‘Given a turn’ – Milan have to extend veteran’s deal for another season
Milan are right in the race for European football. While the loss to Genoa recently was a disappointment, but Sampdoria beating Verona helped them make some ground. In any case, Milan have been improving over the last few months. And it is no coincidence that this improvement has come around when Zlatan Ibrahimovic graced San Siro again. As and when Serie A resumes, Milan are a good bet with Tipico to finish in the European places this time around – thanks to Zlatan.
While the first game Zlatan played was a goalless draw against Sampdoria, but him playing regularly has given a lot to the club. Before his arrival, the side was struggling for goals. He’s added an extra dimension to how Milan play, giving them an identity.
Zlatan’s first Milan start came against Cagliari. It was the first game in which Stefano Pioli used a 4-4-2 shape with Rafael Leao beside Leao. It solved many problems- Zlatan would get service, Leao would play centrally and the system would be easy to understand.
They have reverted to a 4-2-3-1 or a modified 4-4-2 in recent weeks, but the basis has been the same. Since the Cagliari game, Milan have lost only twice. They have won four and have drawn two. More than that, they are in the semi-final of the Coppa Italia.
While Ante Rebic has been on fire in this phase, Ibrahimovic’s contributions have often gone unnoticed.
In eight games for the rossoneri, Zlatan has notched up four goal contributions. Three have been goals, with one being an assist to Rebic himself. His presence has given Milan someone to aim for, considering how Krzysztof Piatek was underperforming in the current campaign.
As a result, Zlatan has won 5.8 aerial duels per game. The Swede has often been the decoy for players to pick a flick-on and go for goal. He does take 4.3 shots per game- something that is natural about his style. But Zlatan also has a tally of 1.1 key passes per game.
He has won 62.2 percent of his aerial duels, winning 6.23 of them per game. That is a reflection of how Pioli’s men are often using him as the target-man. Crosses from Theo Hernandez are hardly a rarity.
He often likes to come deeper and get involved in play, allowing the second-striker and often Rebic to swarm forward. He does play 33.5 passes per game- something that is high for a striker like himself. His ability to get on the ball, hold onto it and play others in has brought in the sort of control that Milan didn’t have with Piatek.
One criticism about him could be that he has missed some key chances. This has led to him underperforming on his XG by 1.44. The biggest one came against Brescia when Zlatan missed a tap-in from Hernandez’s perfect cross. While moments like this have become a usual sight, him taking a high volume of shots does nullify that.
His overall contribution means a lot to Milan too. He seems to have taken Leao under his wing and having Zlatan beside him has allowed the former Lille man to play centrally and aim his dribbles at something.
Him coming deeper allows Rebic to creep in and score his trademark no-nonsense goals. Theo has someone to aim for regularly and the slower nature of Serie A has helped Zlatan.
Pioli has already said that his mere presence has given the players a real lift. Two months ago, the former Lazio manager said: “Zlatan presented himself well in the first days of work with the team. He’s very attentive and curious, he must understand the dynamics, his new teammates and his new coach.
“His arrival has given a turn to the environment, it’s evident. You can feel it here at Milanello as well as outside it. Ibra isn’t just any player, he’s not just any personality, I’m really enjoying it.”
That says a lot about him. He is the sort of leader Milan were lacking. For a team that still has a low average age, they needed an experienced campaigner to lead them. Pepe Reina was the oldest player in the side and he left for Aston Villa. Zlatan’s presence has made sure they don’t miss the leader-like figure.
Milan have the option of signing Zlatan for another season. The way things are going, there is every reason for them to take up that option. He might be taking a lot of wages, but unlike what Milan have wasted that on in the past, Zlatan is making a real impact.