City rivals Internazionale and AC Milan are two of the world’s biggest clubs. Both teams have won 18 Serie A titles, second only behind Juventus. Milan have the second-most Champions League titles in history with seven, while Inter are the last Italian team to win the big-eared trophy, in the 2009/10 season. However, in recent times, both clubs have failed to repeat their past successes.
Since winning their last Serie A title in 2010/11, Milan’s league performance has dropped sharply. Although they finished inside the Champions League places during 2011/12 and 2012/13, the 2013/14 campaign saw the Rossoneri finish outside the European places for the first time since 1998. This failure was repeated the next two seasons, with Milan not qualifying for Europe again until a 6th place finish in 2016/17 gave them a Europa League spot. The club has not participated in the Champions League since that disastrous 2013/14 season.
Inter have also struggled since they won the treble in 2009/10 under Jose Mourinho. After finishing 2nd in the 2010/11 Serie A, the club went six consecutive seasons without qualifying for the Champions League until their 4th placed finish in 2017/18 gave them a ticket to the 2018/19 group stages.
The difficulties of the Milan clubs have been accompanied by uncertainty at boardroom level. After buying the club in 1955 and controlling it for more than 58 years, the Moratti family sold Inter to Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir in October 2013. Less than three years later, Thohir sold a controlling stake in the club to private Chinese firm Suning Holdings after disappointing on-field results under his ownership. In 2017, Milan were also bought by Chinese investors. Long-time owner Silvio Berlusconi sold the club for 740 million euros to a consortium led by Li Yonghong. However, when Li defaulted on a 32 million euro loan related to Milan’s financial fair play issues at the end of the 2017/18 season, American hedge fund company Elliott Management took control of the club.
Fortunately, both clubs appear to have stabilized under new ownership. Heavy summer spending on both sides of the Milan divide has raised expectations for the 2018/19 season. After Milan spent a whopping 196.4 million euros in the summer of 2017 under Li Yonghong, Elliott has poured in 97 million euros this summer to improve the playing squad, with the total potentially rising to 168 million euros if all the options to buy are executed at the end of the year. Even though they went into this summer with a stronger squad than their eternal rivals, Inter have still spent 78.5 million euros in this transfer window, which could rise to 148 million euros if the options to buy are used.
Milan’s standout purchase is former Napoli star Gonzalo Higuaín, who joins the club after being pushed out at Juventus by the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. Higuaín is a proven goalscorer on the peninsula, with 111 goals in 158 Serie A games. Milan fans will hope that Higuaín can resolve the team’s long-standing goalscoring issues. Last season, Milan’s top scorer was Patrick Cutrone, who struck 10 times in league play. The Rossoneri have not had a forward score more than 20 league goals in a season since Zlatan Ibrahimovic found the back of the net 28 times in 2011/12.
Arguably Inter’s best piece of business this summer was holding onto their star forward Mauro Icardi, who stayed despite rumored interest from Real Madrid. In addition, the club picked up Serie A veterans Stefan de Vrij and Kwadwo Asamoah on free transfers. Promising young Argentinean forward Lautaro Martínez joined for 23 million euros from Racing Club, with his release clause set at 111 million euros before he played a competitive match in Italy.
Nevertheless, the summer reinforcements have yet to improve the club’s fortunes. With Napoli losing manager Maurizio Sarri and key creative midfielder Jorginho to Chelsea this summer, Inter were expected to be Juventus’ main challengers this season. Yet, the club have collected only 1 point from their first two league games, only drawing 2-2 at home to Torino in round 2 after holding a 2-0 lead in the second half. Milan also threw away a two-goal lead in their only league match of the season, eventually going down 3-2 at Napoli.
With both teams having to balance their Serie A commitments with European ambitions this season, it is imperative that they get off to solid starts in the league. The pressure will be particularly intense on Inter, who are in the Champions League for the first time since 2011/12. Coach Luciano Spalletti’s job could come under threat if they do not improve on last season’s league position and qualify for at least the Champions League knockout stages. There will be more patience granted to Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso, after a disappointing 6th placed finish last time out meant they would be playing Europa League and not Champions League this season. Yet, the illustrious history of both these clubs demands that they challenge for domestic and European titles every season. Their fans expect nothing less, which means that the rebuilding jobs being undertaken by both clubs is happening inside a pressure cooker.