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Mancini walks into Milan derby cauldron

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MANCINI-WALKSThe first Milan derby of the season provides Roberto Mancini with his first test on his return to Inter while Lazio host leaders Juventus looking for the win that could boost the title chances of city rivals Roma.

The black and blue half of Milan is abuzz following Mancini’s return to the club he led to a record three consecutive league titles, two Cups and two Super Cups in his previous spell in charge from 2004-2008.

Despite leading Inter into an enticing San Siro clash barely a week after succeeding sacked Walter Mazzarri, some believe the former Manchester City and Galatasaray handler has the edge over Milan coach Filippo Inzaghi.

“Mancini has the edge on Inzaghi,” wily veteran Zdenek Zeman, whose mercurial Cagliari are away to a Napoli side who sit third, only seven points adrift of Juventus and four behind Roma, told Mediaset.

“Inzaghi used to coach Milan’s youth side, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us whether or not he’s ready for Serie A.”

Milan have failed to win their last four games, taking a total of only four points to drop to seventh at 11 points behind Juve and four behind Napoli in the third and last Champions League spot.

With Inter sitting in ninth a point further adrift, Mancini is expected to deploy a 4-3-1-2 formation designed to plug holes in the defence as well as optimise an attacking line that failed to spark in Mazzarri’s 3-5-2.

Former Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic knows Mancini only too well, having finished second best to City in 2012 when the Italian led them to their first league title in 44 years.

Now the Inter defender is ready to embrace switching to a back four and has hailed Mancini’s pragmatic approach to training in his first week back at the club.

“It’s the formation I played in before so I’m used to it,” said the former Serbia international.

“A new coach always comes in with his own ideas and philosophy. Mancini has shown us what he wants and what he expects, which is great and also good fun.”

Milan will be without Nigel De Jong after the Dutchman picked up an injury while on international duty last week.

But while Milan wait on their own former Premier League player, Fernando Torres, to spark amid an underwhelming start to the campaign for the Spaniard, Stephan El Shaarawy has shown plenty of promise on his recent return to the fray.

Rossoneri midfielder Sulley Muntari, meanwhile, played down the effect of Mancini’s return.

“Mancini is a great coach who has had success everywhere he has gone. He’ll be influential, but he won’t be playing on the pitch. It will be down to the players,” said the Ghanaian.

Ahead of Sunday night’s clash, Roma have the chance to close their three-point gap to leaders Juve away to an Atalanta side sitting two points above the drop zone.

However Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has heaped the pressure on Rudi Garcia’s men following repeated Giallorossi claims that this season’s title will be theirs.

“Roma are strong and have come off the back of a great season in which they finished runners-up,” Allegri told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“But the fact is, they can’t hide now. The pressure will be on them as well because another second place won’t be enough. It would be a big disappointment, a kind of small failure.”

Juventus, however, face a tough trip to a Lazio side that has taken 16 from a possible 21 points in their past seven games.

In an interview with Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper, Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio warned against taking Lazio too lightly following an international break.

“It can be tricky when you come back from international duty,” said Marchisio.

“Lazio will give us problems. It will be a testing environment against a team who are tough, competitive, well-trained and are currently in a rich vein of form.”

Fixtures

Saturday

Atalanta v Roma (1700), Lazio v Juventus

Sunday

Torino v Sassuolo (1130), Cesena v Sampdoria, Verona v Fiorentina, Napoli v Cagliari, Parma v Empoli, Udinese v Chievo (all 1400), Milan v Inter (1945)

Monday

Genoa v Palermo (1945)

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