MILAN, Italy, October 5 – AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri is hoping his embattled side has finally turned a corner after their disastrous start to the campaign as Sunday’s derby against Inter approaches.
Milan finished runners-up to Juventus last season but 45-year-old Allegri was given a formidable challenge for this campaign after he lost the spine of an experienced and battle-hardened squad over the summer.
As expected, Milan struggled but no one had anticipated them failing to win at the San Siro in four attempts. It was their worst start to the season in over 80 years.
In recent weeks, however, Milan have started to gel and the emergence of Stephan El Shaarawy, who has now scored five goals in four games, has given the Rossoneri fans a huge boost.
Despite a 1-1 draw away to Parma last week Allegri’s side enjoyed a 3-2 win away to Champions League opponents Zenit Saint Petersburg on Wednesday.
“We are going into the derby on the back of a good victory,” Allegri said.
El Shaarawy has been hailed as the club’s early season saviour.
The Italy under-21 striker scored two goals to give Milan their first home win of the season against Cagliari 10 days ago and scored Milan’s second in Saint Petersburg.
Along with his goal in a 2-1 defeat to Udinese, and his leveller against Parma, the 19-year-old’s tally of five goals is one better than former star Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s tally of four at the start of the 2012 season.
For El Shaarawy, who has an Egyptian father, the Inter derby is coming at the right time.
“I’m happy with the form I have at the moment but it’s only the start. Wednesday’s win is going to give us confidence going into the derby,” he said.
The confidence Milan lacked so conspicuously two weeks ago will be needed if they are to upset an Inter side which has amassed 12 points from six games, and just seem to be getting better.
Andrea Stramaccioni’s side had their own challenges early in the camapaign and had also failed to win at the San Siro, until last week’s 2-1 win over Fiorentina moved them up to third in the table.
It was a pulsating match and the first time Stramaccioni had kind words to say about his players.
“I think Inter showed tonight we have the makings of a great team,” said the 36-year-old.
Inter were involved in the Europa League on Thursday against Azerbaijani side Neftchi, but Stramaccioni still left several key players in Milan including strikers Diego Milito and Antonio Cassano and defenders Walter Samuel and Javier Zanetti.
“The players who stayed in Milan are the ones who have played five games in 10 days and for this game I want to field the most lively and on-form team I can,” the Inter coach said according to the club’s website.
Juventus, who hammered Roma 4-1 Saturday to extend their unbeaten streak to 45 games, sit top on 16 points with Napoli second on goal difference.
The Turin side took their unbeaten streak to 46 games on Tuesday when they escaped with a draw at home to Shakhtar Donetsk, but they may face a real test in their bid to make it 47.
Juventus travel to Serie A strugglers Siena, who stunned Inter 2-0 at the San Siro three weeks ago.
In the event the Old Lady of Turin suffers another shock, Napoli will got top of the table if they beat Udinese at the Stadio San Paolo.
Fixtues (all times GMT)
Chievo v Sampdoria (1600), Genoa v Palermo (1845)
Roma v Atalanta (1030), Torino v Cagliari, Catania v Parma, Fiorentina v Bologna, Pescara v Lazio, Siena v Juventus (all 1300), Milan v Inter, Napoli v Udinese (both 1845)