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September 15, 2021

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Ibra to miss Milan’s UCL opener

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss AC Milan’s return to UEFA Champions League football with an Achilles tendon injury which will keep him out of the trip to Liverpool, coach Stefano Pioli said yesterday.

Milan last appeared in Europe’s top club competition in the 2014 edition’s last 16 and was hoping that veteran forward Ibrahimovic would make today’s clash at Anfield after scoring on his return from a four-month layoff against Lazio on Sunday.

“He left the field with an inflammation of the tendon. We hoped he would be able to recover but it’s not the case,” Pioli told reporters at yesterday’s pre-match press conference.

Ibrahimovic, who will turn 40 early next month, scored seven minutes after coming off the bench at the San Siro, raising Pioli’s hopes his talismanic attacker would start in England after shaking off a knee injury he picked up in May.

Pioli is likely to pick Ante Rebic, who laid on Ibrahimovic’s goal on Sunday, as another experienced forward Olivier Giroud has only just returned to training after contracting COVID-19 earlier this month.

“Two days of training are not enough to play 90 minutes, but he (Giroud) could play a part of the game,” Pioli said. “Ibra was going to start, now the question is who will play between Rebic and Giroud.”

Milan is in good form heading to Anfield, with three wins from its opening three Serie A fixtures putting it level with Napoli and league leader AS Roma.

Seven-time European champion Milan has not got past the quarterfinals in the competition since last winning it in 2007, when it beat Liverpool.

The Reds also inflicted one of the most traumatic defeats in Milan’s history, coming back from three goals down at half-time of the 2005 final against a star-studded Rossoneri line-up before eventually winning on penalties.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said at Anfield yesterday that the Reds must hit the ground running against Milan as a tough group also including Spanish giant Atletico Madrid and Portugal’s Porto will leave no room for error .

Klopp said the Group B fixture at Anfield was among the “must-watch” games in the first stage of the competition.

“It’s a tough group. Atletico Madrid, wow. Porto, usually the champions in Portugal so a top team, and then AC Milan is one of the biggest teams in Europe, so it is proper Champions League,” Klopp told reporters.

“When we all saw the draw, I don’t think any of the teams said: ‘Oh my god, what a great group’ ... It’s all about getting enough points to get through that group and we better not waste time, starting tomorrow.

“This group shows there are no games where people say: ‘Do we really want to watch that?’ This group will be exciting from the first second to the last second. I can’t see any early decisions made in this group and it keeps us on our toes.”

Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola said yesterday he accepts his Manchester City legacy hinges on whether he can deliver UCL glory for the club after it fell at the final hurdle last season.

The English Premier League champion starts its campaign against German Bundesliga side RB Leipzig today, less than four months after its painful 0-1 defeat to fellow EPL side Chelsea.

But Guardiola said he would not be dwelling on the missed opportunity in Porto — City’s first-ever UCL final — and that it would be a mistake to regard last season’s European campaign as a failure. “Every season is different,” he said at his pre-match press conference. “We made an incredible tournament last season but now we start the new one.

“People can say City was a failure but it was an incredible achievement last season, playing really well in many of the games and losing to a big contender.”


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