Seedorf: Milan derby is title decider
While many others have been trying to play down the significance of Saturday night's Milan derby between Serie A leaders AC Milan and champions Inter Milan, Clarence Seedorf is not among them.
The veteran Dutch midfielder has won almost every club award in European football with Milan and he knows more than most about what a game such as this means. Milan lead Inter by two points with just eight games to go and Seedorf knows that whoever emerges from the San Siro triumphant will have a tangible advantage in the Scudetto race.
"I say that this derby is decisive. It will have a huge impact on a psychological level and whoever says otherwise is a liar," he said. "We players know it's decisive but it won't be the end. It doesn't mean that (the losers) won't be able to fight back, but no player on either side wants to go home with no points.
"I remember the derby in 2003/04 that we won 3-2 (Seedorf scored the winner) pushed us on to win the title. But the most tense derby of all was the second leg of the Champions League semi-final in 2003."
Milan have happy memories from that day as a 1-1 draw allowed them to progress on the away goals rule and then lift what was at the time their sixth UEFA Champions League crown. In those days Milan were undoubtedly the more noisy neighbour but that has changed over the past few seasons, with Inter on a run of five straight title successes and also holding the Champions League title.
"Inter are a very good team. They're the reigning champions and that's why it's up to us to show that we deserve to win the title," added Seedorf. "It's been seven years since we won the league and we haven't won anything yet. But from what I've seen in training, we're in good shape. But they (Inter) are also in very good shape. I expect great opponents. But I also know how we'll manage it and in that sense I'm very excited and very confident."
Recent form does not suggest the Dutchman should feel so confident, as Milan drew at home to rock bottom Bari and were then beaten 1-0 away to a Palermo side who had lost their previous five games. Furthermore, they will be without star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, suspended after his red card against Bari.
"We've dropped too many points in the other games but now it's a head-to-head clash and we have to show what we're made of," said Seedorf. "Everything that's positive in this team has to be on display on Saturday night."
Given recent results, Inter start the game as favourites, but their Serbian midfielder Dejan Stankovic says that's not necessarily an advantage in such a game. "Looking at our recent results, we could say that we're favourites but derbies don't follow logic," he said. "Out of those (derbies) I've played in Belgrade, Rome and now Milan, I know there's no guarantee that the favourites will win. In fact often it's the opposite."
Whatever the result, third-placed Napoli will have the chance to take advantage when they host fifth-placed Lazio. If they win that and Milan fail to do likewise, Napoli would be just one point off the Serie A summit. The fourth team involved in the title race, Udinese, face a trip to lowly Lecce.
There is another derby on this weekend as Sicilians Catania and Palermo clash, while strugglers Roma and Juventus face off in the capital with both sides needing a win to boost their chances of European football next season.