The Milan Derby: Stakes highest since 2011 as Milan and Inter occupy top two positions

Post the shock loss against Serie A newcomer Spezia, Milan will look to bounce back stronger against rival Inter in Sunday's Derby della Madonnina

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Inter Milan's Romelu Lukaku were involved in a huge argument and clashed heads just before halftime when the two sides met in the Coppa Italia quarterfinal in January.   -  AP

Almost a month after their heated spat in the Coppa Italia quarterfinal on Jan 26, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku will battle it out again in the highly-charged Milan derby on Sunday, with the stakes higher than they have been in the past 10 years.

The former Manchester United teammates were involved in a huge argument and clashed heads just before halftime. Even though both players were cautioned with yellow, the row continued even after the halftime whistle and a visibly furious Lukaku had to be restrained.

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The confrontation is currently under investigation by the Italian football federation.

The last time Milan and Inter went into the Derby della Madonnina occupying the top two spots in the table was in 2011 when Milan was above Inter. The Rossoneri won that match and went on to win the league title - the last team other than Juventus to do so.

“It’s much better to go into the derby ahead of them. It’ll be a great game between two teams with big ambitions,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said.

Milan won the league match earlier in the season, with Ibrahimovic scoring twice and Lukaku netting for Inter in a 2-1 victory for the Rossoneri.

RELATED| Ibrahimović-Lukaku spat draws inquiry from federation

Milan is likely to take centre stage again at the San Siro. Lukaku would be bubbling with confidence after the Belgium forward scored twice last weekend to take his tally to 300 career goals and help his team beat Lazio 3-1. Lukaku also set up Lautaro Martinez for Inter’s third, sparking scenes of wild celebration with Conte enveloped in a group hug.

Milan could not enjoy victory like its rival before the high-octane clash as it suffered a shock 2-0 loss at Serie A newcomer Spezia, while the visibly disappointed Milan players trudged off the field.

Milan coach Stefano Pioli, however, is optimistic and is confident that was just an anomaly.

“I think the worrying thing would have been if we’d played like Milan and we lost the match,” he said. “Seeing as we didn't play like Milan, we’ve turned the page and we’re thinking about the next match,” he added.

RELATED| Serie A: Lukaku double helps Inter beat Lazio to go top  

Milan has the chance to get back on track before the derby as it visits Red Star Belgrade on Thursday in the first leg of the Round of 32 in the Europa League.

But while the importance of that match is not being underplayed, Milan midfielder — and childhood Red Star fan — Rade Krunic admits that is not the game being talked about by him and his teammates.

“Honestly, we've been talking mainly about the derby,” Krunic said. “Obviously we take it game by game, as coach Pioli said, but we know that in Milan the derby is everything,” he added.

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