AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri has described Saturday's city derby against champions Inter Milan as the most important game of his career. Allegri is in his first season as Milan boss following two years at Cagliari having worked his way up through the lower ranks before that.
And having seen his team knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the second round stage by Tottenham, Allegri knows there is a lot riding on this game. Milan lead Inter by two points at the top of Serie A with eight games to play and Napoli only a point further back with outsiders Udinese just six points behind.
"This is the most important game of my career but life is a challenge so we'll go and play it," Allegri told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I'm enjoying myself and I feel calm. I was very confident at the beginning of the season and I still am now.
"It would have been nice to still have a ten-point lead (over Inter) but it's also nice to play a derby with as much riding on it as this one, which hasn't happened for many years."
Milan held a 13-point lead over Inter (who had a game in hand) in mid-December but that has been slowly whittled down to their current two-point advantage, in no small part to Milan picking up just one point from their last two games. "The defeat at Palermo was the logical consequence of the draw with Bari but we still have a great chance to win both the league and the Italian Cup," added Allegri.
Milan will have to do without star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the derby as he serves out the second of a two-game ban for throwing a strike into the ribs of Bari's Marco Rossi. Playing at home to the team sitting well adrift at the bottom of the table who appear already doomed, Milan would have been expected to win comfortably but could only manage a draw.
However, the game proved more costly than that with Ibrahimovic's suspension to come but Allegri denies that he could have used such an opportunity to rest the Sweden forward. "He makes a difference even when he does less, how can I leave him on the bench," said the coach. "I could have done that against Bari but if we'd lost what would you (journalists) have said then?"
With Ibrahimovic missing, Allegri admitted he would gladly deprive Inter of their own star striker, Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o. "He's someone who always looks like he's going to make a difference. Despite everything he's won and all the goals he's scored he still wants to chase up and down the line."