Milan (AFP) – While the Old Lady of Juventus is faltering, AC Milan are rising to take her place, carried in part by old men, but on Sunday they face an ancient foe.
Last season, as the nine-year Juventus domination ended, Milan, despite their financial problems, rose to second, their highest finish in nine years, propelled in part by 17 goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
This season, the 40-year-old Swede’s dodgy knees and tendons have restricted him to just four Serie A appearances, although he has scored twice.
He has completed 90 minutes in the league just once, last Saturday when he scored in a 4-2 win at Bologna.
On Tuesday, he was on the bench for all but the last three minutes of the low-key 1-0 win over Torino.
His place leading the attack went to a comparatively youthful backup, 35-year-old French World Cup winner Olivier Giroud.
Giroud, another of Milan’s recent bargain signings, joined from European champions Chelsea for a small fee in the summer.
He is Milan’s top league scorer this season and took his tally to four with the winner on Tuesday.
But Giroud, who missed a couple of games earlier this season with lumbago, is feeling the pace.
“We play every three days and it’s very difficult for the body,” he said after Tuesday’s game.
Milan continued to bet on experience on Thursday when they announced that centre-back Simon Kjaer had extended his contract to the end of the 2024 season, when he will be 35.
The Dane was bullish about Milan’s prospects when he spoke after the deal was announced.
“We have become a great team, at the moment the strongest in Italy,” Kjaer said.
On Sunday, Milan face an old enemy when they visit Roma, coached this season by Jose Mourinho, who led rivals Inter to glory in a two-year reign from 2008-10.
After winning the title in his first season at Inter, Mourinho sold Ibrahimovic to Barcelona and then won the treble of league cup and Champions League without the Swede.
Roma’s victory at Cagliari on Wednesday ended a three-match winless run which included a 6-1 European humiliation to Bodo/Glimt in Norway, but they still sit fourth in Serie A, though nine points off first place.
Despite their mediocre away form, Roma are unbeaten at home in Serie A and in Europe.
Meanwhile, after finishing a disappointing fourth last season, Juventus continue to slide.
They conceded in the 95th minute to lose at home to Sassuolo on Wednesday and languish in seventh, 13 points off the pace ahead of their visit to Verona on Saturday.
“These are the sorts of matches that you can’t lose,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri adding “Juve never let in goals like today and it needs to never happen again.”
Allegri left out one of his old men on Wednesday, with talismanic 37-year-old centre back Giorgio Chiellini watching from the bench as the late winner went in.
Player to watch: Edin Dzeko
Edin Dzeko is another veteran striker who is looking like a bargain. The Bosnian joined champions Inter Milan on a free transfer from Roma in the summer. Inter are third and already seven points off the pace, but they are the top scorers in Serie A with 26 goals and the 35-year-old Dzeko has seven. He had scored six goals in his last six games before resting on the bench for all but the last six minutes of the win at Empoli on Wednesday. Udinese might hope he stays there again on Sunday.
Five: Number of consecutive league wins by Milan
Eight: League-leading number of goals scored by Lazio’s Ciro Immobile who is chasing a fourth Serie A scoring title
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Atalanta v Lazio (1300), Verona v Juventus (1600), Torino v Sampdoria (1945)
Sunday (1400 unless stated)
Inter v Udinese (1130), Fiorentina v Spezia, Genoa v Venezia, Sassuolo v Empoli, Salernitana v Napoli (1700), Roma v Milan (1945)
Bologna v Cagliari (1945)