Berlusconi derby: Monza riding crest of a wave ahead of Serie A meeting with Milan

Silvio Berlusconi's current and former loves go head-to-head on Saturday when Monza hosts AC Milan looking to continue its thrilling debut Serie A season by taking another big scalp. The only Italian top-flight team yet to lose in 2023, Monza welcomes the reigning champion with an eight-match unbeaten record to protect and the potential to further damage the team with which Berlusconi won every honor in the game.

Raffaele Palladino's team is just inside the top half of the league's standings, level on 29 points with a Juventus team it beat home and away, and playing the kind of soccer that suggests the club's stay in Serie A is set to be a long one. Since Palladino took charge in mid-September, Monza has won half of its 16 league matches and had the season started at that point it would be fifth, only outside the Champions League places on goal difference.

Earlier this month, Berlusconi, the  former Italian prime minister, said that he wanted Monza to aim for the league title next season "and the one after that." It may not be wise to put too much stock in what the aging media magnate has to say given his promise of a "busload of hookers" if Monza beats one of Italy's big three clubs.

But his ambition for the club is clear and he has put his money where his mouth is, respected soccer finance website Calcio E Finanza estimating his outlay via family holding company Finivest at 116 million euros in a club which was in the third tier when purchased in 2018. He has entrusted team matters to his right-hand man Monza native Adriano Galliani, who has built a team which beat Juve twice and held Inter Milan to a 2-2 draw at home last month. Making use of smart loan deals, Galliani has recruited Italian internationals Matteo Pessina -- another Monza man and club captain -- and Gianluca Caprari, who is rediscovering the form that led to him scoring 12 goals for Verona last season.

However, its task will be harder than it would have been a week ago as Milan is on a high after beating Tottenham Hotspur to give it a chance of reaching the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time in over a decade. Milan's dramatic slump which ended with wins against Spurs and Torino left the club without any realistic hope of retaining its league crown, yet it is still in the fight for a spot in next season's edition of Europe's top club competition.

Napoli kick off the weekend's action on Friday night when it takes on Sassuolo, a massive 15 points ahead of all the other teams and with a Champions League trip to Eintracht Frankfurt coming up next week. On a run of six league wins in a row, Napoli has been given an unnecessary helping hand by its stuttering rivals. Most recently, second-placed Inter Milan failed to win at a Sampdoria team in serious financial trouble on Monday night. On Sunday night, Inter host Udinese, which started the season strongly, but has won only once in its last 14 league matches and could be overtaken by Monza if its dream run continues.

Player to watch: Victor Osimhen

Serie A's top scorer is in the form of his life right now, eight goals in seven league matches since the start of the year making him one of the most feared forwards in Europe. The Nigerian striker is key to not just Napoli's march towards a historic title triumph, but also its chances in the Champions League.

Friday: Sassuolo vs. Napoli
Saturday: Sampdoria vs. Bologna, Monza vs. AC Milan, Inter Milan vs. Udinese
Sunday: Atalanta vs. Lecce, Fiorentina vs. Empoli, Salernitana vs. Lazio, Spezia vs. Juventus, Roma vs. Verona
Monday: Torino vs. Cremonese


© Agence France-Presse

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