The Milan derby is a huge tie, but are they really two of the best teams in Europe?

WE’VE known for a long time the Champions League doesn’t always go to the best team around, but the finalists are often those that took their chances, rode their luck and had a sprinkling of genius when it was really needed. One of the Milan sides will make the final in 2022-23, neither of whom are comfortably among the very top clubs, but they have earned their place by slaloming their way through the competition. 

It has generally been a good Champions League for Italy this season, with three of the last eight coming from Serie A, including the stuttering Champions-elect, Napoli, as well as the last two winners of the scudetto. For those who believe Italy is a vital UEFA nation, the current renaissance is welcome.

 WinsRunners-upNo. of winning clubs First winnerLast winner
Spain19112Real Madrid (1956)Real Madrid (2022)
England14115Manchester United (1968)Chelsea (2021)
Italy12163AC Milan (1963)Inter (2010)
Germany8103Bayern Munich (1974)Bayern (2020)
Netherlands623Feyenoord (1970)Ajax (1995)
Portugal452Benfica (1961)Porto (2004)
France161Marseille (1993)Marseille (1993)
Scotland111Celtic (1967)Celtic (1967)
Romania111Steaua (1986)Steaua (1986)
Yugoslavia111Red Star Belgrade (1991)Red Star Belgrade (1991)

It’s not the first time that AC Milan and Inter have met in the competition, but they never clashed when the competition was truly about champions and holders. This season, three of the semi-finalists were actually champions in the previous campaign (Real, Milan and City), the highest over the past five years. Last season only City fell into that category as champions in 2020-21.

Milan and Inter went head-to-head in 2002-03 in the semi-finals and two years later in the quarter-finals. Both times, Milan went through. Both clubs have been through some lean times in recent years, but having won Serie A in 2021 (Inter) and 2022 (Milan), the co-tenants of the San Siro are certainly happier than they have been over the past decade. However, neither have been consistent enough this season but now they find themselves battling it out for a place in the Champions League final.

AC Milan have not had the easiest of paths to the last four: Napoli, Tottenham, Dinamo Zagreb, Chelsea and Salzburg, Of the four semi-finalists, thee have the lowest average [UEFA] ranking of opponents, an average of 21 compared to Real (24), Manchester City (25) and Inter (30).

UEFA will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of this Milan derby, but will the fans be happy about a domestic affair at this stage of the competition? There have been some interesting precedents, such as the Chelsea v Liverpool saga that saw them play each other eight times between 2004-05 and 2008-09. Liverpool went through in 2005 (controversially) and 2007, while Chelsea won in 2008 and in the quarter-finals of 2009. Real Madrid have clashed with Barcelona and Atlético in the semi-finals and in the latter’s case, the final, while Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund met in the final of 2013. And of course, there’s the famous Liverpool v Nottingham Forest tie in 1978-79. There’s been eight one-country finals in the Champions League, the most recent being Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Manchester City in 2021.

At least this season there will not be a one-nation shoot out, but it could be another Spain versus Italy decider, the most common final in the history of the European Cup/Champions League. There’s been eight so far. Or it could be England v Italy, of which there has been four in the past (1984, 1985, 2005 and 2007). Every one of these has involved Liverpool, but they are out and, are probably heading for Thursday night football in 2003-04.

This will be AC Milan’s 13th semi-final in this competition. They have a very good record, 10 wins and two defeats. For Inter, it will be their ninth but their scorecard is less impressive, five wins and three draws.

For the winners, the prize couldn’t be more lucrative from both a prestige or fiscal perspective. The last Italian winner of the Champions League was Inter in 2010, the last Milan win was three years before that. Juventus have been in two finals since those high spots, but they were unable to beat Real Madrid and Barcelona. An Italian win is long overdue, the current run without victory is 13 years, the longest barren period since 1969 to 1985.

These clubs are, of course, part of European football’s pantheon but they are a long way off their peaks. One of them could rekindle the flame of the early 1960s or in Milan’s case, the glory of the late 1980s by reaching the final once more. It will be good to see them back on the main stage, but have either of them got enough to become champions? It will be a big ask.

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