Milan derby offers Inter chance to confirm rise
MILAN, Oct 26 (Reuters) Serie A leaders Inter Milan face city rivals AC Milan in Saturday's derby aiming to prove that the balance of forces in the 'capital of calcio' has finally swung in their favour.
Inter, who head the standings on 18 points alongside Palermo, have spent most of the past decade as second best to Milan.
During Inter's post-1989 years of underachievement, Milan managed six 'scudetto' triumphs and won the European Cup on three occasions.
Inter managed success only in the UEFA Cup and Italian Cup, failing to get their hands on either the Italian league or Europe's premier trophy.
But in the past few months there have been real signs that Inter could be about to regain the upper hand in the city.
After winning the Italian Cup last season, Inter were awarded the league title following a sports tribunal investigation into allegations of match-fixing.
While Juventus were stripped of their last two titles and relegated to Serie B and Milan were handed an eight-point penalty, Inter were untouched by the allegations and proudly declared themselves the clean face of Italian football.
Although the manner of their title award meant there was little celebration, the club's 14th 'scudetto' at least eased the psychological pressure caused by 17 years without a championship victory.
SHEVCHENKO LOSS Then, while Milan coped with the tribunal appeals and lost their best player, Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko who was sold to Chelsea, Inter coach Roberto Mancini was able to further strengthen his side.
His attack has been boosted by the arrival of Argentine Hernan Crespo and Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic while the French pairing of Patrick Vieira and Olivier Dacourt have brought new steel to the midfield.
While Milan, stuck in mid-table, have struggled for goals in the absence of Shevchenko, Inter showed in their 4-1 win over Livorno on Wednesday that they have plenty of firepower.
One of the other new faces at the club, Italian World Cup winning hero Fabio Grosso, is relishing the prospect of his first derby game.
''It is a fascinating match that I have always seen from the outside, and now I am lucky enough to experience it. We're hoping to have a great game. We're on top of the table and we want to stay there,'' said Grosso.
Milan may not yet have found the solution to their lack of finishing ability but their 1-0 win over Chievo Verona on Wednesday did at least help ease the pain of last week's home loss to Palermo.
''It was an important win for us because now we can look forward to the derby with the right attitude,'' said coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Joint leaders Palermo face a difficult test away to Fiorentina on Sunday while third-placed AS Rome, who have drawn their last two games -- both at home -- travel to Udinese on Saturday.
REUTERS PM VV0854