The Numbers Game: Serie A's great entertainers lock horns in Milan derby

By Sports Desk February 04, 2022

As Serie A returns this weekend, the standout fixture is the Milan derby. And this isn't just any Milan derby.

Champions Inter are setting the pace, with 16 wins and just one defeat in 22 games. They are the top scorers in the division, with 53; they have the most points, with 53. The league's second-best goalscorers are their city rivals, who are only four points behind, albeit having played a game more.

With Juventus having slipped from their perch, Milan and Inter have become Italy's trendsetters once more. They are the leading exponents of Serie A's modern trend: that of shunning catenaccio in favour of front-foot, attacking football. And, with all due respect to second-place Napoli, they are undoubtedly the favourites to occupy the top two places come the end of the season.

All this means Saturday's clash at San Siro should be one to savour...

 

'BORING, BORING SERIE A...'

Matchday 21 of Serie A saw 39 goals scored across only 10 matches. In Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22, only matchday 14 of the Bundesliga (41 goals) and matchday nine of the Premier League (40) produced more goals across a set of fixtures.

That was no aberration, either. Of the 10 highest-scoring matchdays in Europe's big five leagues this term, five have come from Italy. Indeed, Serie A has been averaging over three goals a game for the past three seasons, a rate last seen 70 years ago.

It follows that the two teams best embracing that trend are competing for the Scudetto. Not only have Inter (53) and Milan (47) scored the most Serie A goals in 2021-22, but they have embraced a style that lends itself to creating as many opportunities as possible.

Milan (eight) and Inter (seven) are the teams with the most goals after an open-play sequence of 10 or more passes. When it comes to open-play shots, the Nerazzurri are second (274) and the Rossoneri fourth (265) in the division.

Interestingly, while Inter are top for expected goals (excluding penalties) with 40.9, Milan are down in eighth on 31.3. That means Stefano Pioli's men are outperforming their non-penalty xG total by almost 11 goals (when own goals are included), a tally bettered only by Lazio (16.6). There's a ruthlessness about them this season that's keeping them on Inter's coattails.

 

RELEASE THE HAKAN

Speaking of ruthless... boy, would Zlatan love to be involved in this.

A Scudetto winner with each club, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has great history in this fixture, with eight goals in league derbies (six for Milan and two for Inter). In the history of the fixture, only Giuseppe Meazza (12), Gunnar Nordahl (11) and Stefano Nyers (11) have scored more.

The 40-year-old scored twice in Milan's 2-1 derby victory in October 2020, the only one of the past 11 in the league in which the Rossoneri have come out on top. Unfortunately for them, injury has denied Ibrahimovic the chance of dealing further damage to his old employers.

Instead, the sub-plot burden falls on Hakan Calhanoglu, who made an acrimonious free transfer to Inter from Milan at the end of last season. His 32 goals and 42 assists in 174 appearances for Milan – he was top of the charts for both in his time at the club – made his move particularly painful to bear for supporters.

It was Calhanoglu who scored Inter's goal in the 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture this season, meaning Milan could become the third side, after Chievo and Fiorentina, against whom the Turkey star has scored in his first two Serie A meetings.

Among Serie A midfielders this season, only Antonio Candreva (59) has created more chances than Calhanoglu (50), while his 13 direct goal involvements are second only to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (15). Not that Milan needed any reminders about his threat.

 

DERBY DAZE

Inter have won more games (67) and scored more goals (247) against Milan than any other team in Serie A history. They are also enjoying a run of six wins and only one defeat in the past 11 derbies, in which time their rivals have kept just a single clean sheet.

Since that loss to Milan in October 2020, Simone Inzaghi's side have gone 28 home league matches without defeat. This is their longest such run in the competition since a 46-match streak between April 2008 and November 2010, which was ended by a defeat in the derby courtesy of a goal from, yep, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Form, as well as recent history, is on Inter's side. Since the beginning of last season, they have lost only four of 60 Serie A matches – fewer than half the number of any other team (Atalanta are next best, with nine). In a league table of that time frame, Inter would sit top on 144 points, 16 clear of Milan in second.

 

HALF-MEASURES

Each of these teams is averaging more than two goals per game this season, they have both scored in 21 different league matches and they have each won by two goals on six different occasions. Again, it's safe to expect some attacking football.

If you want specifics, we would suggest not going anywhere midway through the first half. The average times at which Inter and Milan have scored and conceded the first goal in a game this season are between the 27th and 38th minutes. Best wait until the break before grabbing that espresso.

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