October 18, 2018 / 1:41 PM / 10 months ago

PREVIEW-Soccer-U.S and Chinese-owned clubs clash in the Milan derby

MILAN, Oct 18 (Reuters) - For the first-time in its 109-year history, the Milan derby on Sunday will feature a clash between a U.S. club and a Chinese-owned one.

Both AC Milan and Inter Milan have undergone changes of ownership in the last few years as they bid to return to their former glories. In their last four fixtures, both clubs were under Chinese control.

But while Inter remain under the control of retail giant Suning Holdings Group which bought the club in August 2016, their neighbours are now owned by U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management which took over from Chinese businessman Li Yonghong in July.

Although Inter are third in the table, eight points behind leaders Juventus, and Milan are a modest 10th, the build up to the Sunday evening clash at San Siro has resembled that of a top-of-the-table match.

Unlike most of their recent meetings, where at least one of the teams has been in crisis mode, the 222nd Derby della Madonnina features two sides who are on form.

Luciano Spalletti’s Inter have won their last six games in all competitions while Gennaro Gattuso’s Milan are unbeaten in eight games since losing their opening match of the season to Napoli.

Inter’s squad has a combined market value of around 555 million euros ($638 million), according to the specialist website Transfermarkt, while AC Milan’s is not far behind at 486 million euros.

Both teams are involved in European competition with Inter back in the Champions League after a six-season absence and Milan in the Europa League.

“It’s a fascinating derby both for our tradition, for the stadium, the fans, for many other aspects,” Milan defender Alessio Romagnoli told his club’s television channel.

“We’re aware this game can give us an added morale boost, however, other than being a derby, they are our rivals in the race for a Champions League spot.”

Milan are still undergoing changes since the latest takeover.

Former Brazilian international Leonardo Araujo — usually known simply as Leonardo — has been appointed as sporting director while Ivan Gazidis, formerly at Arsenal, will takeover as Milan’s chief executive later this year.

Paolo Maldini, who spent the whole of his 25-year playing career at the club, has also been persuaded to take a director’s role.

The club spent around 125 million euros in new signings during the close season, including defender Mattia Caldara, left back Diego Laxalt and striker Gonzalo Higuain, on loan from Juventus.

They also raked in around 82 million euros by selling a number of players, including Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci.

“Since they first arrived, they have passed a sense of tranquillity and serenity,” said Romagnoli of the new management.

“They know this world very well and we feel their presence. We have a solid club supporting us... they provide us with all the necessary tools we need to express ourselves on the pitch.” ($1 = 0.8702 euros) (Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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