Beginning the season with a bang after his transfer from Catalan giants Barcelona, Ibrahimovic’s goals and performances have catapulted Milan to the top of the Serie A ladder – a rare feat over the past decade. Statistics have proven Ibrahimovic to be the most integral, hence decisive, component of any team in the world even surpassing Ballon D’Or winner Leo Messi. This has in-turn earnt various praise from his European and domestic counterparts for effectiveness in contributing to a team’s performance and final outcome of a particular match.
Although, we all should know by now – if not, the more you accustom yourself to the inner workings of the beautiful game you shall come to realise – a week or two in football is equivalent to an aeon.
It appears, over recent weeks, that the Midas touch has deviated away from Milan talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The rangy Swede has failed to strike the back of the net since February 28th, and managed only two goals in his past eight Serie A matches. The man affectionately known as Ibracadabra, due his exquisite finishing and imagination on the football pitch, appears to have misplaced his aces with the only magic surfacing on the weekend being his vanishing act late in the second half against Bari. Frustrated by his recent goal drought, Ibrahimovic lashed out at Bari defender Marco Rossi which left the referee no choice but to hand out a straight red card. The striker now faces the prospect of a three match ban which Milan has the opportunity to appeal. A deliberate and selfish act – which leaves Milan in a tricky situation with the derby on the horizon – has altered the perception of the majority of Milan fans about his maturity and leadership on the field. With constant complaints of fatigue, and at risk of early burn out, these were early signs of his frustration and it was just too much to bear any further. Having watched the period in which Milan were reduced to ten men it coerced Milan to play in a different manner. Instead of relying on the physical presence of Ibrahimovic, substitutions of Emanuelson and Cassano digressed and increased the fluidity of Milan’s play by focusing on short passing opposed to the long ball tactic. Milan looked far more dangerous and likely to penetrate Bari’s defence. This was confirmed when Cassano equalised from a delightful cross from Antonini. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise as it will enable Pato to play in more of a direct route to goal opposed to dropping deep into the midfield and promoting the ball forward which, as a result, hindered his effectiveness and natural style of play. However, the Palermo match certainly was cause of concern as it was evident Milan lacked the killer punch in the opponents defensive third. Having an abundance of riches Milan struggled to create goal scoring opportunities and as Gattuso stated post-match, “When myself and Flamini are the most dangerous attacking weapons on the field there’s something terribly wrong”.
It’s going to be a struggle against the current Italian and European champions with or without Ibrahimovic taking the field. Nonetheless, Milan has all the ingredients needed to succeed and overcome a rampaging Internazionale. All they have to do is believe.