ROME, January 22 – AC Milan head into this weekend's top of the table derby clash with Inter Milan knowing defeat could spell the end of their Serie A title hopes.Champions Inter have a six-point lead at the top although Milan, in second, have a game in hand, away to Fiorentina in February.
In-form Milan head into this match with eight wins from their last nine Serie A clashes while Inter have stumbled several times recently, particularly on their travels.
They have won only one of their last four away matches in the league and even needed two late strikes to earn a 4-3 victory at home to rock bottom Catania in their last home match.
They will be the hosts at the San Siro on Sunday, although the stadium is also Milan’s home.
The nominal visitors know that while a draw would not be a disaster, the loss of all three points would be.
"The table says we are six points back with a game in hand although that is away to Fiorentina and will be very difficult," said combative midfielder Gennaro Gattuso.
"But we cannot afford to lose the derby, even with a draw we’d still be in with a chance. We’d still be six points back but with a game in hand and the fight would be open."
Gattuso, though, admitted to being worried about Inter’s amazing powers of recovery.
"Inter cause fear because many times they go behind but still pull out incredible recoveries," he said.
"I’m thinking of the match against Siena or the one at San Nicola (stadium) when they were 2-0 down to Bari and only narrowly failed to come home with the three points.
"Inter have a strength and a squad that worries you. There’s (Wesley) Sneijder and (Diego) Milito who have great quality but it’s (coach Jose) Mourinho himself who worries me the most because he’s one who certainly won’t go to sleep until he’s found a solution to stop us.
"I know that right now he’s watching many videos to study and see how to stop us."
Mourinho is going to have to come up with something as he is likely to be without three important midfielders in Dejan Stankovic, Thiago Motta and Sulley Muntari, all stuggling with muscle problems.
Things are little better in their neighbours’ treatment room where striker Pato and full-back Gianluca Zambrotta have been ruled out while centre-back Alessandro Nesta is struggling to be fit.
Further down the table crisis-club Juventus host AS Roma with Claudio Ranieri coming back to face the club that fired him two games before the end of last season.
Ironically, it was following a 3-1 home defeat to Juve at the beginning of the season that saw Luciano Spalletti leave Roma and replaced by Ranieri.
Juve looked set for a great season back then as they won their first four league matches while Roma struggled.
However, Roma have won seven and drawn three of their last 10 league games while Juve have lost seven of their last 10 in all comeptitions and Ranieri’s replacement Ciro Ferrara is under extreme pressure.
Roma are third with Juve down in fifth, although they could be overtaken by both Fiorentina and Cagliari if they win their games in hand.
Catania v Parma, Juventus v AS Roma
Bologna v Bari, Genoa v Atalanta, Inter Milan v AC Milan, Lazio v Chievo, Livorno v Napoli, Palermo v Fiorentina, Siena v Cagliari, Udinese v Sampdoria