Milan Derby: A Crucial Clash at the Top of Serie A
The outcome of Saturday's Milan derby may not conclusively determine the Serie A title race, but a victory for either Inter or AC Milan would undeniably provide some much-needed breathing space at the summit of the league.
Following defending champions Napoli's recent home defeat to Lazio, the two Milanese giants currently stand alone at the top, each boasting a perfect record of three wins from three matches.
The upcoming clash at San Siro marks a historic occasion, as it's the first time since 1962 that both Milan clubs meet while perched atop the league table. On that previous occasion, they shared the top spot with Fiorentina.
In the previous season, Inter held the upper hand in their encounters. They emerged victorious in four out of five meetings, including both legs of their Champions League semi-final. A win in the upcoming derby would also signify Inter's first-ever five consecutive derby victories.
However, the current Milan side presents a different challenge compared to last season, where they struggled to defend their league title. Despite the addition of several new faces to the squad, Stefano Pioli's team has quickly dispelled any concerns about needing time to gel, securing maximum points from their initial three fixtures.
Milan's strong start can be attributed to the impact of three key new signings: Tijjani Reijnders, Christian Pulisic, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, all of whom have been starters in their three league victories.
Pulisic, with goals in the first two games, provides a threat on the right flank, adding balance to the team that had predominantly relied on Rafael Leao on the left.
Loftus-Cheek, meanwhile, has bolstered the midfield with his physicality and contributed two assists, while playmaker Reijnders has helped fill the void left by the departure of Sandro Tonali to Newcastle.
Concerns about Olivier Giroud's goal-scoring abilities as he approaches 37 have so far been unfounded, as the French forward has already notched four goals, just one behind Serie A's top scorer, Lautaro Martinez of Inter.
Martinez, who netted 21 league goals in each of the past two seasons, has made his best-ever start to a campaign, outperforming his previous records.
Inter, now managed by Simone Inzaghi, no longer has the services of forwards Romelu Lukaku or Eden Dzeko, but new signing Marcus Thuram got off the mark with a goal in Inter's 4-0 demolition of Fiorentina in the last match.
Preparations for the derby will intensify in the final days, as most starting players return from international duty. Milan has some concerns regarding Giroud's fitness after he sustained an injury while playing for France against Ireland, but they remain hopeful he can recover in time. If not, Luka Jovic, their recent loan signing from Fiorentina, is eager to step in.
Milan will also be without defender Fikayo Tomori due to suspension, with Simon Kjaer expected to fill in.
A draw in the Milan derby would be a welcome result for Juventus, who currently trail the top two by two points. Juventus has the opportunity to narrow the gap with a win against Lazio.
Elsewhere, Napoli, aiming to rejuvenate their title defense, face promoted Genoa, while surprise package Lecce, unbeaten in the season so far, faces an away trip to Monza on Sunday.
AS Roma, managed by Jose Mourinho, with just one point from three games, seeks to kick-start their season when they host Empoli on Sunday.