Hero to villain to idiot - Ibrahimovic costs Milan lions in Coppa Italia derby

By Sports Desk January 26, 2021

"You want to speak about my mother?"

Romelu Lukaku was seething. A yellow card and a stern talking to from referee Paolo Valeri having done nothing to lift the red mist.

Inter's diminutive playmaker Nicolo Barella attaching himself to Lukaku's torso in a bid to calm the powerhouse striker was one of the more memorable sights of an action-packed first 45 minutes in this Milan derby for a place in the Coppa Italia semi-finals.

Or the Derby della Madonnina, to give the game its full, grander title. A game that takes its name from a pristine golden statue of the Virgin Mary.

It seemed for all the world that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had not spoken about Lukaku's mother with such reverence.

Here was Milan's 39-year-old talisman, who suggested the youthful make-up of the Serie A leaders' XI was a factor in their 3-0 weekend defeat to Atalanta, deciding to display his own brand of leadership in the guise of juvenile schoolyard bully.

Ibrahimovic's crowing chuckle as mayhem unfurled around him (Arturo Vidal got involved - of course he did - for no apparent reason) was one of a player who had recently enjoyed a familiar feeling for the 499th time in his career.

Freed from shackles of their knife-edge Scudetto battle, both teams played with freedom and the intent to land a psychological blow. The fact each team had the same idea appeared to irritate all concerned, but it made for great entertainment.

It is doubtful Antonio Conte would consider such a cavalier selection in league combat as he rolled out on Inter's left flank here. Ivan Perisic was at wing-back, paying as much attention as you'd expect to the part of his position lurking after the hyphen.

That increased the defensive burden on Aleksandar Kolarov on, a defender who has worn 11 for the bulk of his career. Kolarov's shirt number is a statement of particular intent.

Ibrahimovic showed he recognised that point of weakness in the 13th minute, when he leapt athletically to meet a Rafael Leao cross, knocking Perisic and Kolarov to the ground in the process. Brahim Diaz was just unable to turn home.

Kolarov still seemed distracted when he backed off enough for the former Sweden international to fire though his legs and beyond Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.

The script seemed written, goal 500 was surely on the way to take Ibrahimovic closer to yet another piece of silverware. Why not have some fun and wind up the opposition's star man.

Ibrahimovic's language and his message seemed appalling, with ESPN footage showing him at one point appearing to yell: "Go do your voodoo s***, you little donkey."

A flaw in the plan to rile Lukaku was the yellow card that Ibrahimovic received for his part in the spat. Not a problem in itself, but in the 58th minute he clumsily and needlessly fouled Kolarov to collect a second booking.

Displaying none of his vast experience, Ibrahimovic had gone from hero to villain to idiot within half an hour of playing time.

And so, it was over to the youngsters and backup players who the star striker sometimes seems to consider walk-on extras in his one-man show.

First there was on-loan defender Fikayo Tomori, who was quickly disabused of the notion he had escaped chaos by leaving Chelsea this week. Thrust into a debut by Simon Kjaer's first-half injury, he made a brilliant last-ditch block to deny Lukaku.

Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez defended heroically down the Milan left but reduced numbers forced willing attacking players back to man unfamiliar barricades. Leao was pressed into action and brought down Barella. After consulting the pitchside monitor Valeri pointed to the spot.

Lukaku has been known to roll his penalties home. On this occasion, he tested the structural integrity of the crossbar and the ball ricocheted into the turf and home. Then there was a shouting match with a team-mate (Yes, Vidal; nope, no idea).

Enough mayhem? Nonsense. Valeri had to limp out of the action injured. Fourth official Daniele Chiffi looked like he was putting on the microphone and headset for the first time in his life and 10 minutes of stoppage time were required.

In the seventh of those, wantaway midfielder Christian Eriksen curled home a sumptuous free-kick, leaving Ciprian Tatarusanu no chance to add to his fine catalogue of eight saves.

