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Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s cheeky punch has resulted in a 3-match ban. Qasa Alom argues that it could be the big Swede’s most telling contribution for the Serie A push…

It’s just gone the hour mark on a cold night in Rome, and after a slow start I Lupi – six points clear at the top of the table and facing second placed Milan – are starting to turn the screw and threaten to take the lead. They’re expected to win of course, as Milan are missing Filippo Inzaghi, who despite the highly publicized and alleged incompatibility with Andriy Shevchenko, still gives the team better shape and goal threat than the Ukrainian as a lone striker supported by the wizardry of Manuel Rui Costa and a cherubic Ricky Kaká…

Then it happens…arguably the 10 seconds in the 2003/2004 season that gives Milan the belief and momentum to bring home their seventeenth scudetti. Gattuso and Pirlo swarm around Cassano and clip the ball to a heavily marked Kaka. The Brazilian instantly lays it off to Pirlo who rolls the ball into the centre circle for Rui Costa to run onto. Kaká bursts powerfully up the right, Sheva peels off stealthily to the left, but the Porteguese glides ominously along sucking four defenders in. As he bares down on goal the commentators think he’s over cooked it, but then, a flick a shimmy a feint later, he shifts the weight effortlessly to his left side, leaving Panucci chasing shadows and caresses the ball towards Sheva. All the hopes of getting back into the title hunt, the desire of stamping his authority as the teams’ top striker and the aspirations of winning the Golden Ball hang in the balance as the Ukrainian takes a touch and steadies himself to shoot.

It’s over. Sheva raises his hands to his ears and re asserts himself as the Prince of Milan.

Some of the senior players who’ve survived that team would do well to remind the current number 7 – Alexandre Pato – of that game and should believe that something very similar to then could be on the cards now as well. The Brazilian himself certainly does, and is excited about the prospect of finally having the opportunity to be the teams’ focal point again. So should we.

“I get along very well with Cassano. I’ve been wanting to play with him for quite a while and will now get the chance to do so. I’m very happy about that. I just want to play, be that with Ibrahimovic or without him.” Alexandre Pato. March 2011.

After three managers in three seasons, position changes, injuries and a divorce the youngster’s had an extremely tough time of it recently; which has resulted in a fine Mario Balotelli impersonation. The late signing of Ibrahimovic forcing Pato to play further away from the goal has also most definitely contributed to Pato’s new moodiness as well. However now Pato can be returned to his preferred position in the team, ably assisted by sidekicks Cassano and Boateng/Robinho, to replicate the scintillating form of previous seasons, much like Shevchenko did in 2004.

The problem for Pato in recent times has been his skillset. The modern day game has seen an explosion of segunda punta’s, such as Messi, Cassano, Aguero, Tevez, Rooney becoming a team’s major goalscoring threat. Thus, with Pato’s build, pace and trickery, a succession of managers have attempted to mould him into this type of player.. Whilst his aforementioned skills do indeed lend themselves to contributing more in the build up and have worked on occasion – such as against Madrid last season -  Pato’s most telling attributes are his natural finishing, heading and desire to score goals.

Thus it’s evident that Pato’s best position – again much like his predecessor – is as a prima punta (Shevchenko too flourished at Milan when he was played as the teams’ focal point, however when he was asked to be the foil for Filippo Inzaghi or shuttled out wide for Chelsea, the Ukrainian struggled considerably). Ironically it’s from this position too that Pato has indeed contributed to the team the most aswell by assisting 5 goals in the 2008/2009 season, a tally only beaten in the team by Clarence Seedorf and Kaká. Perhaps now with a consistent run of games in this position and without Zlatan to stifle him, the pressure has been lifted and Pato can also begin strutting around like a peacock once more.

So where does this leave Zlatan and Milan?

After establishing that the suspension is beneficial for Pato, it’s also perhaps the best situation for the other two as well. Milan unfortunately have become slightly one dimensional and are prone now to simply punting it long and high to Zlatan. Consequentially teams have been been able to nullify Ibrahomovic’s threat more easily, arguably a point that explains and is exemplified by his sending off against Bari last week. The Bari defenders were managing to suffocate Ibra with ease, hence Ibra simply couldn’t contain his frustration anymore and added a little punch when he could.

