Ibrahimovic, Lukaku in Serie A title race battle on Sunday


The pair had an ugly spat during Inter’s Coppa Italia win over AC Milan last month and will meet again on Sunday in a pivotal Serie A showdown

In Italy, they are calling it ‘the derby of derbies’, and with good cause.

On Sunday, AC Milan and Inter will meet at San Siro as the top two sides in Serie A – something which has not happened for 10 years.

Back in April 2011, the Rossoneri had a narrow two-point lead over their city rivals and, despite being shorn of the services of the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they romped to a 3-0 win on their way to their 18th scudetto – and still their most recent.

But Milan are back. And so, too, is Ibrahimovic, who, at 39 years old, is inspiring the most unexpected of title challenges for a club that was in a state of chaos before his return to San Siro in January of last year.

But while the Swede is defying the ageing process, Stefano Pioli’s young squad is beginning to show signs of wear and tear.

The pressure of leading for most of the season appears to be getting to Milan, who gave up first place last weekend because of a worryingly tame 2-0 loss at newly-promoted Spezia. The Rossoneri had reached the New Year undefeated in Serie A; now they have lost three of their past seven games.

The shock setback at Spezia, in which Milan failed to register a single shot on target, allowed Inter to move one point clear with an impressive 3-1 win over Lazio.

Simone Inzaghi’s side had won six successive games in Serie A, but they were battered into submission by Romelu Lukaku, who scored two goals and created another.

At times, it felt like Lukaku against the entire Lazio backline – and yet it was not a fair fight.

In teeing up Lautaro Martinez for Inter’s killer third goal, the Belgium international bounded past Marco Parolo in such stunning fashion that it made a mockery of the argument that Lukaku was not fast enough to play the counter-attacking game Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted at Manchester United.

As the Gazzetta dello Sport  wrote, it was one of those games where Lukaku “looks like an adult playing football with kids in the park”. It was a mismatch. But now it is time for a rematch: a battle between two true footballing heavyweights, in every sense of the word.

The Derby della Madonnina is usually bigger than any individual showdown, but Lukaku and Ibrahimovic’s bitter row in Inter and Milan’s most recent meeting has cast a huge shadow over this weekend’s game.

Indeed, it even inspired the creation of a new mural, which adorns a building on Via de Piccolomini, on the south-east corner of San Siro. It shows Lukaku and Ibrahimovic squaring up, and is accompanied by the words, “Face to face, heart to heart.”

It is a rather beautiful take on a quite ugly incident.

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