A player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic will always make some sort of an impact at any club he goes to. He did that under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United and scored buckets of goals in the Major League Soccer at LA Galaxy. At the age of 38, the Swede has done quite the same at Milan and that is something the club can’t lose.
Zlatan came in at Milan when Krzysztof Piatek was struggling for goals. He had scored just a single goal from open play and it came in Stefano Pioli’s first game in charge. The changes in the system had seen the team fail to gel in properly and Piatek suffered from that. While the Pole got sold to Hertha Berlin, Zlatan came in with a galvanising effect.
He did come on against Sampdoria in a 0-0 draw, but he starred in his first start. The Rossoneri picked up a 2-0 win over Cagliari and it came as a result of Pioli using a new 4-4-2 system. It had Zlatan play beside Rafael Leao, who had previously played out wide. Having the youngster play beside him didn’t just nullify Milan’s struggles at creation. It helped Leao play centrally and thrive- as he had at Lille last season.
In his return to Milan so far, Zlatan has scored four goals in all competitions. While he has taken criticism for missing sitters against Brescia and Inter and has underperformed on his XG by 1.54. But his effect is about more than just goals.
It can be said that he’s had a role to play in getting Ante Rebic going. The Swede’s ability to often drop deep has allowed Rebic to drift inside off the ball and pick the positions of a striker. As a result, the Croatian has found some real form at Milan and has scored six goals in 2020 already.
It has been reported that Zlatan has taken Leao under his wing and is determined to make sure that the Portuguese forward evolves as a player. Playing beside him as a striker will help him, considering their playing styles and approaches.
Stylistically, Zlatan has given Milan an identity like last season. Piatek’s drop in form hadn’t allowed them a reliable target for balls from the back. But Zlatan’s presence has got rid of the issue and he gets involved in the play as well. He creates 1.22 chances per 90 minutes and it shows that he has been more than just a target-man.
Recently, Pioli had talked of the impact Ibrahimovic’s signing has had on the club and the players. He said:
“Ibra? We must take advantage of the characteristics of the players, Zlatan won’t go so deep, he needs players close to him like Leao and Castillejo. The team has shown a desire to suffer and fight together, from this base we have to start again.”
This shows that it isn’t just about goals. It is about his character and winning mentality- something Jose Mourinho loves about him. That is the sort of mentality Milan need, especially when they have had an average age of 23.6 this season. They need a veteran to make sure that they don’t fall apart in games like their loss to Fiorentina earlier in the season.
Extending his deal could be tough, considering the wage. But the impact that he has had could make it worth all the effort.