Last act for Eriksen? Maybe. Definitely last laugh for Lukaku.

Ibrahimovic likes to call himself a lion but Tatarusanu and the Milan players he left behind were the lions here, roaring defiantly at wave after wave of Inter attacks before buckling at the last. Nine of Inter's 27 shots were blocked.

After fatefully dwelling too long in self-parody at the end of the first half, Ibrahimovic owes them an apology, and surely Lukaku is also due one. Perhaps they shouldn't hold their breath.

Related items

  • Five years of Marcus Rashford: From unlikely debut double to Man Utd leader Five years of Marcus Rashford: From unlikely debut double to Man Utd leader

    Thursday marks exactly five years since Marcus Rashford exploded onto the scene for Manchester United.

    Having been fast-tracked into the first-team squad due to injuries, the then-18-year-old was handed a surprise start against Midtjylland in the Europa League after Anthony Martial was injured in the warm-up.

    Rashford responded with two goals in a 5-1 win, both in front of the Stretford End, in a game neither he nor fans have forgotten.

    On February 25, 2021, Rashford could well be afforded a rest when United host Real Sociedad at Old Trafford, having scored in the 4-0 first-leg win to put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side in control of the tie.

    The importance of saving Rashford for major games to come is a sign of his status within the squad after five years, three different permanent managers and a single-minded development into an elite forward in the making.

    FORMIDABLE

    Rashford has played 253 times in all competitions for United, starting 181 of those games. Nobody has played as many for the club since his debut, with David de Gea next on 227 appearances.

    The 23-year-old has scored 85 goals – as many as David Beckham managed in his Red Devils career – and provided 38 assists. Again, that's the most of any player in the past five years, with Martial next on 68 goals and 36 assists.

    Rashford averages a goal every 198 minutes across his United career, with the vast majority (70) coming from his right foot. Although 75 of his goals have been scored from inside the box, he has scored more often from outside the penalty area (10 times) than he has from the spot itself (nine).

    After scoring eight goals in his debut season in 2015-16, Rashford has consistently built on his numbers, with 11, 13 and 13 registered in the following three seasons. Last term was undoubtedly his best, with 22 goals and eight assists in 44 appearances, and he is on target to beat that in 2020-21, having already scored 18 and set up a further nine.

    FAVOURITES

    Rashford might be happy to be facing Chelsea on Sunday. He has scored five times against the Blues in 12 games, making them his favourite opponents alongside Leicester City (five goals in 11 games).

    Rarely one to shy away from the big occasion, Rashford has scored four times against Liverpool and Manchester City, and three against Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig and Tottenham.

    His favourite supporting act is Juan Mata, who has provided the most assists (seven) for Rashford goals, ahead of Martial (six). Perhaps in a sign of United's greater attacking endeavours under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, three of the players to assist Rashford the most (Daniel James and Mason Greenwood with four, and Bruno Fernandes with five) have all made their debuts since the start of last season.

    HALL OF FAME

    Rashford has been directly involved in 80 goals (53 scored, 27 assisted) in his 167 Premier League appearances to date. That's a better return than David Beckham (77), Ryan Giggs (75) and Paul Scholes (64) managed in their first 167 games in the competition.

    He is a little way behind Cristiano Ronaldo, who managed 98 combined goals and assists in his first 167 games in England's top flight, while Rashford's manager Solskjaer recorded 106 goal involvements in those first 167 outings, just behind Andrew Cole (108) and Wayne Rooney (111).

    Interestingly, Martial managed more (81) in just his first 165 Premier League appearances. Similarly, Ruud van Nistelrooy needed just 150 Premier League games to provide 109 direct goal involvements, while the great Eric Cantona reached 115 in just 143 games.

  • Messi was excused from criticism ahead of Elche win - Koeman Messi was excused from criticism ahead of Elche win - Koeman

    Lionel Messi was not among the veteran Barcelona stars Ronald Koeman called on to step up prior to Wednesday's win against Elche, the coach insists.

