After memorable El Trafico debut, a fitter Zlatan gears up for rematch

CARSON, Calif. -- Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn't promising the kind of fireworks he delivered in the first El Trafico showdown, but this might give LAFC and its rabid fan base some pause.

“I feel better now. I feel much better [than I did in the first meeting],” the Swedish superstar said Tuesday, ahead of the LA Galaxy's initial trek to LAFC's Banc of California Stadium on Thursday night (10:30 pm ET | ESPN — Full TV & streaming info). “Now I am where I should be.”

Ibrahimovic had been in town just two days and hadn't seen action in more than three months when he came off the bench in the May 31 faceoff at StubHub Center to score the tying and winning goals — the first a stunning 40-yard volley out of nowhere — to complete the Galaxy's comeback from a three-goal second-half deficit for a 4-3 win.

He'd played just 187 minutes since tearing knee ligament nearly a year earlier while with Manchester United, and wasn't capable of going much longer than the 20 minutes head coach Sigi Schmid gave him at the end of the match.

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“That 20 minutes was, like, after two minutes, I started to breathe heavily ...,” he said. “Conditionally, I'm more better now. Physically, I'm better. I am more in shape now, let's say.”

He's also sizzling hot. Ibrahimovic has scored seven goals in his last five games — and delivered a wonderful assist for Ola Kamara in last weekend's win at Philadelphia -— as the Galaxy (9-7-4) have won three in a row and gone seven matches without defeat to climb to fourth place in the Western Conference.

He's got a dozen goals in 15 games, fourth-best in MLS, and would love to add to it in Thursday night's derby clash. But no promises.

“[The first game] was something amazing,” he said. “My first 20 minutes in MLS, my first 20 minutes in Galaxy, and it went like it went. I rank it very high, and we will all remember it. ...

“That is the games you get triggered by, the adrenaline, and this time we play in their home stadium. I think it will be exciting, and I hope it will be nice for the fans to enjoy, and we go as winner after the game.”

This will be the Galaxy's first time in front of LAFC's fans, and if they jeer Ibrahimovic, all the better. He's played in some of Europe's greatest rivalry games — the Milan derby and Real Madrid-Barcelona among them — and says he loves it “when fans are whistling me. It triggers me. I don't know what it is, but it triggers me.”

His interactions with LAFC fans around Southern California have been friendly so far.

“They want [to take] pictures [with me], and it's OK,” he said. “I'm there for them also.”

LAFC (10-5-5), which sits second in the West, hasn't yet lost at Banc of California. But there's going to be a first time, so not now?

“I don't focus on [records and history],” Ibrahimovic said. “A game is a game, anything can happen. We play for what we need to play for, that's winning the game and [playing] a good game. Records is there to break it, so we'll see what happens.”

Either way, Thursday's outing will help to build the lore surrounding MLS's newest rivalry.

“This is still fresh, this derby,” he said. “This is the second game. LAFC is a new team. We cannot talk historically about previous games, only about the game we had [in March], but in time [there will be] more talks about it, what happened before, and you get new moments from that derby.”