AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out of Saturday’s crucial derby clash against Inter with an Achilles tendon problem, coach Stefano Pioli said.
The 40-year-old Swede has not yet recovered from the right leg injury suffered in a goalless draw against Juventus on January 23, with Croatian forward Ante Rebic also sidelined with an ankle injury.
“For Zlatan to be missing is disappointing,” said Pioli. “We’ve come a long way with him but we have to show that we’re also strong without him.”
Milan are third, level on points with second-placed Napoli, four points behind reigning champions and league leaders Inter.
France forward Olivier Giroud, who has scored five goals in 14 Serie A games this season, is expected to step in and play his first derby.
“Olivier is a player of international calibre. He’s hungry to perform and is ready to play because he’s an intelligent, complete player, who can link up the play and get into space in the box,” said Pioli.
Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie, who returned earlier this week from the Africa Cup of Nations, is ready to play.
“This match counts for a lot. It’s a derby, a clash for the top of the rankings. It would give confidence, strength,” Pioli added.
“We’re fighting for a good finish. We’re back to competing for the top four now. We were well organised and intense against Juventus but we just lacked a little bit of quality, which we will need to find tomorrow.
“We’ve prepared well; the team knows how much this game means and we want to win it. A victory would give us a lot of confidence, strength and three big points.”
His Inter Milan counterpart Simone Inzaghi insisted the derby will not be decisive in the race for the Scudetto.
“It’s a very important match, of course, especially for the fans of the two teams, but there will still be a lot of matches,” said Inzaghi.
The capacity remains capped at 50 percent at the San Siro, as in all Italian stadiums, due to Covid regulations.
“We have to stick to the rules, but as a coach, we would obviously have liked to see a derby with a full stadium, both teams would deserve it given their progress this season.”