Seedorf: Derby is a must-win
AC Milan's veteran Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf believes his team need to beat city rivals Inter on Sunday to prove their disastrous start to the season was just a blip.
While three-in-a-row champions Inter have already resumed their customary position at the head of Serie A, Milan have had to claw their way back from the relegation zone, having lost their opening two matches. But victories over Lazio and Reggina mean that Milan head into the crucial derby just four points off the pace.
Even so, Seedorf believes a win is that much more important for his team, the nominal home side at San Siro on this occasion, than it is for Jose Mourinho's Inter. "The derby is a hugely important match, even if in this moment it won't make a big difference to the rest of the season," said the Dutchman.
"Managing to beat Inter would be important for our fans after a disappointing beginning to the season. Earning three points would be important for Milan to rebound. .
"I expect it to be a great derby, both teams are playing well and the morale is high in both camps."
Morale is certainly higher in the blue and black half of the city, where Inter have adapted quickly to new coach Jose Mourinho's style and tactics. They are even showing Mourinho character, with the Portuguese coach playing his usual cards in midweek against a stubborn Lecce side, throwing on a posse of attacking players in the second half to try to break the deadlock.
Seedorf has been at his creative best this season, and his form is one reason that Ronaldinho has found himself warming the bench in the last three Milan matches. He may have arrived amongst much pomp and ceremony, as did Ukraine forward Andrei Shevchenko, but both have been playing second fiddle to lesser lights.
But Seedorf insists there is harmony in the camp and that players are not in competition with each other for a starting berth. "First and foremost we play together. Between us there is only esteem and respect," he said of his relationship with the Brazilian.
"There's no duel because I have different characteristics to him. In the last two matches I've played in central midfield, whereas he plays in a different position."
Seedorf is also looking forward to locking horns with Mourinho, for whom he has the utmost respect despite the former Chelsea boss's reputation as a provocateur. "I've been able to get to know him and I think he's a really intelligent coach," he added. "He's a coach who really protects his players. I think the provocations are a strategy to take the attention (pressure) away from the team."
While Seedorf will undoubtedly have an important role to play for Milan, so too will Inter captain Javier Zanetti. The Argentine has been accepting the plaudits this week after reaching 600 first team outings for Inter in his 14 years at the club.
He is not taking Milan lightly, though, despite their early-season problems. "You have to respect Milan, they've improved and it will be a really competitive match as the derby always is," he said.
"I think Inter are coming into this game ready, because we've had the time to prepare as best as we can and we hope that we can do what we're capable of doing to win."
In other matches, Fiorentina and AS Roma will both be looking to kick-start their championship challenges with home clashes against Genoa and Atalanta respectively. Second-placed Lazio travel to Torino, while Juventus face a tough task at Sampdoria, who are yet to win this season.
Napoli take one of only three unbeaten records to Bologna, while rock-bottom Cagliari will be hoping for their first points of the season at home to newly promoted Chievo.