Zlatan torments Catania as Milan move one step closer to the summit

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The great north-south divide in Italy is beginning to disappear, and as the devastating images of the flash flooding in Genoa testify, the country is currently battling against more than the crippling debt.

"We are all Italians and we are all suffering," lamented Rome-based daily La Repubblica in an editorial reflecting on both the disaster in Liguria and the financial struggles hitting the Eurozone.

In such trying circumstances Italians can be counted on to provide a united front, so in footballing terms AC Milan and Catania, who reflect a perfect microcosm of the aforementioned national split, provided a little weekend panacea for the all the doom and gloom in the real world - as much as a 90 minutes of football possibly can, at least - with one man doing more than most to entertain.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who had spent all week plugging his autobiography 'A Nose for Trouble' [working title] in which he gives Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi a verbal kicking – was at his defender-torturing best, and inspired the champions to a somewhat surprisingly emphatic victory.

Of course, we all know that Massimiliano Allegri’s side are more than a one-man team, but it’s hard to imagine they’d be quite the same side without the dominant Swede. Zlatan set up three goals and scored another in a 4-0 rout of the Sicilians, who had arrived at the San Siro on the back of a six-game unbeaten run.

It may have ended-up being a routine victory, and one that took Milan to within a point of leaders Udinese and Lazio, but it was a brilliantly extravagant performance from Ibra, who toyed with the Catania defence until he almost seemed to become detached from his surroundings. Perhaps he was contemplating other ways to flog a few more hardbacks...

When switched on to the task at hand he produced two sublime passes – the first a sharp side-footer slicing through the opposition defence, and the second a delightful volleyed diagonal ball with the outside of his left foot.

On both occasions Robinho was the grateful recipient: fouled for the penalty that opened the scoring – dispatched by the provider of course – then creating his own piece of magic for the second, skipping past his marker and steering a low curling shot into the far corner of the net.

Thirty minutes had not even gone and it looked like curtains for the visitors, but it’s when things become all too easy that Ibra starts to dilly and dally on the ball, causing potentially sweeping attacks to come to a grinding halt - and for most of the second half that was the case.

It was not until almost the final quarter that the big fella decided enough was enough and threaded a delightful through-ball for Robinho to score his second goal via a massive deflection off Francesco Lodi for his team’s third.

Just to underline the champion’s dominance, Gianluca Zambrotta was the unlikely scorer of the fourth and even Filippo Inzaghi was given ten minutes in which he contrived to miss a presentable goalscoring chance, though the veteran would probably claim to have still garnered the biggest cheer of the afternoon from the home fans when he took to the pitch.

No wonder Catania striker Maxi Lopez made it public that he was ready to join the Rossoneri if they desired his services in January. The Argentine has been heavily linked with a move to the San Siro to fill in for the gap left by Antonio Cassano’s enforced absence, though in truth there is probably nobody who could fill the role of maverick genius in quite the same way Cassano – other than Mario Balotelli, perhaps.

It seems a cruel twist of fate that the Bari Bawler be struck down just when it seemed he had settled down, but as he recuperates over the next six months he can do so in the knowledge that if his strike partner continues to turn it on then he could well be celebrating another title on his comeback.