Preview: AC Milan look to reassert derby dominance over Inter

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FIXTURES Sat 13 Nov Fiorentina v Cesena, Juventus v AS Roma Sun 14 Nov Lazio v Napoli, Bari v Parma, Bologna v Brescia, Cagliari v Genoa, Palermo v Catania, Sampdoria v Chievo Verona, Udinese v Lecce, Inter Milan v AC Milan

With the derby coming up this weekend, going top of the table for the first time in two years couldn't have come at a more timely moment for AC Milan.

The Rossoneri swept past Palermo in the midweek round, despite having to put up with the ever-so-fragile Alexandre Pato limping off again: just what is going on at the much-vaunted Milan Lab that they can't keep the Brazilian on the pitch for more than 20 minutes at a time?

NEWS: Milan go top

And just when Filippo Inzaghi was feeling on top of the world, damaging knee ligaments means the end of the veteran’s season – and possibly his career at the club, unless Adriano Galliani takes pity on him.

NEWS: Inzaghi to miss rest of season

Anyway, things could be worse: they could be Inter, who for once come into the Derby della Madonnina needing all the help they can from the Virgin Mary.

During Jose Mourinho’s time in charge there was only one team in town as the Nerazzurri lorded over their old rivals on three consecutive occasions – indeed, Milan haven't even scored in the last two encounters.

Those were the days when Inter fans strutted around with the air of mini-Mourinhos, checking their look in shop windows and generally feeling smug with life. Now that exuberance, that top-of-the-heap numero-uno aplomb seems lacking, replaced by something else.

Like the onset of winter, there is a chilling acknowledgement that the wildest, craziest affair they ever had will most likely never be repeated – never again will they hit the heights of ecstasy as they did not once but thrice in one season.

Just one tiny thrill would probably do before everyone hunkers down for another long Milanese winter – and if it doesn’t come on Sunday then it’s going to have to be the Club World Cup.

Rafa Benitez isn’t exactly titillating locals who are missing that bit of devilment - that wild, reckless streak Jose brought to every occasion and especially derby encounters.

After a draw at Lecce as pale as Wesley Sneijder with anaemia, all the Spaniard could muster was that his team were unlucky and that he expected more from his players.

January joy as Inter celebrate a derby win last season

Across town Massimiliano Allegri – in need of another haircut a mere two weeks after getting a neat back-and-sides – has been doing little to get the pulse racing either, claiming that the derby will not be decisive in determining the outcome of the title race.

Well, so what? Inter are there for the taking: at this stage of the campaign last season, they were top with eight points more and had scored double the amount of goals. Now even Napoli have overtaken them.

Of course, it matters little if the coaches fail to ratchet up a bit of tension in the manner Mou and Leonardo did last season and even Carlo Ancelotti before that. A derby is most often remembered by what the players do when they take centre stage.

It will be interesting to see how both sides react to what on paper seems a bit of a role-reversal where Milan are the mean and moody bullies, as witnessed by the way likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rino Gattuso and Mathieu Flamini have been snarling their way through games of late.

Inter seem almost retiring in comparison, even if they still have few tasty competitors in the side such as Douglas Maicon, Lucio and Ivan Cordoba.

However, beware the wounded beast, as they say and the club’s medical staff are confident that Esteban Cambiasso will be fit to start while a few days' rest will hopefully have brought a bit of colour back to Sneijder’s cheeks.

One man who knows what it takes to win a Milan derby, having appeared in 56 of them, is Paolo Maldini. He believes that his old club won't have a better opportunity that this to put one over their cousins and strike a psychological blow by opening up a six-point gap.

The legendary defender is of the opinion that Milan are well equipped to win the league title, more so than progressing to the latter stages of the Champions League, so now is the time to seize the moment.

For their part Inter will feel that this is the ideal occasion to get their season up and running again – which could yet make for an stirring evening of strong passions at the San Siro.