Pressure mounting on Rossoneri ahead of Milanese showdown
The international break could not have come at a more opportune moment for AC Milan, who have seen their lead over Inter whittled down from 13 points to just two since the turn of the year.
There are still just under two weeks to go before the Milanese showdown which could either completely blow the title race wide open again, see the leaders increase their lead once more or bring Napoli and - surprisingly but totally deservedly - Udinese into the hunt.
ThatÃ¢ÂÂs two weeks for the main protagonists of the north to trade barbed comments and score points in the hope of gaining an edge come April 2.
Milan raised the tension level barely a moment after the final whistle had signalled the end of InterÃ¢ÂÂs win over Lecce at the San Siro on. The title holders edged past last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs Serie B champions with a goal that the Rossoneri felt should not have stood, claiming that Giampaolo Pazzini had controlled the ball in exactly the same manner as Zlatan Ibrahimovic had against Bari a week previously.
The only difference was that the Milan striker had been pulled-up for hand-ball as he fired the ball into the net, while his Nerazzurri counterpart was allowed to run-off, displaying his trademark Ã¢ÂÂlook into my eyesÃ¢ÂÂ goal celebrations.
Certainly, Inter president Massimo Moratti was in no mood for mud-slinging just yet and when questioned on the similarity of the two moments, he replied with a curt: Ã¢ÂÂThey were not the same, letÃ¢ÂÂs move on.Ã¢ÂÂ
The big chief had been surrounded by journalists on almost exactly the same spot in the centre of the city where only last week Lionel Messi had found out just what it is like to be football superstar attempting to do a bit of shopping Ã¢ÂÂ you canÃ¢ÂÂt Ã¢ÂÂ well not in Italy.
At least Moratti had room to breathe but that intrepid band of press, radio and television reporters who set up camp outside Inter headquarters every day were demanding scraps of derby tittle-tattle that they could turn into a full-blown headline.
Would IbrahimovicÃ¢ÂÂs absence be felt more by Milan than LucioÃ¢ÂÂs would by Inter? Ã¢ÂÂLetÃ¢ÂÂs hope it is Ibrahimovic,Ã¢ÂÂ was the only response. Then knowing that the day would be almost over before he even got to the office a sly grin played across those ragged features.
Ã¢ÂÂYou know what, everyone is talking about Milan and Inter but there is another team that is doing amazing things: Napoli.Ã¢ÂÂ
What better to throw the dogs of the press off the scent that turn the spotlight on a side that only a few weeks ago were being written off as also-rans Ã¢ÂÂ much like Inter in fact Ã¢ÂÂ and in doing so put them under renewed pressure.
It was also an indirect dig at Milan, reminding them that matters had been all in their own hands three weeks ago when they had ran roughshod over the Neapolitans but failed to take advantage - but they now have teams within touching distance of knocking them off top spot.
The Azzurri are a point behind Inter and are in a position to take advantage if one of the Milan clubs fail to take maximum points on the same weekend they meet Lazio at home. Walter MazzarriÃ¢ÂÂs men also have a pretty benign month ahead of them with only Udinese at home causing any real worries, on paper at least.
And if current form is anything to go by, Udinese cannot be ruled out of causing the shock of all shocks despite being six points off the pace.
The flying Friuliani have not been beaten in 2011, accruing 33 points and going seven games without conceding a goal. Then if we were to find everyone level on points come the end of the campaign they hold sway over Inter, having beaten them twice, having also so far drawn at Milan and defeated Napoli - both of whom they will face again in the run-in.
Of course, no one believes that the south or the provinces will do what Napoli and Sampdoria once did back in the mid-80s and early 90s and wrest the title away from the northern metropolis.
However, no doubt when Moratti is cornered on the way to work again he will make sure to sing UdineseÃ¢ÂÂs praises - as well as mentioning again that he is a big fan of their star player Alexis Sanchez.