Ageless Zlatan walks his own way… Again

Though a hugely influential and popular figure in world football for the past 12 years, there has always been speculation of whether Zlatan Ibrahimovic could cut it in the Premier League. Having won titles in Spain, Italy, France and Holland, plus numerous individual accolades, the big Swede finally made it over the Channel to join Manchester United. 

At 35 years old, he continues to defy those who suggest he has entered the lions den of English football at the wrong time in his career, instead taking the United front line by the scruff of the neck and – in true Zlatan fashion – making it his own. 

How does he do it?

At 6 foot 5 and 91kg, Ibrahimovic is not lacking in stature, and has the frame to cope with the physicality of the Premier League. He is also very confident with his frame, unafraid to take a tackle, make a challenge and otherwise harangue the defence into panic. 

His movement across the pitch, as he demonstrated so ably against Blackburn today, gives him unpredictability. Even as the furthest man forward, he has no hesitancy in dropping deep to collect the ball, rather than wait to be fed it. 

How has he adapted?

Even Zlatan has to acknowledge that he cannot carry himself to the same levels of energy as he used to. So he plays off those around him, primarily by dropping deep towards the ball. Laying it off to the ball players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba or the quicksilver Juan Mata, he rampages into the box, where his aerial ability is the dominant element when the ball is eventually returned to him. 

Can he improve?

Jose Mourinho has made no secret of building the Reds attack around the big Swede. This means neglecting the prodigious Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to the bench. Bagging 24 goals in his first season in England, he is more the justifying the decision to play him in a lone role. 

For the sheer sake of longevity though, weekly 90 minute games may be beyond him. Further, with progression imminent through European competition and the chase for the Champions League qualification in full flow, he will be needed more in April and May as opposed to now. He has willing deputies in Rashford and Wayne Rooney and – as much as he will argue against it – he will need to save himself for the big occasions when needed.  

 

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