Zlatan-Lukaku Mark II: Explosive bust-up in the ‘Match of the Century’ sets the tone for biggest derby in a decade in Serie A… both want to be the King of Milan and taking a giant step forward in the title race would secure their place on the throne
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku lock horns once again on Sunday
- The two will meet in arguably the biggest Milan derby since the 2010-11 season
- It is the first time in that decade these two meet as the top two teams in Serie A
- Inter Milan ramped up expectation insisting the derby ‘turns a man into a giant’
- All eyes will be on Ibrahimovic and Lukaku following their Coppa Italia spat
It was 60 seconds which immediately secured its place in the Hall of Fame of great Milan derby moments.
Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, former friends turned foes, nose to nose, unleashing furious barbs at each other, establishing their dominance as the alpha-male, in a match one Italian newspaper labelled ‘the match of the century’.
Now, with 25 days given for the dust to settle, we get the sequel and unlike January’s Coppa Italia semi-final, this one is all about the title race. Lose on Sunday and the debate over who the real King of Milan is may be an open-and-shut case.
Romelu Lukaku (left) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic bumped heads during a fiery exchange last month
Lukaku (left) could be heard telling the AC Milan striker ‘f*** you and your wife, you little b****’
So iconic has the spat become it was transformed into a wall mural outside of the San Siro
So iconic was Ibrahimovic and Lukaku’s spat last month, it has already been turned into a mural outside the San Siro stadium. A permanent reminder of the bitterness between two rivals looking to end a decade of disappointments.
‘Face to face, heart to heart,’ read the caption on the mural.
It feels fitting. For as much as this is about three crucial points, this is about pride, honour, respect and more than anything for Ibrahimovic and Lukaku, about status.
Ibrahimovic sat out Milan’s 2-2 draw away to Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League and it came as no surprise. How was he going to concentrate when he is like a man possessed ahead of the derby as he plots his revenge.
The Swede saw red that night, booked for his skirmish with Lukaku before picking up a second caution to cost his side as they bowed out. Ibrahimovic’s experience vanished and Lukaku took the crown and placed it atop his head.
Ibrahimovic (left) could be heard yelling at Lukaku ‘Go do your voodoo s***, you little donkey’
An edition of Gazzetta dello Sport the next day called that derby the ‘match of the century’
HEAD TO HEAD IN SERIE A MATCHES
October 2020: Inter 1-2 AC Milan
February 2020: Inter 4-2 AC Milan
September 2019: AC Milan 0-2 Inter
March 2019: AC Milan 2-3 Inter
October 2018: Inter 1-0 AC Milan
April 2018: AC Milan 0-0 Inter
December 2017: AC Milan 1-0 Inter
October 2017: Inter 3-2 AC Milan
‘I’ve only been here three weeks but you can see there’s a focus to him, determination and motivation,’ Fikayo Tomori, on loan to Milan from Chelsea, said of Ibrahimovic to Sky Sports.
‘To see that up close and different to what we see on social media is really fascinating.’
Much of this feud has played out on social media.
Back in February 2020, Inter fought back from 2-0 down to claim bragging rights in the derby with a 4-2 win. It was a statement victory for Inter but Lukaku had more to say.
Lukaku sealed the win in the 93rd minute and later declared: ‘There’s a new king in town’.
Fast forward to their most recent derby meeting in Serie A and Lukaku scored, again, but so did Ibrahimovic, twice, in a 2-1 win for AC Milan.
While they did not clash on the pitch that night as they did last month, the 39-year-old offered up a not-so-subtle slapdown on social media.
‘Milan never had a king, they have a God,’ he wrote on Instagram.
Even with both men playing it pretty cool on Twitter and Instagram since their spat – which was seen all over the world – Inter could not resist stealing the limelight as their rivals played out their draw in Belgrade.
‘Derby Milano can turn a man into a GIANT,’ read the caption of a video showing Lukaku morph into one as he scored against Milan back in the February game.
After winning the Milan derby 4-2 in February 2020, Lukaku called himself the ‘King’ of Milan
Ibrahimovic got revenge in October 2020 and said ‘Milan never had a king, they have a GOD’
Did those of a red and black persuasion see it, pay much attention to it? Maybe, maybe not. But the jockeying between who has the superior forward is box-office for neutrals that have waited years to see these Milan sides return to glory.
Sunday is about so much more than just two strikers posturing to be the alpha male of a football-mad city.
Milan has been starved of success for a decade having been in the shadow of Turin and Juventus’ unprecedented success with nine straight titles.
Sunday will be the 228th instalment of the Milan derby but not since 2011 have they met as the top two teams in Serie A.
Then it was Massimiliano Allegri’s AC Milan against Leonardo’s Inter – AC two points ahead before a ball was kicked. They ran out 3-0 winners on that occasion and secured the title weeks later, dethroning Inter.
This is the first meeting in Serie A since 2011 with the Milan clubs in the top two positions; AC Milan won that game and went on to win the league under Massimiliano Allegri (pictured)
Ibrahimovic (right) was part of the side under Allegri (left) to win the Scudetto for Milan
Ibrahimovic was part of Allegri’s Milan side that won the title. He knows, unlike many of his younger team-mate, what is needed and what it means to claim the No 1 spot at the San Siro.
Right now that’s how it looks, Inter top, heirs to the throne Juventus look set to abdicate come the season’s end.
Milan have been top for much of this season but doubt is creeping in, those of a red and black persuasion have seen their side lose three of their last seven games.
Over in the blue corner of Inter, they head into Sunday’s match completely rested and with the knowledge they have won four of the last five meetings in the league between the pair.
The drawback of such a big game is again it comes behind closed doors, the third meeting since the pandemic took hold of society last March.
Fans are being encouraged to show their colours as part of the Derby Together initiative by purchasing a virtual ticket for the showpiece. With the way the title race is shaping up, it could prove a historic result for the side that comes out on top.
The game is of huge significance for the bosses with Antonio Conte (left) running out of chances to deliver trophies and Stefano Pioli (right) targeting his first managerial major title
One quirk of this derby is the ‘Derby Together’ initiative for fans to purchase virtual tickets
The proceeds of the tickets bought which will go towards the ‘Assist’ project by Fondazione Milan, which aims to support the most vulnerable affected by the social and economic impact of the pandemic. The good cause may be about the only thing both clubs will see eye-to-eye on over the weekend.
For all the backdrop of ego and superiority, Sunday is all about the win, however it is achieved.
Inter boss Antonio Conte is running out of chances to provide trophies as a return on his investments while Stefano Pioli may not get a better chance to win the first major trophy of his managerial career.
A decade in the making with two stars fighting for a single spotlight. If last month’s cup meeting was a sign of things to come, Sunday’s derby may well be one for the ages.
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