Zlatan Ibrahimovic has completed a long-awaited return to Milan and could he be just the clinical striker Stefano Pioli’s side need? Given that one of their top scorers is full-back Theo Hernandez on four goals, and the other is struggling Krzysztof Piatek, who has seen three of his four come from the penalty spot, it is a gamble that Milan will be more than happy to take.
Milan tend to attack narrow, relying upon patient build up play with the likes of Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu who are given a license to drift from the wings in a 4-3-3, with struggling Piatek spearheading the attack down the middle. A tendency to cross to the Polish striker is indicative of Milan’s current style, who can often lack the tempo to break teams down and appear one-dimensional at times.
It has particularly been a theme against sides who operate a low-block defence, often struggling to break down the likes of SPAL and Verona, but even when they have created chances, Piatek and co have been guilty of missing a high volume of them.
However, there have been signs of improvement in recent weeks with chance creation increasing and the full-backs given more license to push on, and Theo Hernandez in particular will relish the opportunity to have the Swedish striker to pick out in the middle, whose aerial ability is undeniable.
It could see a change in style from Milan to try and build the tactics around Ibrahimovic, as his hold up play could be utilised to get the best out of Rafael Leao. Ibrahimovic’s lack of pace does mean that sides will be able to play a high line and try and box Milan in, but by having the likes of Leao available on the break, it could see the spaces being utilised in behind, and allow Milan to have a different style of attack, rather than their often slow, one-paced build up play reliant upon the likes of Suso and Samu Castillejo to break teams down.
It will be interesting to see how Milan’s tactics change in the coming weeks around Ibrahimovic, but it does open up some interesting options for Pioli.
Piatek has been linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur following Harry Kane’s injury, however the added competition and depth should help shift the burden off the Poland international and help him return to the form of last season he showed for both Milan and Genoa.
Ibrahimovic’s scoring record at LA Galaxy showed no signs of slowing down, and in his most recent season he netted 31 goals in 31 games. Although the quality of MLS could pose an argument as to just how much these statistics mean, they are still impressive numbers, suggesting he hasn’t lost his scoring edge.
Furthermore, looking back at his most recent seasons for Manchester United and PSG since 2014-15, one thing that does stand out is his ability to both create and convert chances for his team. He has out-performed his xG in all seasons, including an impressive 9.63 more in his 38-goal season in 2015-16, and this could hold the key to an upturn in form when considering Piatek’s struggle to convert.
Milan have only scored 16 goals all season, and are under-performing their xG by 6.55, and striker Piatek has been one of the worst offenders. Only one of his goals has come from open play, and his xG of 7.46, an under-performance of 3.46, has massively contributed to Milan’s struggles.
In simple terms, if Ibrahimovic is still operating at the class he has shown in recent years and Milan are able to create opportunities at the same rate for the Swede, his past history shows he should be able to take these chances, and subsequently boost Milan’s up the table quickly.
There are no guarantees that Ibrahimovic is still at the impressive level he was previous to his injury at Manchester United and subsequent exit to America, but his scoring record hasn’t slowed down with 53 goals in two seasons. It comes in with the caveat of how strong MLS actually is, but if the Swedish striker is still performing at this impressive level, he will quickly contribute towards an upturn in form for Pioli’s side.