After his expulsion, Milan started to create more chances through crisp incisive passes and interplay with Cassano as the main architect. It was through these fluid moves, both from wide areas and deep that Milan started to get beyond the defense line and eventually end up scoring. Thus Milan should not miss Ibrahimovic’s main two attributes through Cassano’s creativity, and Boatengs physical presence, whilst also adding an extra dimension of pace and movement.

Finally after 27 starts in Serie A this season, as well as the European and Coppa Italia fixtures, it’s clear to see that Ibrahimovic well and truly deserves a rest. Gone is the player who at the start of the season looked hungry to chase every ball down and take a beating for the cause of the team. In his place is a player whose body language reeks of disgruntlement and has even led to violence.

The physical and mental exhaustion has also taken a toll on his goal scoring contribution as well, with only one goal in the last 9 games – that goal being from a penalty. One would have to go back to the end of January in the match against Catania for Ibrahimovic’s last goal from open play.

Historically too, the Swede has been a player whose level of play has often dropped mid season as well (ironically coinciding with his team’s exit from the Champions league) before coming back strong in April and May to lead the side to domestic success.

Thus despite his unwelcome sojourn coming at a key time in the fixture list against the wounded animal of Palermo, Inter and a resurgent Fiorentina, past exploits show that the stage is set for other’s to step up and even flourish without Ibrahimovic, who can actually put his size 46’s up for a few weeks and recuperate his strength to lead end the side’s seven year wait for a league title and continue his golden domestic run as well. Who knows, perhaps his three match ban is actually be a blessing in disguise.

You can follow Qasa Alom on twitter here

Qasa Alom

Broadcast Journalist. Writer for Serieaweekly, subtitled online or anyone else daft enough to want me. These are my thoughts (even the clever ones)

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6 Responses so far.

  1. Ted says:

    Ibra’s our best player. I have a bad feeling that we’ll crack and forfeit the Scudetto, to Inter.

    Maybe Allegri, will have balls to use Pato,Robinho,and Cassano at once, with Boateng in midfield, alongside Gattuso,and Van Bommel.

  2. Rod says:

    I agree that it’s a blessing in disguise.

    Zlatan has been due a rest for several weeks now. Allegri has been tentative to give him a break and now the decision has been made for him by the man himself.

    Pato hasn’t scored in a derby nor really been a bright spark in any, so this gives him a chance to shine. Time to really live up to the number on his back…

  3. fillipo says:

    i certainly agree that the Zlatan is not the same one as we saw in the opening of the season. so from that part of view i think it’s good he’s out for a while. regarding the derby, he’s a mental card towards inter! and Inter’s defence, they want him to fail they will focus on Zlatan, he can mess with their heads, Pato cannot and shall have to beat them on skills. Let’s hope for the best. i believe in both Pato as Zlatan.

  4. Drew says:

    Ibra is not only a big game choker, but when he plays, the rest of the team has to fall in behind him, and Milan lose fluidity and creativity. Pato hasn’t been great recently, and his attitude and performances have been well below his initial performances of 2008.

    I agree with Qasa that Pato’s place should be far up the pitch, not wide, not deep, not trequartista, but using his explosive pace and finishing. Whether Pato is intelligent enough a player to really fill the boots of Sheva, Van Basten and Inzaghi remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, amd that is that Pato has time on his side, unlike Ibra who will only ever be a good league scorer, and never dominate at the same level in Europe.

  5. Ted says:

    So much for that.

    Ibra’s our best player. Only a fool, would think we are better without him.

    14 goals, and 12 assists.

    Now we’re crumbling without the Swede.

  6. Ted says:

    So much for that.

    Ibra’s our best player. Only a fool, would think we are better without him.

    14 goals, and 12 assists.

    Now we’re crumbling without the Swede.

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