One of the most significant stagings of the Derby della Madonnina in recent history takes place on Sunday afternoon, as AC Milan have an immediate opportunity to regain the league lead they lost to city rivals Inter Milan last weekend.
Defeat to Serie A surprise package Spezia last time out leaves the Rossoneri one point behind their closest and oldest foes ahead of the 174th Milan derby in the top flight. Antonio Conte's Inter, meanwhile, will not want to relinquish their spot at the summit, as the race for the Scudetto continues.
Before a potentially historic clash between two giants of Calcio - with both seeking to win the championship for the first time since Juventus embarked on a nine-year spell of dominance - Europa League contenders Milan and their San Siro co-tenants Inter, who crashed out of continental competition before Christmas, have prepared in contrasting ways.
Last week, Stefano Pioli's 'Campioni d'Inverno' (winter champions) were finally dethroned by the Nerazzurri at the top of the Serie A standings, having maintained top spot for 21 rounds. A shock loss at humble Spezia and Inter's clinical 3-1 win over in-form Lazio meant that they finally let first place slip at an inopportune moment.
Though they were out-thought and out-fought in Liguria last time out, Milan's defeat will not necessarily have surprised their success-starved tifosi, as Pioli's men have now lost three league games since the start of 2021 - one more than they did throughout the entirety of 2020.
In fact, previously near-invincible on the domestic stage since lockdown was first lifted on the peninsula last summer, the Rossoneri have lately stumbled into three losses from their last seven top-flight games - as many as in their previous 41.
On Thursday, ten-man Red Star Belgrade managed to steal a late equaliser at the Marakana, in Milan's last-32, first-leg Europa League tie with the Serbian champions. An own goal and a relatively soft penalty helped the visitors into a two-goal lead, but a much-changed XI proved unable to bring an advantage - other than two away goals - back to Lombardy for next week's deciding leg.
Veteran talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic was among those rested in midweek, as he prepares to once more do battle with his former employers, less than a month after the notorious Coppa Italia clash when he butted heads and, more controversially, swapped caustic words with Inter's own star striker Romelu Lukaku.
On that night, the self-proclaimed 'King Zlatan' was deservedly sent off in the second half as his team went on to miss out on a place in the semi-finals, thanks to Christian Eriksen's inspired late free kick.
Now, in 'Act Three' - the concluding part of this season's Milanese melodrama - the Diavolo could gain sweet revenge by winning both encounters against Inter in a single Serie A campaign for only the second time in the last 15 years, last achieving the feat back in 2010-11, when they won 1-0 in the first game and 3-0 in the second.
The two second city clubs now meet in a league fixture while holding the top two positions in the table for the first time since that meeting in April 2011 when, after enjoying their three-goal success in the derby, Milan ultimately went on to claim their 18th Scudetto - and their last to date.
Boasting a remarkably similar trophy cabinet to that of their Rossoneri rivals, with their last title triumphs coming in 2010 (Inter) and 2011 (Milan), Inter are doubly desperate to secure silverware this term. Not only would a 19th Scudetto put them ahead of Milan in the overall rankings, but it would also offer the twin benefit of denying bitter foes Juventus a tenth successive title.
With 30 domestic trophies and 18 league titles apiece, the two clubs are as historically well-matched as they currently are in the table, but Inter could have the edge this time - perversely, courtesy of their ineptitude in the Champions League group stage. As the Nerazzurri finished stone-last of an admittedly challenging section, they have been able to enjoy a rare midweek break ahead of the derby - the first of several due this spring.
Knowing that Milan's unexpected defeat on the Saturday meant that victory last Sunday would put them top of the pile, Antonio Conte's men downed Lazio 3-1 at San Siro in their last outing, extending their unbeaten streak to six and bringing them onto a half-century of points so far.
After a brief and relatively rare sticky patch for both men, Romelu Lukaku put in one of his best performances since moving to Italy against the Roman side, as he bagged a brace and also provided an assist for his resurgent strike partner Lautaro Martinez.
Chasing not only a first Scudetto, but also the Capocannoniere crown, Lukaku now leads the league in goalscoring, alongside Juve's Cristiano Ronaldo. With two goals in his last three matches, his 11-goal Argentinian colleague also seems to have arisen from a slight slump just at the right time.
Having previously suffered Coppa Italia elimination at the hands of Juventus, it is crystal clear that Conte and company now only have eyes for the Scudetto this season. The minor matter of a derby date with destiny is one of their biggest remaining obstacles and San Siro is set to host an intensely-fought duel that could go a long way in determining whether it will be the blue or red side of the city celebrating in May.
AC Milan Serie A form: WWLWWL
AC Milan form (all competitions): LLWWLD
Inter Milan Serie A form: DWDWWW
Inter Milan form (all competitions): WWLWDW
Following his omission from the action in Belgrade, Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns to the first XI in place of his recently-acquired deputy Mario Mandzukic, who picked up a knock on Thursday, while Davide Calabria also comes back in on the right flank and Simon Kjaer resumes his senior role in central defence, as Pierre Kalulu and Fikayo Tomori both drop to the bench.
Now fully emerged from a brief injury and illness crisis earlier in the month, coach Stefano Pioli only has concerns over the availability of Brahim Diaz and midfield lynchpin Ismael Bennacer - one of the recent returnees - who came off early the Serbian capital.
Should Bennacer miss out, Sandro Tonali would partner Franck Kessie in the Rossoneri engine room and, since everyone else is now near full fitness, playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu will be joined by any two from Alexis Saelemaekers, Ante Rebic, Samu Castillejo and Rafael Leao, in support of Ibrahimovic in attack.
Never a man for vast overhauls or unnecessary tinkering, Inter coach Antonio Conte could name the same side which enjoyed such supremacy over Lazio last week - particularly as they will have had several spare days to recover from their exertions.
Therefore, it is quite possible that one-time outcast Christian Eriksen, who seems to have salvaged his Calcio career with the Coppa Italia winner against Milan, will be preferred to veteran Arturo Vidal on the left of Conte's midfield three.
Stalwart goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, who has just celebrated his 500th Serie A appearance, starts behind the usual back three, with the 'Lu-La' deadly duo of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez up front.
AC Milan possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Tonali; Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Rebic; Ibrahimovic
Inter Milan possible starting lineup:
Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic, Eriksen, Perisic; Martinez, Lukaku
We say: AC Milan 1-2 Inter Milan
Although there are endless head-to-heads and angles from which to view this potentially historic clash, top billing is reserved for two men only.
Ahead of the final round of their heavyweight bout this season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 10 goals in Milan derbies - including two for Inter - and Romelu Lukaku is intent upon becoming the first player since 1973 to score in four consecutive Milan derbies in Serie A.
Lukaku's team, though, can boast recent supremacy in terms of form and have come together as a more cohesive unit since the turn of the year. Only any mental frailties lingering from last term's failure to secure trophies can stop the Nerazzurri from stretching their lead over their younger, more dynamic, but less wily Rossoneri counterparts.