The most eagerly-awaited Milan derby in recent memory takes place at the San Siro on Saturday night with both teams aware that the encounter could have asignificant bearing on the eventual destination the Scudetto.

Although pride is always a factor in such a clash, the bright start to the season made by both clubs, ensures that points will be the overriding priority.

Both teams are inhot pursuit of leaders Juventus, with second-placed Internazionale just a point behind, while Milan lie third, a point further back. Surprisingly, given their lofty positions, neither side comes intothe game in particularly good form.

Milan, who set a trailblazing pace in the Champions League, have been in stuttering form inrecent weeks, but coach Carlo Ancelotti remains optimistic about his side’s prospects tomorrow.

“The loss in form recently is simply a psychological defect,” said Ancelotti. “All sides go through that at one stage or another. But we will not change our style or philosophy and I am confident that the invincible Milan will turn up on Saturday.”

Milan’s embarrassment of attacking riches is arguably the only cause for concern for Ancelotti. Namely, how does he accomodate the likes of Shevchenko, Rivaldo, Inzaghi and Rui Costa in the same starting eleven? In all likelihood, he can’t or at least won’t for a match of this significance. The player likelyto give way is the Ukrainian Shevchenko – this despite his remarkable record of scoring 9 times in 6 derby matches.

While Milan have produced some eye-catching football this season, Inter have been a more prosaic, but no less effective outfit. Coach Hector Cuper has moulded an efficient, well-organised unit, which relies largely on the twin strike threat of Hernan Crespo and Cristian Vieri to fashion chances.

Unfortunately for Cuper,a trio of his Argentinian players – Crespo, along with Javier Zanetti and Matias Almeyda – will only arrive back in the city today following the friendly international match in Japan on Wednesday. Therefore, Uruguayan Alvaro Recoba, can expect to start alongside Christian Vieri.

Both teams are missing key defenders with Milan’s Alessandro Nesta Nesta and Inter’s Materazzi, out through injury, but in Alex Costacurta and Fabio Cannavaro both coaches possess capable deputies. Croatian Dario Simic and international midfielder Gennaro Gattuso are also doubts for Milan.

The outcome is too close to call. Although the loss of Nesta would ordinarily be a massive blow for Milan, a return of their early-season attacking verve, should offset any defensive absentees and make Ancelotti’s side marginal favourites.

Probable teams:
Milan (4-3-2-1): Dida – Helveg, Costacurta, Maldini, Kaladze – Ambrosini, Pirlo, Seedorf – Rui Costa, Rivaldo – Inzaghi.
Inter (4-4-2): Toldo – Coco, Cannavaro, Cordoba, J. Zanetti – Okan, Di Biagio, Emre, Morfeo – Recoba, Vieri.