The prospect of the Milan derby kicking off in front of only one set of supporters at the San Siro was laid to rest ahead of Sunday’s kickoff, but it’s empty trophy cabinets not empty seats that are more worrying for Inter and AC Milan.
The curva nord section of the stadium shared by the city’s fierce rivals was ordered closed for two matches, after Inter fans were heard making “discriminatory” chants against Napoli fans in their 4-2 defeat in Naples last week.
Both sets of fans had threatened a boycott of the derby before the decision was overturned on Friday, pending further investigations.
The usual heated atmosphere will be given slightly less of an edge with the knowledge that, whatever the result, it’s going to be a cold winter break for both teams.
Seven-time European champions AC Milan go into Sunday’s fixtures in 12th place, and could be further down depending on results in the early kickoffs.
The hope created around the team by the explosive arrival of Mario Balotelli from Manchester City last season, when he scored 12 goals in 13 Serie A matches to help Milan to third, has largely disappeared despite the player’s own decent form.
Balotelli has struck six times in 11 games this term but will be envious of his former teammates’ scoring record. Going into Sunday, Inter led the scoring charts alongside Napoli with 36 goals.
But the 2010 European champions have had little return for those exploits, sitting fifth, a huge 15 points behind Juventus.
Whoever wants to leave I'll give a kiss goodbye...I can't make these players play in a stadium that wouldn't even be fit for a third division team.
Italy striker Balotelli was at the centre of a decision to close another club’s curva this week, but that has also been overturned.
The punishment had been meted out to second-placed Roma after their fans allegedly racially abused Balotelli in a 2-2 draw at the San Siro this week.
“In the past we have been quick to condemn incidents of racism but in this case we are convinced that nothing like that happened,” Roma general manager Mauro Baldissoni said.
For some teams, even having a curva to call their own is something of a luxury.
Cagliari’s chairman Massimo Cellino said on Saturday he would not stand in the way of any players wishing to leave the club, after long months of travelling to play home matches near the Slovenian border.
They are now back at the Sant’Elia stadium that they were kicked out of by the local council last year, causing them to set up camp temporarily in Trieste.
But the stadium is still being redeveloped, and only fit to hold around 5,000 fans.
“Our players have played for two-and-a-half year in the street, and for this reason they’re all allowed to leave,” he said after a 1-1 Serie A draw at home to Napoli on Saturday that put the Sardinians 11th after a six-match unbeaten run.
“Whoever wants to leave I’ll give a kiss goodbye, for whoever wants to stay it’s their own business.
“I don’t care, these players have done too much and for me to keep them here would be an injustice.
“I can’t make these players play in a stadium that wouldn’t even be fit for a third division team.”
Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan is set to be first out of the door, whether he wants to or not.
“Nainggolan is definitely leaving, there are six or seven teams after him. He’ll be gone tomorrow, let alone January, and I’ll send him away if he doesn’t want to leave,” Cellino said.