x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Evergreen Inzaghi

Pippo Inzaghi has always had a habit of collecting goals in chunks, but few can remember a run of form quite like his present one.

AC Milan's veteran centre-forward Filippo Inzaghi is on an incredible goalscoring streak.
AC Milan's veteran centre-forward Filippo Inzaghi is on an incredible goalscoring streak.

MILAN // Pippo Inzaghi has always had a habit of collecting goals in chunks, in pairs and hat-tricks, but at the two clubs who have employed the evergreen striker over the past 11 years, few can remember a run of form quite like his present one. Inzaghi has scored 11 times for AC Milan in his last eight games. It is a terrifying statistic with which to greet his old colleagues from Juventus.

Milan play Juve this evening at the San Siro for what effectively is the silver medal in this season's Serie A, second and against third, amid little expectation that the seven points that separate Milan from Inter at the top can be eked away in the four matches left. But Milan-Juve matches are always special occasions for Italy, and for Inzaghi, who spent four years with Juventus before being allowed to cross over to Juve's principal historical rivals when the forward positions began to be occupied by David Trezeguet and Alex Del Piero.

Eight years on, Trezeguet and Del Piero are still there, enduring a fraught climax to the campaign, Trezeguet, especially, at odds with coach Claudio Ranieri, whose run of seven matches without a win has put his position in peril. Defeat today could even cause his departure before the season's end. Not only did Juve president Giovanni Cobolli Gigli decline to endorse Ranieri on Friday, he pointedly said: "I have never officially confirmed Ranieri will be our head coach next season. It's a matter of results." Ranieri, on thin ice, also goes into the match missing two senior men, Olof Mellberg and Pavel Nedved, with suspensions, and an injury list including Momo Sissoko, Hasan Salihamidzic, Claudio Marchisio and Zdenek Grygera.

Milan, meanwhile, are Italy's form team. They have dropped only two points in their last seven games, a challenge to the theory that in an ageing side, the chief enemy is cumulative fatigue at the end of a long campaign. Since spring, Milan's veterans have got stronger, though coach Carlo Ancelotti points to another factor. "It shows how important Kaka is to us," he said of the Brazilian's recent return from injury. Ancelotti also chose to praise the player knowing that fresh speculation is on its way from Spain over a possible bid from Real Madrid.

Inter, meanwhile, go to Chievo, who still run a mathematical risk of being relegated, despite a stirring climb off the bottom since the new year. Victory for Inter in Verona will have a crucial bearing on the big match later in the day. If Inter collect three points and Milan pick up none against Juventus, Inter will be champions by the end of the night, at an unassailable 10 points ahead of their neighbours. In other words, Claudio Ranieri might find halting Juve's dismal run a bitter-sweet feeling. It could hand the league title to his old rival Jose Mourinho.

ihawkey@thenational.ae Chievo v Inter, KO 5pm, Aljazeera Sport +1, AC Milan v Juventus, KO 10.30pm, Aljazeera Sport + 2