Stats prove Zlatan is defying logic and getting better in old age

Date published: Friday 31st March 2017 9:17

A focus on Manchester United’s talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his stats suggest he’s getting better with age.

If you want to know whether Ibrahimovic is doing a good job, the Swede is probably the last person you should be asking.

Not really known for humility and self-depreciation, Ibrahimovic has been coy about his Manchester United future beyond this season, saying: “I’m a person when I go into something I put my head 200 per cent and I do what I’m good at.

“I go in, I go for the kill and I go out. And when I go out, there is no complaints, that’s what I do. I never leave a job unfinished.

“Let’s see what happens, we are talking. I have an option for another year, I want to do great as long as I’m here, so let us see, there is a lot of time.”

Whether or not Zlatan has been a success in English football is not up for debate – he has been. There are just no two-ways about it. The question of whether or not he could do it in the Premier League, a question that has been levelled at him at just about every point of his remarkable career on the continent, has been definitively answered.

His 25 league games for United have produced 15 goals, and that puts him up there with the best around right now.

Of course, goals alone can be misleading. Players can hit a purple patch, or fill their boots against ‘lesser’ opposition yet fluff their lines when it really matters.

Tactics play a part too. Jermain Defoe, for example, has just one fewer than Ibrahimovic this season and, while he is playing in a far worse team than his fellow-veteran, you could also say that he is helped in his goal-getting by the fact the Sunderland team is basically set-up in it’s entirety to get him on the end of things.

Much more is expected of Ibrahimovic, who is more a cog in a tactical machine than the product itself. He is tasked with playing with his back to goal and providing a base for others.

One metric that does speak perhaps a little more clearly of his ability right now is just how many shots Ibrahimovic, despite everything else that is asked of him, has rained in on the opposition’s goal this season.

It’s 110, to be exact – more than any other player in the Premier League.

For strikers, goals can be a fickle thing. Form comes and goes, scoring and barren streaks the same. However, it’s when they are no longer getting themselves on the end of things and into shooting positions that the alarm bells really start to ring. That, though, evidently, is not a worry for Ibrahimovic right now.

In decline?

Having said all of that, Zlatan’s age, despite him probably thinking getting older is just one of those things that happens to other people, is something of an elephant in the room.

Should he extend his current deal with Man Utd, he will be running into his 36th birthday just few months into it. A decline, if it hasn’t started already, is surely not far away?

The first part of that question is, fortunately, a lot easier to analyse than the second is to predict. In fact, I’ll give you the answer right now: No, there is absolutely no sign at all of a decline already setting in.

Goals aside, Ibrahimovic is producing more in games than he was two years ago, and even that can probably be explained away by the step up in quality from Ligue 1 to the Premier League.

It must also stand to reason, then, that those increases are even more impressive than they seem at first glance, especially when you consider two years ago he was playing for the best team in his division, a luxury that Manchester United have not been able to afford him this season.

Last season, Ibrahimovic was in stunning form for Paris Saint-Germain, scoring an incredible 38 goals in just 2549 minutes of football. He is some way off that pace this season, but it’s probably fair to put that down to an exception rather than a rule.

Certainly, his 15 goals this campaign is very comparable to seasons he produced in previous, highly successful, spells with Juventus, Inter, Milan, and Barcelona when he was pretty much at his peak. It’s about right for him, so you can’t really label it a decline.

The future

When the decline will come, is, of course, the big question. He is at that ‘one year at a time’ stage of his career, but if you were Manchester United you’d surely be thrilled to see him stick around for another 12 months.

The great advantage he has is that his game has never been reliant on pace. It is his touch and physicality that have been his weapons throughout his career, and they appear to be very much still part of his arsenal.

He is winning more aerial duels than he was in France – in large part, in fairness, to the stylistic difference between the two competitions – and creating more chances for others than he has in recent years.

That all speaks volumes about where his game is at right now, and it’s certainly not in decline. He actually appears to be as good, or very nearly as good as ever, and long may that continue.

Michael Graham

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