Milan, Italy, Feb 6 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to AC Milan will add spice to the city derby against Inter Milan on Sunday with the Swede looking to thwart Antonio Conte’s side from keeping pace with Serie A leaders Juventus.
Ibrahimovic played his first Milan derby as an Inter player 13 years ago, while his last was for rivals AC Milan in May 2012, when he scored a double in a 4-2 defeat.
Ibrahimovic was the top scorer that season with 28 goals but Milan lost the Serie A title to Conte’s Juventus, the first in the Turin giants’ current run of eight league crowns.
The 38-year-old’s return to Milan — whom he helped to their last Serie A title in 2011 — has proved a boost with his side now eighth, seven points adrift of the Champions League berths.
Milan were on a three-match winning run with Ibrahimovic on the pitch but were held 1-1 by Hellas Verona last weekend when the Swede was sidelined by the flu.
AC Milan director Zvonimir Boban praised Ibrahimovic’s impact, insisting the Swede was pushing to be ready for “a unique derby”.
Ibrahimovic meanwhile posted on Twitter a video of himself roaring, with the caption: “Lions don’t sound like humans.”
Stefano Pioli’s Milan come up against an Inter who have been transformed since Conte’s arrival last June. They are just three points behind Juventus, who travel to Verona.
Milan lost the reverse fixture 2-0 in September under Marco Giampaolo, who was sacked after just seven games.
Last summer Inter signed Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, the latter on loan, from Manchester United.
Conte again raided the Premier League during the winter break, bringing in Christian Eriksen, Ashley Young and Victor Moses.
“He’ll be more used to this type of game, I’m just starting,” said former Tottenham midfielder Eriksen of Ibrahimovic, adding he was relishing his first ‘Derby della Madonnina’.
“I’ve seen it on TV in the past but playing now will be very different,” the Dane told Gazzetta Dello Sport.
“Compared to London, I expect a different atmosphere, here the whole stadium sings, there will be so much noise, it will be beautiful.”
– Ronaldo in Verona –
Juventus travel to Verona on Saturday with Cristiano Ronaldo bidding to extend his scoring streak to 10 consecutive league games, to keep pace with Lazio’s Serie A top scorer Ciro Immobile’s 25 goals.
Verona are on a seven-game unbeaten run and held in-form Lazio to a goalless draw in Rome midweek.
Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio are just one point behind Inter Milan in third and will be targeting a record 18th successive match unbeaten.
City rivals Roma host Bologna on Friday after losing to Sassuolo last time out, as they try to staying in the Champions League race.
The side from the capital are equal on points with fourth-placed Atalanta, who travel to 14th-placed Fiorentina.
Torino host Sampdoria under new coach Moreno Longo after Walter Mazzarri was sacked following three consecutive defeats, in which they conceded 13 goals.
Struggling Brescia also switched coaches with Diego Lopez replacing Eugenio Corini.
19 – Points between Inter and AC Milan
17 – Lazio’s unbeaten run in Serie A
14 – Ronaldo’s goals in the last nine games
3 – Inter’s points off leaders Juventus
Fixtures (all times GMT):
Roma v Bologna (1945)
Fiorentina v Atalanta (1400), Torino v Sampdoria (1700), Hellas Verona v Juventus (1945)
SPAL v Sassuolo (1130), Genoa v Cagliari, Brescia v Udinese, Napoli v Lecce (all 1400), Parma v Lazio (1700), Inter Milan v AC Milan (1945)