AC Milan coach Vincenzo Montella does not believe the seven-point gap to rivals Inter is a fair reflection of the quality of the two rivals ahead of Sunday's crucial derby.
Both teams went through a close season of rebuilding with Milan, heavily backed by their wealthy Chinese owners, putting together an expensively assembled squad, while Inter also remoulded under new boss Luciano Spalletti.
However, they head into the match with vastly contrasting fortunes with Montella facing the heat after back-to-back league defeats leaving them seventh, while Inter are riding high in third having not yet lost in Serie A.
The Nerazzurri may be in better shape in the league, but Montella does not see a huge gulf on the pitch.
"I don't think there is a seven-point difference between [the teams] in terms of performances and the prospects going forward," Montella told a pre-match news conference.
"We can only think about Milan and our strengths, working on our values.
"It's an important derby for both teams, the rebirth of both clubs. Whatever happens it will not be the final verdict, the championship is long."
Inter's performances this term have been solid if unspectacular, but Montella does not believe Milan's rivals are riding their luck.
"It would not be fair to say Inter have been fortunate," he added. "They deserved their points, I'd love to have them too."
Montella played under Spalletti during his time at Sampdoria and hopes to emulate his former coach's improvement, with one difference.
"I've been coached by him and saw his transformations over the years," he said. "I hope I can grow and improve how he has, but I would prefer to keep my hair!"
Reports in Italy suggest Milan are lining up former boss Carlo Ancelotti or Chelsea manager Antonio Conte as a replacement for Montella if results do not improve.
But Montella was again keen to emphasise that he has the support of his players and the club's hierarchy.
"The team is 100 per cent behind me," he said. "We are eager to bounce back and prove ourselves. We are a united group.
"The club has been fantastic with me. I've seen the various situations and theories develop."