Ibrahimovic still 'the benchmark for everyone' as Pioli relishes return of Zlatan

By Sports Desk August 22, 2021

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is poised to give Milan a huge early-season lift by roaring back into action.

The extroverted striker is just weeks away from returning to full team training after the knee injury that forced him to miss Sweden's Euro 2020 campaign.

Head coach Stefano Pioli knows a fit Ibrahimovic can transform his team, as was proven when he scored 15 goals in his first 15 Serie A games of last season.

He netted at one goal every 79.47 minutes during that run, and even though his scoring then dried up, the veteran remains a talisman with the Rossoneri.

Asked about Ibrahimovic's condition, Pioli said in a news conference on Sunday: "Physically, he is certainly looking better, even though he's not begun full training with the team and he's forcing things a little bit.

"Next week will be very important for him because he needs to start ball work and that's what he's been missing.

"So we'll see next week whether he's able to actually train with us, and during the international break he might be able to be fit and available.

"I think his role is always the same: Zlatan is a charismatic leader in terms of his character. He's a leader on the pitch as well, he really is the benchmark for everyone.

"He's a significant figure. He's very motivated."

 

Ibrahimovic stands eighth on the list of top scorers across all competitions over the past 10 seasons, among players competing in Europe's top five leagues.

That is all the more impressive given his goals across two seasons with LA Galaxy are not counted in his total of 247 strikes, and Pioli will know Milan carried a unique threat when Ibrahimovic was on hand last term.

They won 66.7 per cent of games where he started (12 of 18) and that dipped slightly to 60 per cent when Ibrahimovic was not in Pioli's XI.

Milan begin their 2021-22 season against Sampdoria on Monday, then face Cagliari next weekend, and those may be the only games Ibrahimovic has to miss, if Pioli's fitness forecast proves accurate.

"He's fit and firing mentally," Pioli said of the player who turns 40 in October.

"He's a player that can still be a matchwinner for the team, for himself. So he's very motivated and can't wait to get back into full training with his team-mates.

"The same goes for me: I can't wait to get him back on the training ground."

Related items

  • Diaz set for Milan return after testing negative for coronavirus Diaz set for Milan return after testing negative for coronavirus

    Milan playmaker Brahim Diaz is poised for a first-team return after testing negative for coronavirus.

    The Spaniard has missed the last three games for the Rossoneri after contracting COVID-19.

    Diaz, 22, was forced to isolate while Milan secured Serie A wins over Hellas Verona and Bologna either side of a Champions League defeat to Porto.

    Ahead of Milan's clash with Torino on Tuesday, the San Siro club said on their website: "AC Milan announces that Brahim Diaz has tested negative to the COVID-19 swab test."

    Diaz, on loan from Real Madrid, has scored three goals in Serie A this season and provided one assist.

    Stefano Pioli's side will go top of the table if they avoid defeat at home against Torino.

  • DeRozan and Bulls 'want to win now' after following in Michael Jordan's footsteps with 4-0 start DeRozan and Bulls 'want to win now' after following in Michael Jordan's footsteps with 4-0 start

    DeMar DeRozan insisted the Chicago Bulls "want to win now" after opening the season 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97.

    The red-hot Bulls preserved their perfect record with a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors in the NBA on Monday.

    Chicago – the last remaining unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference – were busy in the offseason, having recruited four-time All-Star DeRozan, former second pick Lonzo Ball and 2020 NBA champion Alex Caruso.

    It came after the Bulls traded for two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic last season.

    The last time the Bulls opened with a 4-0 record, Hall of Famer and six-time champion Michael Jordan was on the team in Chicago.

    "Part of the reason why I even chose to come to Chicago was everyone was eager to be successful, to want to win," DeRozan said after scoring 26 points against his former team.

    "Everybody had that chip on their shoulder, from the city to the organisation to the players that I spoke to.

    "That was everybody's mindset, it's all about winning now. We're not in a development stage, we want to win now."

    DeRozan added: "We've got a long way to go. We've got a lot more to clean up, to learn. It's a long season, man. [The 4-0 start] is great, but we've got a lot more basketball to go.

    "We can't carry this record like it's some kind of badge of honour; we've got to understand that the next game is going to be even harder."

    The previous two times the Bulls started 4-0 (1995-96 and 1996-97), they went on to win the NBA championship.

    "I think we have a lot of high-character guys, we all want to win and we want to win together," Ball added. "I think when you have a bunch of guys on the same team with the same common goal and the same mindset it makes it easier for the chemistry to click. That's what's going on."

  • Rumour Has It: Man City plot move for Barcelona's De Jong Rumour Has It: Man City plot move for Barcelona's De Jong

    Manchester City had a relatively quiet off-season in the transfer market.

    City landed Jack Grealish from Aston Villa in a big-money move but failed in their efforts to sign Tottenham star Harry Kane following Sergio Aguero's exit.

    But the Premier League champions could be more active in the January transfer window.

     

    TOP STORY – CITY PLAN FOR DE JONG SWOOP

    Manchester City are plotting a move for Barcelona star midfielder Frenkie de Jong, according to Calciomercato.

    De Jong, who also has interest from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, signed a five-year deal with Barcelona effective from July 2019, tying him down to 2024.

    The 24-year-old Netherlands international has made 11 appearances in all competitions this season and is yet to score.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Fabrizio Romano claims Manchester United have made no official proposal for former Chelsea and Inter boss Antonio Conte yet amid doubts over the future of Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following Sunday's 5-0 rout at the hands of Liverpool. Zinedine Zidane and Ajax's Erik ten Hag are also possible options.

    - Manchester United's wantaway Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek is preparing to make a January move with Voetbal International claiming he has swapped agents. EvertonNewcastle United and Juventus are all interested in Van de Beek, per Metro.

    Paris Saint-Germain will switch their attention to Bayern midfielder Corentin Tolisso if they cannot secure a move for Manchester United's Paul Pogba, reports Calciomercato. Pogba has also been linked with Juve and Real Madrid.

    Newcastle and Juve are contending to sign Barca forward Ousmane Dembele, according to Sport. Dembele is set to exit Barca at the end of this season and his agent has reportedly been in touch with both clubs about a move, while Liverpool and United are also possible destinations.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.