Zlatan blow for Milan ahead of Juventus clash

AC Milan suffered a blow ahead of Saturday’s crunch top-of-table clash against Juventus as Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out through suspension.

The big Swede was sent off against Napoli on February 5 for slapping Salvatore Aronica and handed a three-game ban.

Milan appealed in the hope of having one match knocked off the ban which would have freed Ibrahimovic to play against Juve.

And the reigning champions reacted with fury when their pleas fell on deaf ears.

“The Federal Justice Court’s decision is unjust because they have applied a punishment due for violent acts to an act that wasn’t violent,” said a Milan statement.

“This is a serious judicial mistake.”

Given Ibrahimovic had been sent off for slapping an opponent in the face it may seem strange to some that Milan would appeal his ban on the grounds they deny it was violent conduct.

However, last year they were successful with a similar appeal after Ibrahimovic had thumped Bari’s Marco Rossi in the ribs.

He had one game taken off his ban but was then dismissed on his return to action for abusing a linesman.

Now Milan will have to do without their top scorer and star player for what could prove their biggest game of the season.

Milan lead Juve by one point having played a game more.

However, in their previous two games without Ibrahimovic they showed no ill effects, beating Udinese 2-1 and Cesena 3-1.

In fact, a look at last year’s statistics showed Milan actually earned more points per game without the target man than they did with him.

This season, on the other hand, they have actually earned more points per game with him in the team, although only just.

Perhaps more worrying than those statistics is the fact that Milan’s other strikers are struggling to find the net.

Robinho has just four goals in 19 league games, Pato one in 10, Stephan El Shaarawy two in 13 (although he’s been used mostly as a substitute) and new signing Maxi Lopez has one in four.

Without Ibrahimovic’s 15 goals from 19 games, Milan would not be looking down on the rest of Serie A.

However, centre-back Thiago Silva has been buoyed by the club’s recent form, not least the Udinese success and a 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal in the Champions League.

“It’s an important clash but I’m happy with the team and now we know that we can win,” he said.

“(Beating Udinese) was crucial, in the last 25 minutes we changed our way of playing and we rediscovered our desire to win.

“In fact, in the next games against Arsenal and Cesena we did really well and played like a great team.

“We have to stay on that path.”

The other important game of the weekend sees Champions League participants Napoli host Inter Milan.

Inter boss Claudio Ranieri is under huge pressure with his side on a four-match losing run and six defeats in their last seven games.

They have failed to score in any of those six defeats, were knocked out of the Italian Cup, defeated in their second round, first leg tie in the Champions League and have fallen out of the European qualification positions in the league.

What’s more, Napoli have just started to find their form having won their last two in the league, to move above Inter, and beaten Chelsea 3-1 in the Champions League in midweek.

Genoa v Parma (5pm GMT), AC Milan v Juventus (7.45pm GMT)
Sunday (2pm GMT unless stated)
Atalanta v Roma, Cagliari v Lecce, Catania v Novara, Chievo v Cesena, Siena v Palermo, Bologna v Udinese (7.45pm GMT), Lazio v Fiorentina (7.45pm GMT), Napoli v Inter Milan (7.45pm GMT) — Sapa-AFP

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