It seems ever since Milan made their blockbuster swoop for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they've been putting all their weight on the Swedish internationals shoulders. Some may say this is a good thing. Zlatan had his best years at cross city rivals Inter Milan while playing in the same role. He was not only the creative cog in that Inter side but also the goal scorer. When Ibrahimovic wasn't in the line up, Inter looked like a shadow of themselves. At Barca, which plays like the ultimate team...he seemed to "struggle"...and he still had a goal every other game.
At AC Milan it appears that Coach Max Allegri has decided to deploy Zlatan in a similar manner, but with with a few alterations. Instead of playing as an out and out striker or as part of a strike duo, Allegri has decided to play Zlatan upfront with Pato and Ronaldinho as his support strikers.
Here is where I think the problem is.
All three of the players just mentioned, thrive with the ball at their feet. Now, while Pato isn't nearly the distributor that Ronaldinho is, he has much more pace than either Ronnie or Ibra and is always compelled to dribble. Zlatan plays similar to Ronaldinho...holding up the ball, then passing off usually in a very flashy manner. In order for an attack to work against the best teams, you need a certain element of variety. Milan's attack is very similar.
Allegri tried to experiment with Inzaghi as the lone striker and Ronnie and Zlatan supporting him,but Zlatan was stranded on the wing with his talent and skill completely isolated. I believe Allegri must go to what Inter did. Use Zlatan as part of a 2 man attackin tandem. I would think Pato & Zlatan with Ronnie in support. Ronaldinho isn't as fit as we'd like to pretend he is...so stop him from dribbling and let him get the ball and quickly distribute to either Pato, who will take off and beat the defense...or Zlatan who can hold up and play around. 2 different element to the exact same trio.
One problem that can't be addressed is the frustration. Too often when Zlatan is being man marked out of the game or stumped against stingy Italian defense...you see him hanging his head or lashing out with vicious tackles. This needs to stop. Zlatan is far too talented and needs to stay motivated. Ronaldinho is very similar. It seems like every other game Ronnie gets stripped cleanly of the ball and stands there with his hands out expecting a call which will never come. Ibra & Ronnie need to learn to pick themselves up and carry on with the job. I know it's been years since his best... but Andriy Shevchenko was the complete opposite of them. When he would get shut down...he would try a different approach and keep plugging away... and he was an absolute monster for Milan. Zlatan and Ronnie can only solve this themselves.
I have no doubt Milan will be succesful in the Serie A... but if they want to go far in the UEFA Champions League...Zlatan needs to find some motivation and in the event he gets frustrated... his team mates need to step up. Milan are one of Europe's most succesful teams...but only the big matches will tell if Zlatan is ready to drop his "big match flop" tag.
One can only hope we see the true Robinho after he opened his Milan account against Chievo this morning. I honestly thought he was doomed to a January transfer window exit after his howling miss against Ajax in the UCL. Allegri has shown faith in the Brazilian and hopefully it pays off. I feel the money would have been better spent in the midfield or as possible cover for Thiago Silva and the injury prone Alessandro Nesta!
The season is still early and only time and big matches will tell if Milan is ready to return to their legendary European status.
They face Real Madrid this Tuesday. These top two european clubs have had some classic encounters in the UCL in past years. Back in 2003, they met eachother in the group stage with Real Madrid winning 3-1 in the Santiago Bernabeau. AC Milan won 1-0 in the return match in the San Siro through a 40th minute Shevchenko marker. That year AC Milan went on to win the UCL.
Last season, they met again in the group stage. Pato scored in the 88th minute to steal an underdog AC Milan side a 3-2 victory in Madrid. AC Milan might have felt hard done by in the return leg. Benzema opened the scoring in the 29th minute from close range. Ronaldinho equalized from the spot after Pepe handled Gianluca Zambrotta's cross. Pato looked to have got the lead in the 36th minute but was whistled down for a phantom foul on Arbeloa. Highlights here
This Tuesday's affair has a completely different element as Zlatan Ibrahimovic goes against his former Coach at Inter, Jose Mourinho.
Can Zlatan lead Milan to glory once more?...I sincerely hope so.
Full Time Soccer Show Producer