Devil’s Advocate: Ibrahimovic’s most vital contribution against Hellas Verona came after the game

By Oliver Fisher -

It was a strange night for Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Sunday at San Siro, the kind of frantic 90 minutes that has sort of typified Milan’s performances over the past few games.

There were good moments, and there were moments that left fans tearing their hair out, but the one thing about Ibrahimovic is that he always manages to be decisive even when the opposition thinks they have kept him quiet.

The Swede missed a penalty in the middle of the second half to make it 2-2, hit the crossbar with a header, thought he had an assist for Davide Calabria that was ruled out by VAR, saw a shot saved by Silvestri then finally levelled with a 93rd minute header.

His contribution on the scoresheet meant that Milan snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat, in the process extending their unbeaten run in Serie A to 19 games and extending their lead atop the Serie A table to two points heading into the break.

However, arguably his most valuable contribution of the night came from what we saw after the game, which was a decidedly different Zlatan facing the media compared to what we have been used to.

Ibrahimovic was interviewed by Milan TV after the game, and for once we saw him provide an honest – albeit still humorous – reflection on the evening’s events.

“I won’t take the penalty next time, I miss the Curva and so I sent the ball there (laughs),” he began.

“We made mistakes that we don’t normally make, especially in marking on set pieces. The responsibility lies with everyone. We didn’t score despite the many opportunities we had. We have to be positive.

“We must not forget that a few months ago there was another situation, now it is normal that everyone expects more. But sometimes you have to be realistic and look at where we came from.

“Before Lille we were undefeated in 24 straight matches. We have many commitments, playing on Thursday is not easy. But I don’t want excuses.”

On the record of consecutive games in Serie A with a goal, which the Swede set last night: “And you think I missed three penalties, the next one I leave to Kessie. I need mental rest, the break comes at the right time.”

The last line is perhaps the most striking one. Rather than masquerading with his usual act in front of the cameras, Zlatan admitted that he is feeling the pressure of the intense schedule mentally.

The Swede’s seemingly unbreakable mentality is something that has been discussed at length both by the media but also by Zlatan himself, as on numerous occasions he has stated that Milan would have won the league last season had he been there for the full season.

While his post-match interviews are fantastic for generating memorable snippets and quotes, it is quite nice for once to see a different side to the 39-year-old, one where he admits that even he is affected by the fixture list and that he is not invincible.

After eight goals in five Serie A matches it would be ridiculous to think that Ibra is a problem, but when the striker himself is holding his hands up and admitting to making mistakes due to being mentally strained, it takes a bit of the pressure off the squad.

His admission regarding penalty taking responsibilities was also significant. Ibrahimovic has failed to convert three of his last four spot kicks which at the time led to calls from fans on social media for Kessie to take the job from him, and rather than let the issue be stewed over in the media, Zlatan – like the leader he is – took ownership of the situation immediately and cleared up that Sunday’s penalty could be his last for a while.

It was far from a disaster on the field for Ibra, it never can be when you score a 93rd minute goal to salvage a result for your team, and it is very much that never-say-die attitude that he is beginning to impart on the rest of the squad, who responded very well after going 2-0 down within 20 minutes.

Previous Milan sides would have absolutely crumbled in that situation, but in the end Pioli’s men went on to rack up over 30 shots on goal and generated enough chances to win three games. They didn’t win that one, but if good results follow after the international break then it can be looked back upon as a valuable learning curve.

Actions on the pitch will always speak louder than words, but words can sometimes do a good job too, and when Zlatan Ibrahimovic admits that he too is human sometimes, it releases the pressure valve just a little for everyone else.

Tags AC Milan Zlatan Ibrahimovic