Transfer drama threatens to overshadow football derby
As champions AC Milan prepare to host Inter, it has been transfers -- or rather the lack of them -- which have dominated the headlines in Italy in the build-up to this weekend's Milan derby.
Milan was a hive of speculation and activity all week with tales of Alexandre Pato leaving for Paris St Germain and Carlos Tevez due to replace him by joining from Manchester City.
The seven-time European champions seemed to be gearing up to make the big Tevez announcement, while presumably hoping it would overshadow a similar revelation about the 22-year-old Brazilian's departure.
Everything came to a dramatic head on Thursday as first Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani travelled to England, ostentatiously to tie up the Argentina forward's signature.
At the same time reports emerged in France that a 28-million-euro deal -- plus seven million euros in bonuses -- had been agreed to take Pato to Paris.
But then in late afternoon both deals dramatically fell through.
Milan released a statement confirming Pato's decision to stay in Italy and reject the move to PSG.
Minutes later Galliani was said to have abandoned talks with City over Tevez.
Just as a grand crescendo seemed to have been reached, the Italian football world was left with nothing.
Milan had missed out on their much sought-after transfer coup but instead had held onto a player five years Tevez's junior whose best years may yet be ahead of him.
Pato stated that Milan is his home -- he is also dating the club president Silvio Berlusconi's daughter Barbara -- and that he wants to stay and win more things with the rossoneri.
As for Tevez, Milan's decision seems to have left him in limbo.
PSG have already tabled the highest bid for the 27-year-old but he appears unwilling to move to Paris while he seemed to clearly favour Milan over Inter.
Thursday's developments may well open the way for Inter to come back into the reckoning and snatch away their bitter rivals' top transfer target.
That's unlikely to happen before Sunday's super-clash, though, but should Inter manage that and continue their recent winning form -- they have had five successes in a row and seven in their last eight league games -- then they would be right back in the title picture.
Inter currently sit eight points adrift of joint leaders Milan and Juventus, paying for a disastrous start to the season in which they won only two of their first nine games.
Defeat, however, would almost certainly end Inter's hopes of reclaiming the scudetto crown they dominated for five years in a row before Milan dethroned them in May.
In other games Juventus will hope to exploit any Milan slip-up as they host Cagliari, who have just discovered they may have to close their dilapidated Sant'Elia stadium.
Third-placed Udinese face what on paper would usually be considered a tough away trip to Genoa, but their hosts come into the game on the back of conceding nine goals in their last two matches.
Free-scoring Napoli, who have hit nine in their last two -- including a 6-1 demolition of Genoa -- host Bologna on Monday night.
Sunday (1400 GMT unless stated)
Lazio v Atalanta (1130 GMT), Cesena v Novara, Chievo v Palermo, Fiorentina v Lecce, Genoa v Udinese, Juventus v Cagliari, Parma v Siena, AC Milan v Inter Milan (1945 GMT)
Napoli v Bologna (1945 GMT)
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