Milan, January 25: Former Milan midfielder and head coach Cristian Brocchi is hopeful the Rossoneri can maintain their charge for a drought-ending Serie A title as they vie for domestic silverware with neighbours Inter.
Milan have not won the Scudetto since 2011, but the Italian giants top the table at the halfway stage of the season – two points clear of Inter despite a 3-0 humbling at the hands of Atalanta.
Following years of pain, Stefano Pioli's Milan and their fans are daring to dream as they rise to the summit of Italian football once again.
Monza head coach Brocchi was part of the successful Milan era between 2001 and 2008, after a brief spell with city rivals Inter, winning two Champions League titles, the Scudetto, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup, Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana.
While Brocchi attempts to lead Monza from Serie B to the top flight this season, the 44-year-old's heart still beats for boyhood club Milan as they prepare for Tuesday's blockbuster Coppa Italia quarter-final against Inter.
Brocchi, who oversaw seven matches in charge of Milan before being replaced by Vincenzo Montella in 2016, told Stats Perform News: "Milan are a family for me.
"I arrived there at nine, was in the all the youth ranks. I won everything with Milan and when I quit I managed to be Milan's coach for a short period. I will never feel colder toward Milan.
"I root for them, watch every game and hopefully, as they are doing great, they can go on down this path."
Milan have already beaten Inter in 2020-21 – a three-minute brace from Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the Rossoneri past the Nerazzurri 2-1 in October's Serie A showdown.
The two teams will meet again at San Siro, where a Coppa Italia semi-final berth is on the line amid an intriguing title race, with nine-time reigning champions Juventus, Roma, Atalanta and Napoli also vying for honours.
Brocchi is no stranger to the Derby della Madonnina, having also experienced the build-up from the opposing side during his stint with Inter in 2000-01.
"First of all, I think the most beautiful derby ever played was the one in the Champions League semi-final in 2003 [Milan prevailed on away goals after a 1-1 draw]. It was the ultimate derby for adrenaline and all the feelings you can feel," Brocchi said ahead of Monday's Serie B showdown with Brescia.
"The Milan derby is emotional, everybody wants to win and even if now it will be played without public, it still gives us great feelings."
All eyes will be on Ibrahimovic in Milan, where the 39-year-old continues to defy his age to inspire a title charge this term.
Ibrahimovic, who re-joined Milan from LA Galaxy in January 2020 having featured in the last Rossoneri team to celebrate league success almost a decade ago, has scored 12 goals in just nine Serie A matches this season.
After scoring twice in a 2-0 win over Cagliari on January 18, it meant Ibrahimovic managed to find the back of the net in nine successive starts for the first time in his career in Europe's top five leagues.
Ibrahimovic – who made his 600th career appearance (excluding playoffs) in the loss to Atalanta – is just two goals shy of reaching the 500 mark in club football.
"Strong players have no age as long as they feel fine. Ibra is an example, he is still strong physically," Brocchi continued.
"He is serving with character and class all the young player at Milan, who as I said before for us [Monza] with [Mario] Balotelli and [Kevin-Prince] Boateng. We have young players that can run for them too.
"Milan did the same. They assembled a squad of youngsters full of enthusiasm, legs and speed with a strong leader, Ibra, who is still at the top of his game and can be the icing on the cake of this winning choice."