Despite a tough couple of weeks for Milan, the reigning champions have emerged from the period with their sights firmly set on collecting two more titles this season.
The last 16 days have seen the Rossoneri face Juventus, Roma, Barcelona and Catania. While the extra-time elimination at the hands of Juventus in the Coppa Italia semi final remains a blemish on their fortnight a win at home to Roma and holding Barcelona to a scoreless draw gives Milan a great chance to retain the Scudetto and progress in Europe. A draw in Sicily, too, should be seen favourably given the success of Vincenzo Montella’s Catania.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a constant in the past fortnight for Milan. Ibrahimovic’s record in all Serie A games stands at a magnificent 116 goals in 210 games – 0.552 goals a game. His tally this season stands at 29 goals from 34 games in all competitions, even after giving himself a short vacation in February when he was banned for slapping Salvatore Aronica vs Napoli. Zlatan has been carving sides open upon his return, scoring 7 goals in the last month.
It hasn’t all been roses for the Swede, though. Earlier this season against Catania the Swede left the field with a pass completion rate of 83% compared to 70% on Saturday – second worst to Christian Abbiati. While the goals speak for themselves, Ibrahimovic has appeared to tire as games have worn on recently. His first touch remains sharp, but his ability to play simple passes in the final third leaves a lot to be desired.
At the end of the game against Roma, which was won with an Ibrahimovic brace, the team stood in the centre circle applauding their fans in the Curva Sud while Zlatan remained breathless, crouching in the background being watched over by a member of the Milan backroom staff – he was shattered. It is scandalous to suggest that Ibrahimovic has carried the side, but he may have been over-utilised by Allegri. Indeed, while on international break earlier this season, he claimed he was tired and had “lost the burning passion for football”.
The other persistent theme of the Rossoneri season has been an incredible number of injuries. When asked about it, Ibrahimovic said: “something has to change, because there are a so many injuries in a month that is so important in making the difference in a season.” La Gazzetta dello Sport published the number of games missed through injuries for each team, and Milan led by some way with 218 games missed compared to the average of 98 (Juventus have suffered just 40).
In reality many of these absences can be attributed to a few names: Antonio Cassano, Alessandro Nesta, Alexandre Pato, Gennaro Gattuso and Matthieu Flamini. Re-occurring injuries to Kevin-Prince Boateng and season-ending injuries sustained by Alexander Merkel and Rodney Strasser just days after they were recalled from loan spells suggest that Milan’s problems may suggest that more than bad luck is to blame.
The pitch has been suggested as a potential scapegoat as well as Allegri’s insistence in using players before they’re fully ready: Thiago Silva being the most recent example. The reputation of Milan’s medical team and the infamous MilanLab has suffered too. The medical centre ‘masterminded’ by Belgian doctor Jean-Pierre Meersseman together with, former Chelsea assistant manager, Bruno Dimichelis in 2002 once had a NASA-like aura, but now seems far from infallible.
In 2009, Clarence Seedorf spoke very highly of the medical work going on at Milan: “the philosophy here is that you are training to prevent injuries” The idea for the centre came after a season where 17 squad members picked up knee injuries and Fernando Redondo broke down three days after signing for the club. The success of the facility was perhaps exaggerated by the presence of older, evergreen players over the past decade like Seedorf, Gattuso and Paolo Maldini – 41-years-old when he retired.
Without knowing whether the coach is receiving and ignoring the information provided by the medical centre has a part to play in the latest injury crisis. There has been some good news for Milan fans recently though with Antonio Cassano now working with a ball in training and awaiting certification from various medical institutions to play, as well as the potential return of Pato against Barcelona. Pato, nicknamed ‘The Duck’, had been receiving treatment in Florida and the specialists have made it clear that he is “very much ready and will be definitely be available for Allegri against Barcelona”.
This boost comes at a critical point in the season with the side desperate to maintain their momentum, and could provide Ibrahimovic with a second-wind required to carry il Diavolo over the finish line. Against Roma, once his team mates had stepped away from the centre circle Zlatan rose from his crouched position to gloriously receive his public. That is a feeling the Swede is yet to tire of.