Unfamiliar look to lunchtime Milan derby

Adriano Galliani arrives at a notary's office for the transfer of ownership of AC Milan from Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest to China's Li Yonghong in Milan, Italy April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Daniele Mascolo

MILAN (Reuters) - With a lunch-time kickoff, both clubs under Chinese ownership and only a place in the much-maligned Europa League to play for, Saturday's Milan derby will be like none of the previous 217 fixtures between the old rivals.

Whether it heralds a brave new dawn for fallen giants Inter Milan and AC Milan, or yet more seasons of transition and uncertainty, remains to be seen.

The game at San Siro will take place less than 48 hours after Italian former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi finalised his sale of AC Milan to a Chinese-led consortium on Thursday for 740 million euros (628.80 million pounds).

It means both clubs are now under Chinese ownership, after retail giant Suning Commerce Group's purchase of Inter last June.

For the first time ever, the fixture will be played at 12.30 p.m. local time, a move likely to appeal to Asian viewers, but widely criticised by local fans on social media.

It will also feature two teams who have become sad shadows of their former selves.

The Derby Della Madonnina used to be one of the world's great fixtures and a centrepiece of the Serie A season but the indifferent form of both teams in the last few years has stripped it of its gloss.

Recently, with neither side in the Champions League or the running for the Serie A title, it has struggled to be billed as the top match of the weekend, let alone of the season.

Milan go into the match in sixth spot with 57 points, with Inter one place and two points below.

Both teams appear to be out of the running for a top three finish, which would earn a place in the Champions League next season, and are instead aiming for fourth to sixth places, which would take them into the second-string Europa League.

It is hardly a great prize but seven-times European champions AC Milan have not even managed to do that in the last three seasons after finishing eighth, ninth and seventh.

"I want to go into Europe, regardless of what Inter do," said AC Milan coach Vincenzo Montella.

Inter Milan have qualified for the Europa League in three of the last five seasons but, embarrassingly, have failed to get beyond the round of 16 and were eliminated in the group stage this season.

Inter's experience since the Suning takeover has been anything but plain sailing.

Coach Roberto Mancini resigned two weeks before the start of the season and his replacement, Frank de Boer, was fired after just 85 days following a miserable start.

Replacement Stefano Pioli oversaw an improvement, including a run of eight successive wins, but is back under pressure after a 2-1 home defeat by Sampdoria and Sunday's loss to humble Crotone.

"There's been a decline and it wasn't expected," Pioli said. "It's important to learn from hard lessons like these and make sure it doesn't happen again."

(Writing by Brian Homewood; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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