Zlatan Ibrahimovic cannot wait to taste the Manchester derby for the first time when old adversary Pep Guardiola brings his side to Old Trafford.
Today’s eagerly-anticipated clash between Manchester United and Manchester City will see hostilities renewed between Jose Mourinho and Guardiola, as well as the striker and his former boss.
Ibrahimovic endured an unhappy time under the City manager during their time at Barcelona and the resentment remains, saying in November that the Spaniard was great coach but “not a man”.
It is one of several fascinating sub-plots on an occasion that the self-assured Ibrahimovic approaches understandably confident.
“For me, the big games are the ones that trigger you,” the well-travelled Swede told MUTV. “They’re the games everyone speaks about.
“I have played in many derby games, I’ve played in El Clasico, the Inter-Milan derby, Ajax and Feyenoord, which was the big one there, and PSG-Marseille.
“I have played in all of them, the only one I missed was this one. This is coming on Saturday and I am very well prepared, confident and focused, and there is a lot of hard work behind that.
“We are prepared and we are ready. We just wait for the game now.”
Ibrahimovic is one of a handful of United players not to have jetted off on international duty the past fortnight, having played his last match for Sweden at Euro 2016.
During that break he stoked the derby fires with a tongue-in-cheek warning to Claudio Bravo, sending the new City goalkeeper some training gear saying “you’re going to need it”.
It increased the talk around an already huge match that Ibrahimovic insists United will approach like any other.
“People are talking about it and build it up and the media are discussing the situations from the red side and the light-blue side and all the investments and transfers and the new coaches,” he said.
“It’s a normal build-up. For me, I’ve been through it and I know how it is. We are ready. Everyone came back from the national team break and we are back in action. The team is focused.”
Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho is more concerned about Sergio Aguero’s absence than renewing his battle with Guardiola.
Manchester City’s Argentinian forward Aguero has been banned after being retrospectively sanctioned for an elbow on West Ham defender Winston Reid last month.
“It changes (my approach) because it is more difficult,” Mourinho said.
“When Aguero is available, we know that Aguero plays…
“In this moment, he doesn’t play. They have an amazing reach (in terms of) squad options, and in our job you can have many decisions and different decisions.
“One thing is if he decides to play with (Kelechi) Iheanacho, and another thing is if he decides to play with (Raheem) Sterling. Another one is if he decides to play, for example, with (David) Silva as a fake number nine in between the lines…
“We know they have so many options that we try to do that job for the players. It’s more difficult. It looks a little bit of a contradiction, but without Aguero, it is more difficult.”
With Ibrahimovic amongst the goals and Paul Pogba adding much-needed zest to United’s engine room, United are favourites to take the points. “We are ready, we are waiting,” Mourinho said, refusing to get drawn on the inevitable spotlight at the renewal of hostilities between himself and Guardiola.
“I know what the derby means to the fans but I have to stay under emotional control.”
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