When Milan signed Ibrahimovic in late August, almost everyone thought that Milan’s strike partnership for the season would include both Pato and Ibrahimovic together in the starting line-up. Of course, Robinho hadn’t arrived by then. But even when he did, Alexandre Pato and Zlatan the man looked destined to lead Milan’s front line, supported by either one of the two smiling Brazilians, ‘Dinho and ‘Binho.
Now that the season is practically over, Milan is faced with a dilemma. In fact, this issue started mid-season after Pato returned from his long injury lay-off. By then, Ronaldinho was already gone, and Robinho had established himself as a vital part of Milan’s attack due to his work-rate and fancy footwork. Despite that, Pato was paired with Ibrahimovic upfront, and needless to say, the outcome was much less than desired. However, this isn’t a discussion of whether the two strikers are compatible or not, it is basically a comparison between the two of them this season. Since Milan’s formation includes one leading striker supported by Robinho, with Cassano as his cover, there is one spot left for one of Pato and Zlatan. Pato has emerged this season as a center forward, the same position that Ibra occupies. So unless Massimiliano Allegri is ready to scrap his formation to accommodate the two together, which is highly unlikely, only one of them could be the focal point of Milan’s attack. So who has had the better season, the lethal Brazilian or the big Swede?
A look at both strikers’ statistics this season would reveal the following:
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 42 appearances in all competitions (3 as a sub), 24 goals, 11 assists. (0.57 goal/game ratio)
Alexandre Pato: 23 appearances in all competitions (7 as a sub), 15 goals, 3 assists. (0.65 goal/game ratio)
Ibrahimovic has played almost double Pato’s games, due to the young Brazilian’s injury problems, yet Pato has the better goal/game ratio. But Ibra has the better assist ratio with 0.26 assists/game, since Pato has 0.13 assists/game. What is notable is that the difference in their goal and assists ratios isn’t huge, but comparing their shot ratio, Pato emerges as a clear winner. Out of 70 shots all season, Pato had 32 of them on goal, 15 of which were scored. That is a staggering 0.47 goal/shot on target. Which basically means that every two shots on target by Pato, one of them will be a goal. That is an outstanding achievement and proves how clinical Pato is, which is even more impressive considering his age and the fact that he never got a consistent run of games due to his constant injuries. On the other hand, Ibrahimovic has had 140 shots this season, which is exactly double that of Pato. Out of the 140 shots, 70 of them were on target, and 24 were converted into goals. So that means that Ibra’s goal/shot on target ratio sits at 0.34, which isn’t bad at all, but isn’t quite where Pato’s is.
But of course, statistics only tell half the story. One shouldn’t undermine the importance of Ibra on the team. His Charlie Sheen ‘winning’ attitude has brushed off on other players. It affected youngsters who hadn’t won silverware before, and seniors who had tasted success but struggled in recent times. Ibrahimovic’s signing inspired the team and provided the players with much needed self belief. In addition to that, Ibra practically carried the team’s attack in the first 4 months. Milan endured a difficult start to the campaign, and while most players were still starting their engines, Ibrahimovic made sure Milan had something to play for till the end of the season. His physical presence upfront was immense for Allegri’s side, as Ibrahimovic scored for fun while the mister was busy building the team. No one could forget Ibra’s genius solo goals to win 1-0 games.
On the other hand, Pato enjoyed a great finish to the season. He stepped up when Ibra suffered with goal drought and attitude problems, and carried Milan’s attack without any problems. His start to the season was good with a brace vs Chievo coming to mind, but injuries cut his season short. Nevertheless, he maintained a great clinical record, scoring in most games and just after returning from injury. Pato also delivered when it mattered. He scored when it was deeply needed, with a man of the match performance along with a brace vs Inter, as well as vital goals vs Chievo (2nd leg) and Fiorentina, to name a few.
Ibrahimovic has definitely enjoyed the better start to the campaign, as Pato’s injuries didn’t help his cause. But even if the Brazilian was fit, it’s highly unlikely that he would have had the big effect that Zlatan has had on Milan’s season until the Christmas break. On the other hand, while Ibrahimovic was busy getting red cards for fun at the end of the season, Pato was enjoying a great spell of form until injuries once again hindered his progress. It is undeniable that both players played their roles in Milan’s success this season. Both of them stepped up when the other was struggling, so in a way, they completed each other.
Needless to say, this comparison counts for almost nothing, since no one knows what will happen next season. Maybe Allegri will accommodate them together, and even if he didn’t, both men are likely to be protagonists for Milan in the next campaign. With Pato’s injury troubles, and Ibrahimovic’s habit of losing his nerves and shying away in Europe, both men will be needed for Milan to reach silverware. They both enjoyed good seasons individually and on team level, and it’s arguable which one of them outshone the other. However, this shouldn’t concern any Milan fan, as Milanisti should be grateful to boast having two of the best strikers in the world as a part of their team.