Serie A preview: Zlatan missing for Milan, Inter meet Lecce

Serie A league leaders AC Milan will travel to Palermo on Saturday without top-scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swedish striker was sent off in Milan’s 1-1 home draw with bottom club Bari last week and was slapped with a three-game ban for hitting Marco Rossi off the ball in the disappointing draw.

The ban comes at a crucial time of the season with just nine matches left and will sideline Ibrahimovic for the Milan derby against his former club Inter on April 2, a match which could decide which way the title goes.

With Ibrahimovic in the stands, the responsibility to score will rest on the shoulders of Alexandre Pato (11 league goals this season), Antonio Cassano (six) and Robinho (10).

“Ibrahimovic is fundamental, but at Milan there are also other champions who can play very well,” Pato said this week, before speaking of his excitement to link up with Cassano.

“I am very much at ease with Cassano. I have been looking to play with him for a while. Now I can. I am very happy about it.”

The partnership will be given a first chance to shine at the Stadio Renzo Barbera on Saturday against a Palermo side who have lost five matches in a row to slip down to ninth on the table.

The other fixture on Saturday sees Lazio, who have now fallen to fifth, host relegation-threatened Cesena who are just a point above the bottom three.

On Sunday, second-placed Inter will be confident of a victory against 18th-placed Lecce.

Lecce will take heart from a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture back in November but Inter have won their last eight matches at the San Siro and are likely to make it nine.

Napoli, in third, host Cagliari with Walter Mazzarri’s side keen to keep the pressure on the two Milan clubs.

The return of Ezequiel Lavezzi from suspension coincided with Napoli’s first win in four at Parma on Sunday and Mazzarri will be hoping that striker Edinson Cavani, who is the club’s top scorer with 27 goals in all competitions, can regain his scoring form after a six-match drought.

Other matches see Udinese, unbeaten in 12, host Catania while Roma are on the road to face Fiorentina in a meeting of two top-half sides in the lunchtime kick-off.

Brescia, second from bottom, travel to Turin hoping to spring an upset against Juventus and if they are successful, they could climb ahead of Parma, who currently sit 16th but are on the road to Sampdoria.

Despite being 12 points away from safety, Bari will no doubt be buoyed by their away point against the table-toppers and hope to continue that form into their home match against Chievo while Bologna meet Genoa in a battle of two mid-table sides.