39-year-old striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is proud of Milan’s unbeaten record since the beginning of the season, and thinks it is a gift he gives to junior players.
Ibrahimovic: ‘I’m Milan Santa Claus’
“I never ask for anything for myself for Christmas. I’m Santa. I bring presents to all 27 of my children: two in Sweden and the other 25 in Milanello. “, Ibrahimovic told Sport Week on December 27. “This year, congrats on what we’ve done and are doing. We lost very little. I don’t know if it’s because of me or not, but I did something, or brought something back. something”.
The “two children in Sweden” that Ibrahimovic mentioned are his two biological children in his home country of Sweden, while the “25 children in Milano” are teammates at the San Siro stadium.
After Ibrahimovic returned in January 2020, Milan played well. Since June, when European leagues started to return after the Covid-19 break, the red and black striped team has not lost a match in Serie A, including the last 12 matches of last season and the first 14 matches of this season . In the past nine months, Ibrahimovic played 30 games and scored 22 goals. The 39-year-old striker is also leading the list of goals for Milan in the 2020-2021 season, with 11 goals.
In his 25-year career, Ibrahimovic has won 11 league titles in four different countries. Personally, he also won 12 Sweden Player of the Year awards, including this year’s one. Ibrahimovic shared: “I would not trade the 12 Best Swedish Player titles for the Ballon d’Or, because to me they mean stability. I have seen many players who have won the World Cup, the Euro.
When Milan became a phenomenon
Rafael Leao’s goal against Sassuolo in the 13th round of Serie A on December 20 resembles the epitome of Milan this season. The players of coach Stefano Pioli only took 6.2 seconds from the moment the ball was served in the middle of the field to the time the ball entered the goal of Sassuolo after Leao’s shot. The Portuguese striker, thereby, set the record as the fastest goalscorer in the history of Serie A and the top five European leagues.
Very quickly, the goal phase became the hottest topic of Serie A round 13, although this round also witnessed another quick goal. In the match Atalanta beat Roma 4-1, Luis Muriel scored after coming on less than a minute. After the Atalanta striker scored, teammate Matteo Pessina jumped off the bench, shouting into the camera: “You think only you can do it, Leao?”.
There are many memorable early goals in history, but Leao has brought back many memories of the tournament. In Venice, when the Portuguese junior scored against Sassuolo, Paolo Poggi’s phone kept ringing. He was the author of the goal for Piacenza against Fiorentina in 8.2 seconds on December 2, 2001, and held that record for the next 19 years when it was broken by Leao.
“It took less than 7 seconds for him to send me a challenge message,” Poggi happily told Italian media. “However, the difference is that, in my goal, we were not the serving team.”
In the situation 19 years ago, Fiorentina was the serving team, but Piacenza stole it and immediately punished the opponent. Poggi shot down goalkeeper Alex Manninger after Dario Hubner carelessly controlled a Christian Amoroso pass. Leao’s goal was a bit different. Milan served the ball, and Leao did not make the situation spontaneously, but it was a well-prepared lesson.
Immediately after the opening whistle, Hakan Calhanoglu pitched the ball towards the Sassuolo field, passing three players in front of him. At the same time, Leao ran quickly from the left flank into the center. The Turkish midfielder poked a slit following the downward momentum of his juniors, into the space of right-back Jeremy Toljan and midfielder Marlon Santos. Leao, after two touches to choose, made a perfect right foot, knocking out goalkeeper Andrea Consigli.
When the ball was in the net, the Sassuolo defenders looked around bewildered, as if to complain to the referee, but could not find a reason. They were about to ask the umpire to review the video because it was possible that Leao had moved into their own half before the whistle. But according to the law, serves are not on the list of situations that VAR is allowed to evaluate, so no one on the field doubts this goal.
According to Guardian journalist Nicky Baldini, this situation shows Milan’s cunning, having carefully studied the rules of the game, and carefully prepared for every moment. Coach Stefano Pioli said after the game that the team had 4-5 scoring scenarios when serving. “It’s not a matter of luck,” he said. “We prepared, studied the opponent carefully, evaluated the situations to make a difference. Everything went as planned.”
The situation could even become a trend, as teams try to capitalize on the first few ticks to their advantage. Of course, before VAR adjusts to bring the serve into play, it can be watched again, as the Sassuolo player wanted in the last game.
In terms of adapting to difficulties, Leao’s situation properly responds to the doubts of experts about his ability to replace Ibrahimovic. He was criticized for his laziness and lack of determination, which Pioli also admitted. “I was the first to tell Leao that two games before, he was not aggressive,” said the Milan coach. “Before the injury, he showed very clear signs of maturity. Now, even though he is not 100% recovered, Leao still needs to play more carefully.”
Victory over Sassuolo gives Milan confidence that they deserve the top spot and can win without Ibra. Super-agent Mino Raiola said: “Ibrahimovic is 90% of Milan’s strength”. But Milan have won seven, drawn three of the 10 Serie A matches that the striker is absent. Their ability to score is not affected much, at least in terms of numbers. In the last 15 matches, Milan have scored at least two goals.
Milan do not set a goal of winning this year, but they just want to be in the top 4 to attend next year’s Champions League, a condition to have more revenue for long-term plans. The top of the table is a… random event. Their average age is only 22.9 years old, in terms of the top five leagues, only “older” than the Bundesliga’s Dortmund (21). Can’t expect them to be stable at the moment.
But what surprised observers about Milan is the fact that this team smoothly overcomes challenges with the “boys”. When Ismael Bennacer was injured, Sandro Tonali was a good substitute. The defense has Diogo Dalot on loan from Man Utd playing well. When Alessio Romagnoli was injured, 21-year-old midfielder Matteo Gabbia made a good replacement. When it was the turn of leader Simon Kjaer to not kick, Pierre Kalulu, a 20-year-old right-back brought in from Lyon’s youth team, suddenly exceeded expectations in the central defender position.
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