While we await to see how much Zlatan Ibrahimovic still has left in the tank, his influence and impact on the Milan squad as a whole could also be crucial.
The 38-year-old brings back a wealth of experience and a winning mentality with him, and as suggested by the player himself and the Milan hierarchy during his press conference on Friday, they fully understand and appreciate how important he can also be in the dressing room and on the training pitch.
It’s hoped that he can prove he is still capable of making a difference at this level, but he’ll need those around him to step up and start delivering too as if they can compliment each other, it could lead to a successful balance being struck.
Zvonimir Boban perhaps said it best on Friday, when he stated: “None of us must hide behind Zlatan’s very broad shoulders. We have to be positive, Ibra can help everyone with that change,” as per Football Italia.
Attacking players must feed off Ibra…
“When Zlatan has the ball, he needs movement from players around him, throwing himself into space and attacking the depth. Whoever does this will benefit from his assists and his open space. Because when he plays, he takes in two and there will be greater freedom for others.”
Those are the words of Antonio Nocerino, as per MilanNews.it, who benefited significantly from playing alongside Ibrahimovic having ended the 2011/12 campaign with 10 goals in 35 Serie A appearances.
That’s a player who built a great understanding with the Swede and undoubtedly worked tirelessly to take his game to the next level so he could make the most of the opportunities that he was being given by our talisman.
Several individuals in the current squad need to adopt that same mentality. Yes, Ibrahimovic is now 38, but his physicality and mere presence in leading the line will still create space and chances for others to make the difference, and we can ill-afford to see the same disappointing and inconsistent play that we’ve seen so far this season.
Whether it’s Suso now having a genuine target-man in the box to find, Hakan Calhanoglu being able to link up with a focal point up top from the left flank or the quality of Giacomo Bonaventura now finding that next gear and becoming more involved with goals and assists by playing off Ibrahimovic.
The same can be said of Lucas Paqueta and Franck Kessie from midfield if they start showing the level of composure needed in the final third, and it’s no surprise that many of the names mentioned above were involved in the goals in our win over Rhodense in a friendly on Friday, as seen in the video below.
Theo Hernandez and Davide Calabria also enjoyed a productive run-out, and with their quality going forward, along with Andrea Conti, perhaps a 4-3-1-2 system which gets more out of our wing-backs could be an option.
📽 Goals galore in the Rossoneri’s friendly match
Check out @Ibra_official’s “first” goal ⚽
— AC Milan (@acmilan) January 3, 2020
Chance for Pioli to go with two-man attack
It is possible that Stefano Pioli could change system and opt for a two-man attack as noted above, with the likes of Krzysztof Piatek and Rafael Leao capable of playing off Ibrahimovic.
That could in fact suit him, as their movement off the ball and ability to get behind defenders will open up opportunities for him to create for others rather than having to shoulder the responsibility of scoring goals himself as the lone striker.
Whether it’s Leao’s pace to attack spaces in behind vacated by opposition defenders to deal with Ibrahimovic when dropping deep or Piatek’s darting runs across the line and in behind to open up passing avenues for his teammate, there could be an important opportunity for one of those two to spark up a key partnership.
Additional leadership in the side
Alessio Romagnoli has had to shoulder a lot of responsibility over recent years, particularly after being appointed captain, and it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 24.
This is a young squad lacking experience of winning at the highest level, and so it will hopefully be a huge boost for all to have a leader and a voice like Ibrahimovic in the dressing room to help guide them.
Romagnoli can certainly still learn a lot, but with the absence of leadership across the squad barring stalwarts such as Pepe Reina and Lucas Biglia, it was always vital that he we added players like Ibra and his arrival could also be an excellent opportunity for our current captain to gain valuable knowledge of how to continue to lead by example.