Veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is expected to be fit for AC Milan’s Serie A derby against Inter Milan, according to head coach Stefano Pioli. The 38-year-old, who joined the club for a second spell in January, missed Milan’s 1-1 draw with Hellas Verona last Sunday through illness. But he looks set to recover in time for today’s Derby della Madonnina.
Inter Milan head into the derby showdown with AC Milan looking to ensure that they remain within touching distance of Serie A leaders Juventus.
Meanwhile, Milan’s recent resurgence means that they are now contenders for sixth position – a spot which Stefano Piolo would love to achieve while derailing the title ambitions of their fierce rivals.
While Antonio Conte would have been disappointed that his side failed to take advantage of being top of the table, the Inter head coach will equally feel content that they remain within three points of top spot.
The defeat for Juventus at Napoli highlighted that Maurizio Sarri’s squad were also susceptible to pressure, a development which potentially acted as the catalyst for Inter to see off Udinese last weekend.
The second-half double from Romelu Lukaku ensured that Inter ended a run of three successive 1-1 draws ahead of a run of games which sees them face Milan, Lazio and Juve by March 1.
With the Champions League also on the agenda, the next month is a pivotal period for Inter as they bid to reclaim their spot among the upper echelon of the sport.
Having added the likes of Ashley Young, Victor Moses and Christian Eriksen to his group of players, however, Conte will be confident that he now has the strength in depth to compete on all fronts.
There is an argument that Inter are no longer the clear favourites to prevail in this contest, with Milan having been superb since the turn of the year.
Five wins and two draws have been registered in all competitions, keeping Piolo’s men in the hunt for a top-six spot and the Coppa Italia.
Ibrahimovic has made a significant impact both on and off the pitch, inspiring many of Milan’s attack-minded players to get in on the act in the final third.
While the backline has not always been as tight, Piolo will accept that the momentum which has been generated ahead of their biggest game of the season could prove to be the decisive factor.
Milan are also motivated in their search of a first league win over their neighbours since a 3-0 success back in January 2016.
“Today he is training with the squad and if he gets through that, he will be available,” Pioli said yesterday regarding Ibrahimovic.
“He has undergone an individual training programme.”
Despite the fact Milan lie ninth in Serie A, 19 points behind second-placed Inter, they are unbeaten since Ibrahimovic arrived on a free transfer last month.
And Pioli believes the former Sweden international is key to his side’s chances against his former club, who have not lost in the league since October’s defeat by champions Juventus.
“We’re facing a team that hasn’t lost for some time,” Pioli said.”On Sunday(today), we must all have the face of Ibrahimovic, fired up and determined. We must maximise our potential.
“Inter did better than us from the start of the season until December, but now we are trying to make up lost ground and we hope to play well in this derby.
“You prepare for every game with the intention of winning, but there are some matches that are worth more than others. Derby games are must-win fixtures.”
Meanwhile, Inter striker Lautaro Martinez is unavailable through suspension while captain and regular goalkeeper Samir Handanovic will start on the bench after fracturing his finger.
However, January arrivals Ashley Young, Victor Moses and Christian Eriksen are all in contention to start, having made their debuts in the win over Udinese last Sunday.