    Barca headed into the match at Camp Nou having endured consecutive disappointing results in their previous two games, losing 4-1 at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and then conceding a late equaliser to Cadiz in a 1-1 draw.

    While Koeman has come to rely heavily on teenagers Pedri and Francisco Trincao this season, it was the more experienced players he demanded more from in his pre-match news conference on Tuesday.

    That would presumably include Messi, the team's 33-year-old captain, but Koeman explained after overseeing a 3-0 victory that he had not been referring to his talisman.

    Messi moved up a gear anyway, scoring with two of his three shots, creating a further chance and playing a role in the build-up to Jordi Alba's clinching goal.

    The Barca number 10 certainly could not be questioned after increasing his 2021 tally to 13 goals in all competitions, the most of any player in Europe's 'top five' leagues.

    "When I talk about veterans, I don't mean him," Koeman said. "Leo continues to score many goals.

    "Others have to make a difference, not Messi. He continues to score, as he has shown today."

    Messi was not immediately joined in lifting Barca's level as Trincao attempted the hosts' only two shots in the first half, their lowest tally in the opening 45 minutes of a home game this season.

    Koeman had no issue then with Messi making his frustration clear during a tetchy first period.

    "Everyone has seen that we lacked intensity and rhythm of the ball, especially," the coach explained. "It is good that Messi, as captain, asks for intensity."

    Seven attempts followed after the interval, with all three of those on target hitting the net, while Koeman ended an eight-match run without a clean sheet.

    "It was good," Koeman said. "The lack of rhythm was not due to a lack of attitude.

    "Sometimes the opposition make things not go the way you want. We are human. The team has shown personality and desire."

    Still third but now within five points of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, Koeman was hopeful the mood in the Blaugrana camp would improve with the much-needed victory.

    "Surely, having won today, tomorrow will be different," he said. "It is normal [to be upset] if you drop two points against Cadiz when it was time to cut back those at the top.

    "You have to close this bad feeling with good games and good results."

  • Barcelona 3-0 Elche: Messi's second-half special cuts gap to Atletico Barcelona 3-0 Elche: Messi's second-half special cuts gap to Atletico

    Barcelona narrowed the gap to LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid to five points as Lionel Messi's second-half double helped them to a 3-0 win over Elche.

    Ronald Koeman's men had missed a chance to take advantage of Atletico's slip-up against Levante at the weekend when they were held at home by struggling Cadiz.

    They were not at their best on Wednesday in a clash with another relegation-threatened side in Elche, but Messi's delightful double and a stylish Jordi Alba effort secured a crucial win.

    Barca remain third in the table having played a game more than Atletico, whose lead over second-placed Real Madrid is just three points.

    Francisco Trincao forced Edgar Badia into a close-range save in the second minute and, after Lucas Boye had spurned a gilt-edged chance at the other end, the Portugal international was denied a stunning goal by the Elche goalkeeper.

    Trincao jinked past two Elche defenders after latching on to a pass from Messi, only to see Badia produce a fine diving save with his left hand.

    Badia was required again to keep out Frenkie de Jong's header from a floated Messi free-kick, the frustration clear among Koeman and his players as parity was preserved.

    That parity lasted just three minutes into the second half, Messi's shot squirming into the net despite Badia getting a hand to it following a superb flicked return pass from Martin Braithwaite.

    Messi's second was similarly aesthetically pleasing, De Jong finding him at the end of the slaloming run before the Argentine delicately dinked the ball over Badia.

    And the game was put beyond any doubt in the 73rd minute when Braithwaite nodded Messi's excellent cross-field ball into the path of Alba to dispatch with an acrobatic effort.

    The scoreline could have been made more emphatic late on, but substitute Antoine Griezmann cracked the crossbar from Sergino Dest's low cross.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.