For the 214th time, Milan and Inter are preparing to face off in the Derby Della Madonnina, the famous Milan Derby.
There are at least two derbies every season, but each one brings with it an unwavering sense of rivalry. These are two clubs that despise each other, and that will never change.
This is an important match for both clubs of the San Siro (this is Inter's home match). Both Milan and Inter invested heavily in the summer transfer market. Inter have started the season with two narrow victories, while Milan overcame an opening-round loss to Fiorentina to top Empoli before the international break.
There is plenty to keep an eye on during the derby, but these are four key factors to pay attention to.
Is Mario Balotelli going to play?
It is safe to say Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano will lead Milan's attack from the kickoff Sunday, but there is certainly a chance Mario Balotelli makes his second official debut for the Rossoneri against his first major club. Balotelli played well in Milan's friendly at the start of the international break – scoring a goal, assisting another and earning a penalty. However, he did lose his license in Brescia days later for speeding. Despite that, Balotelli should play a big role in Milan's attack this season. After several weeks training with the club, the 25-year-old striker should get his shot late in the match.
Without Bertolacci, who steps up in Milan's midfield?
This question can be deceiving, because Andrea Bertolacci has been the most disappointing player on the field for Milan in the early going. For how much money Milan spent to bring him in, the production rate should be higher. Despite the slow start, not having Bertolacci for the derby is a big loss, and Milan needs someone to slide into the midfield and perform.
Juraj Kucka and Andrea Poli are expected to line up on either side of Nigel De Jong. Expectations will be high for Poli. His midfield performances have been somewhat inconsistent since joining Milan, but when he steps up, he does so in a big way. Against his former club, he will need to be great.
Kucka will be a nerving selection. His debut against Empoli was wildly underwhelming. In fairness, he only joined Milan the day before. Realistically, it is either Kucka or Antonio Nocerino, who does not have the faith of many Milan fans, though he has not looked as bad as usual in Milan's first two matches.
Does Zapata end Ely's hopes of returning to the lineup?
Cristian Zapata lined up with Alessio Romagnoli in defense against Empoli. Milan got the win, but there were still plenty of defensive concerns. Empoli shot 18 times, and Riccardo Saponara made the defense look silly on his goal. Zapata looked to be completely out of the play, and De Jong was forced to fend off the former Milan midfielder on his own.
Still, Zapata is a veteran who brings leadership to the back line. He was in the lineup as a replacement for suspended Rodrigo Ely, but it looks like Ely's first chance at starting put him on thin ice. If Zapata can step up and ward off Inter—which has hit the net late in both matches this season—it could be a Romagnoli-Zapata duo going forward.
All eyes on Perisic
Talented Croatian winger Ivan Perisic joined Inter at the end of the transfer window, and the 26 year old looks prepared to make his debut Sunday.
It is fair to say Perisic is an underrated player in world football. His speed, vision and scoring prowess from the wing have made him an exciting player to watch throughout his career with Club Brugge, Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg. He tallied 21 goals and 16 assists in 88 matches with Wolfsburg, and he can be counted on to make matters difficult for Italian defenses.
Mattia De Sciglio will have his work cut out for him Sunday, but with his pace, he should be able to contain Perisic, at least for a little while. Players like Perisic will always find a way to make an impact.