Milan (AFP) – Zlatan Ibrahimovic is once again out of action for AC Milan, the veteran striker falling victim to the latest in a string of injuries as the Serie A leaders battle with a goalscoring problem ahead of Friday’s match with Genoa.
At 40 years old Ibrahimovic’s body appears to be giving up on him, a left knee problem the latest issue in a season which he has scored eight league goals despite starting just 11 times and missing out entirely on half of the campaign.
His physical problems have prompted even Francesco Totti, who was dragged away from playing kicking and screaming, to suggest that the Swede should “listen to his body” before deciding to continue.
Milan coach Stefano Pioli said on Thursday that Ibrahimovic would be out for “another week to 10 days”, meaning he will miss not just Genoa but also the second leg of the Italian Cup semi-final with local rivals Inter Milan on Tuesday and next weekend’s tough trip to Lazio.
“We’re hoping that he can return for the final part of the season,” Pioli told reporters.
“Everyone gets physical problems… I don’t think much has changed regarding his future. I’m convinced that he’ll make the right choice, whatever he decides to do we’ll back him.”
Ibrahimovic’s absences have left coach Stefano Pioli without many options up front, with Olivier Giroud the starting centre-forward for a team which has kept six straight clean sheets in all competitions but scored just four goals in that time.
Two stalemates with Bologna and Torino have allowed Inter to gain the upper hand in a four-way title race which looks set to go down to the wire, the champions sitting two points off the pace but with a game in hand to be played in two weeks’ time.
Milan might even be down in second by the time they kick off at the San Siro as Simone Inzaghi’s side face Spezia in the weekend’s first match on Friday evening.
And the pressure is on for the seven-time European champions who also have Napoli — level with Inter going into Saturday’s home match with Europe-chasing Roma — on their heels and Juventus lurking just six points back with six games remaining.
“If we’re still going for the title and the cup it means that everyone has given their all. But we need that one extra push,” said Pioli.
“We’ve got enough quality to collect a lot of points between now and the end of the season.”
Player to watch: Rafael Leao
If Milan are to defend their league lead then Portugal forward Leao will be key to them getting back on the scoresheet, as the 22-year-old has moved up a gear this season and been at the heart of his team’s best attacking displays.
Genoa are staring relegation in the face so are likely to be extremely cautious, a style which has frustrated Milan so often against modest opposition this season that it might yet cost them a first league crown since 2011. Someone with the creative qualities of Leao will be crucial to breaking them down.
4 – With six games remaining four teams have a chance of bagging the Scudetto.
8 – Ibrahimovic and Giroud have scored the same number of Serie A goals this season.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Spezia v Inter (1700), AC Milan v Genoa (1900)
Cagliari v Sassuolo (1130), Sampdoria v Salernitana, Udinese v Empoli (1230), Fiorentina v Venezia (1430), Juventus v Bologna (1630), Lazio v Torino (1845)
Napoli v Roma (1700), Atalanta v Verona (1900)
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