but Mourinho may not want to throw the Netherlands midfielder into a derby in his first match, even if the deal is completed in time.

In the weekend's other big game, Juventus, who started their league campaign with a 1-0 win over Chievo Verona, on Sunday visit AS Roma, who lost 3-2 at Genoa.