Lukaku and Ibrahimovic to renew rivalry in biggest Milan derby in a decade

The Milan derby never needs an added edge, but there are two reasons why AC Milan's clash with Inter on Sunday afternoon has extra bite.

Firstly, a quick glance at the table shows the two Italian giants are the two top clubs in Serie A, with Inter holding a one-point advantage over their local rivals.

Milan and Inter have not faced off at San Siro as the top two sides in the division since April 2011, when the Rossoneri won 3-0 en route to the Scudetto, ending Inter's run of five successive league titles.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have missed that match through injury, but he is fit and firing this season with 14 goals in 12 Serie A appearances.

This heralds the second reason Sunday's derby is quite so mouth-watering; the renewal of Ibrahimovic's rivalry with Romelu Lukaku.

During the Coppa Italia quarter-final last month, the two former Manchester United teammates squared-up in a furious on-pitch spat.

Just before half-time, Ibrahimovic is believed to have told Lukaku "Go do your voodoo s***, you little donkey" – a pointed remark referencing the Belgian's alleged history with a witch doctor.

In response, Lukaku reportedly hit back with: "F*** you and your wife, you little b****…You want to speak about my mother!?"

The heated clash was just as entertaining as the match itself; Ibrahimovic gave Milan the lead just after the half-hour mark but was sent off with a second yellow card shortly after the interval.

Inevitably, Lukaku made his mark on the match by smashing home a penalty in the 71st minute as Inter made the man advantage count.

And, incredibly, former Tottenham star Christian Eriksen – who has struggled for form and minutes at Inter – came off the bench to curl in a free kick in the 97th minute.

The last-gasp set piece sent Inter through to the semi-finals, where they were defeated 2-1 on aggregate after two legs against Juventus.

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The cup tie was a reminder of Juve's quality, but there is no doubt they have been far off the pace in Serie A during their first season under Andrea Pirlo.

Searching for their 10th consecutive Scudetto, Juventus sit fourth in the table, eight points off leaders Inter with a game in hand.

There has been a power shift in Italy and the title appears set to return from Turin to Milan – but whether the trophy will be dressed in red and black or blue and black remains to be seen.

Inter certainly carry the better form into the imminent derby, with four wins in their last five matches and just two defeats in the league this season.

What is your scoreline prediction for the Milan derby? Have your say in the comments.

A 3-1 win at Lazio last Sunday was enough for the Nerazzurri finally clinch top spot and leapfrog Milan, whose form has stuttered of late.

Stefano Pioli's side entered 2021 unbeaten in the league and earlier this month he urged his side to "handle pressures" or else the "difficulties will increase."

But the Milan boss' plea has fallen on deaf ears and Milan have lost three of their last seven, including a shock defeat at Spezia last Saturday.

The Rossoneri also have the Europa League to contend with – they drew 2-2 at Red Star Belgrade on Thursday – while Inter have no European duties after finishing bottom of their Champions League group.

And while Ibrahimovic's form is impressive, Inter have a hitman firing on all cylinders of their own, with Lukaku the joint top-scorer in Serie A with 16 goals.

Antonio Conte has got the best out of the 27-year-old at San Siro and he is bidding to become the first player in nearly half a century to score in four consecutive league Milan derbies.

Of course, both sides also boast quality beyond their respective strikers; Inter's stars include Ivan Perisic, Lautaro Martinez and Stefan de Vrij, while Hakan Calhanoglu, Franck Kessie and Gianluigi Donnarumma have played a vital role in Milan's title push.

But there is no doubt it is the Lukaku-Ibrahimovic rivalry, combined with the two side's league positions, which make this the biggest Milan derby in a decade.

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