Inter and AC Milan Serie A title battle goes down to wire leaving city braced for headache

Rossoneri lead rivals by two points at top of table going into final weekend of Italian season

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Pity the city of Milan’s chief of police this weekend. On Saturday, the Radio Italia Live concert, a major event in Italy’s music calendar, takes place in the city centre. Crowds have barely dispersed and the clean-up operation started than there is another headache for those in charge of public order.

One of the city’s great clubs will by 8pm on Sunday be crowned as Serie A champions. AC Milan, two points ahead of Inter Milan in the table, are favourites to clinch the scudetto on the last match day. Should they slip up at Sassuolo, Inter could still retain the title they won, after a long gap, last season.

But last year, things were both more complicated and at the same time simpler for anybody concerned with civic crowd control. Covid-19 restrictions still governed the numbers allowed into football stadiums and at public gatherings elsewhere, putting constraints on how exuberantly interisti, fans of Inter, were able to celebrate their title.

Nor had the city of Milan needed to contemplate a fully-engaged mass of local supporters celebrating the most important domestic prize for a long while before that. Each of the Serie A titles between 2012 and 2020 belonged to Juventus; any festivities around those were an issue for the city of Turin.

Worse still, the greater likelihood is that the stadium that both Milan and Inter share, the towering, ageing Giuseppe Meazza at San Siro, will be disgorging disappointed supporters on Sunday.

Inter are at home to Sampdoria. Tickets have sold out. The vast majority in the arena will have their attention simultaneously on Milan’s match at Sassuolo. The outcome there may well douse any enthusiasm for whatever Inter achieve against 15th-placed, safe-from-relegation Sampdoria.

Enough Milan fans are expected to travel to Sassuolo to at least fill the 18,000 seats at the Citta del Tricolore stadium, some two hours drive south of the city of Milan. That leaves plenty of the local fan base at home, eager to fill the piazzas and squares if Milan get a result, and to bump into interisti returning to the centre from San Siro. Hence the apprehension for the local authorities.

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As for those in charge of handing over the trophy, two presentation scenarios, one at San Siro, one in Sassuolo, have been planned, as usually happens when the title goes down to the last day.

There has been criticism of the Italian league for scheduling the two key matches. They kick-off at 6pm, an hour later than the games in the Premier League’s last-day title race – with Liverpool still in contention to wrestle first place away from Manchester City – kick off, with a possible detrimental impact on global, live broadcast audiences. The intention, with the timing, was to avoid celebrations, be they Milan’s or Inter’s, dragging on too long into Sunday night or Monday morning.

Milanisti have every reason to plan with confidence for a jubilant evening. Five league wins in succession, and an unbeaten run of 15 Serie A matches, have taken them to the brink of a first league title in 11 years, and to the climax of a stirring rise over the last two and half years. Back in late December 2019, a 5-0 loss to Atalanta plunged them into the bottom half of the Serie A table. Last weekend, a 2-0 victory over Atalanta put Milan within a point of deposing their local rivals as champions.

It was been a long wait. Back in 2011, Milan’s league-winning medallists included three men who have since passed in and out of the club as manager – Gennaro Gattuso, Pippo Inzaghi and Clarence Seedorf – and comprised a number of mavericks, such as Ronaldinho, Antonio Cassano and Robinho.

The champions of 11 years ago had Zlatan Ibrahimovic as their leading scorer. Ibrahimovic, who returned to the club in January 2020 and turned 40 last September, has the best-goals-per-minute ratio of any of the club’s scorers this league season.

His allies have been the almost-as-ageless Olivier Giroud, who won his last league title with Montpellier a decade ago – ahead of a Premier League career at Arsenal and Chelsea that ended last summer – and the exciting 22-year-old Rafael Leao.

There have been significant contributions from Junior Messias, who the last time Milan won a title, was making his living delivering heavy domestic appliances to homes around Turin as a freshly-arrived, 20-year-old immigrant from Brazil. Messias only made his debut in Serie D, the fourth tier, in 2016, and in Serie A at the age of 29.

That mix-and-match set of strikers will likely be supplemented next by Divock Origi, of Liverpool. Being Italian champions would help Milan attract other established talents to an institution back on the rise.

Updated: May 20, 2022, 7:31 AM