The Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is looking forward to the chance to face his former team Barcelona in the Champions League tonight. The tall Swede missed the opening match at the Nou Camp in September, a 2-2 draw, because of injury. But he is fit to play this time.
"I was looking forward to that match," Ibrahimovic said. "I was disappointed, but for me playing against a former team is nothing personal. Of course, it's emotional, a big game, but in the end it's like any other game. There's no need to overhype it."
Ibrahimovic spent only one season at Barcelona after a much-hyped move from Internazionale in 2009, in a deal which saw Samuel Eto'o go the other way. He scored 16 goals in the Spanish league but often struggled to fit into Barcelona's intricate passing schemes.
"We will be playing against the best team in the world, without doubt," Ibrahimovic said. "Even when I left, I knew I'd left the best team in the world. But, for me and all the other parties involved, I think the best solution was to leave the club. Given the results for both sides, it was the best solution."
A 1-1 draw against BATE Borisov last time out meant Milan lost ground in the race for first place in Group H. Milan are two points behind Barcelona with two games left to play. But with both teams already qualified for the knockout stages, it is the chance to finish top of the group that is at stake.
Ibrahimovic has scored in the three European matches he has played for Milan this season and another good performance from the Sweden striker could allow the Italian side to jump ahead of Barcelona in the standings. "I think this game is more about prestige," Ibrahimovic said. "It's good to come first, but sometimes it's good to come second. Both can be positive or negative. When you're in the Champions League, you're bound to meet a strong team, and to win the competition you will have to beat the strong teams," he explained.
The Milan striker Antonio Cassano, who is recovering from heart surgery, turned up at the club's training ground on Monday to give the team a boost ahead of the match.
Milan will also be strengthened by the return of Alexandre Pato from injury. The Brazilian played his first game in two months in the goalless draw against Fiorentina over the weekend and hit the post in the 77th minute.
"I don't have major doubts about the team," said the Milan coach, Massimiliano Allegri, yesterday. "I have to decide who will start between Pato and Robinho, and in midfield evaluate how fit [Clarence] Seedorf is this afternoon."
Barcelona extended their unbeaten start to the season to 20 games with a 4-0 win over Zaragoza on Saturday.
"It's difficult to play against Barcelona," Allegri said. "Because the players have skills and they can change the rhythm of the game, they are good at upping the pace or making the game slower.
"We will have to be very balanced, we'll need to play a bit higher up the pitch and make sure Barcelona have less of the ball."
Barcelona beat Manchester United at Wembley last season to win the Champions League for the second time in three years, and their midfielder Xavi Hernandez said his team-mates have as much hunger as ever.
"When you win you live better, you are more respected and your cachet goes up," Xavi said. "Everything is positive when one wins. Unfortunately, a lot of footballers here have experienced the other side of the coin and it is not a nice experience. Hence we must never lose the appetite for titles. Great sportsmen always want to win and that hunger remains intact."
The Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta has a bruised left thigh and will not travel to San Siro as a precautionary measure.
Barcelona are also without the full-back Adriano and the suspended Daniel Alves. Pedro Rodriguez could play for the first time in a month after recovering from an ankle sprain.
In the other group match, BATE will host Viktoria Plzen. BATE have two points, one more than Plzen.