Zlatan Ibrahimović Just Keeps Going
One of the main treats of the season so far has been watching Zlatan Ibrahimović continue to dominate. We’ve charted the evolution of Zlatan in a more in-depth piece here, but at the ripe age of 39, his return to AC Milan has given his side a much-needed boost.
Ibrahimović arrived at Milan in January 2020 and joined a struggling Rossoneri’s outfit that had a paltry 35.3% win rate in all competitions in 2019/20. Since his arrival, AC Milan have won 63.2% of their matches.
This season the Swede has been in red hot form. He’s scored eight goals in Serie A so far – only one AC Milan player has ever scored more at this point in the season (Gunnar Nordahl, nine goals in both 1950/51 and 1955/56). Looking around Europe’s top five leagues, only Robert Lewandowski (11) has scored more goals than Zlatan and the former LA Galaxy forward is averaging the highest number of shots per game in Europe.
Total Shots Per Game – Top Five European Leagues:
|Player||Goals||Total Shots/Game (inc. Blocks)|
Time goes by, but Zlatan still makes the difference on the field.
Looking at the Serie A table, the usual suspects are at the top. AC Milan, Napoli, AS Roma, Juventus, Inter and Atalanta occupy the top spaces and look primed to fight for the title.
But sticking out like a sore thumb in second place is Sassuolo. Just two points behind leaders Milan, the Neroverdi have picked up 15 points after their first seven matches of the season, the most they’ve ever recorded at this stage in a league campaign.
Manager Roberto De Zerbi has a side predicated on exciting, attacking football, and so far Sassuolo have been able to mix it with the best Italy has to offer. Sassuolo have scored 18 goals so far, a joint league-high with Atalanta, and their success has come through dominating possession. They keep the ball better than any side in Italy and in fact have the fifth-highest average possession (62%) in the top five European Leagues, sandwiched in between Manchester City and Barcelona. That’s not bad company to keep. Sassuolo are patient in attack, with only Juventus (12.2 secs) averaging a longer time per sequence than De Zerbi’s side (12.1).
The Armenian Prince
Arsenal wantaway Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been in impressive form for Roma so far this season. He’s contributed to seven goals (3G, 4A) in his first seven appearances and capped his irrepressible start in 2020/21 with a hat-trick against Genoa in Roma’s last game before the break. With those goals, Mkhitaryan became one of only two players to have scored 10+ goals in three of the top five European Leagues since 2015/16, alongside Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Mkhitaryan has been involved in 100 goals in 197 appearances in the top five European Leagues (48 goals, 52 assists) proving that he can still be the difference-maker when given the opportunity.
The Break Out of Hirving Lozano?
Hirving Lozano has scored four goals and provided one assist in his first six appearances this season in Serie A, the same number of goals and assists he managed in the whole of 2019/20 (26 games played). The Mexican forward has built a great rapport with current manager Gennaro Gattuso: six of his eight goals in the Serie A have come under the former AC Milan bruiser.
In his last two full seasons in the Eredivisie with PSV, Lozano notched 17 goals in each. Is he finally able to realise his full potential in Italy?
Stuttering Inter Should Not Panic
Inter’s first season under Antonio Conte was a case of so near, but so far. The Nerazzurri reached the final of the UEFA Europa League but lost out to Sevilla and domestically they finished in second place, just one point behind Juve, in the race for the Scudetto.
After an impressive transfer window with new players such as Arturo Vidal and Achraf Hakimi arriving at the club, Inter were expected to be the team to beat this year.
However, they’ve had a tough start to their campaign, only winning three times in their first 10 matches in all competitions, their worst start since 2016/17 under Frank de Boer.
Those 10 games have seen Inter score the same number of goals as in their opening ten matches last season (20), but concede six more. (16 v 10).
Looking at their underlying numbers, however, shows there is cause for optimism. In attack, Inter are performing in line with their expected goals, but have perhaps been unfortunate to have conceded as many goals as they have (1.6 goals conceded per game, v. 1.2 xG against per game.) In fact, when compared to last season it looks like their attack has marginally improved and their defensive performances a pretty similar to what we saw last season.
Paulo Dybala’s Struggles:
2019/20’s MVP has struggled to find his feet this time around. Paulo Dybala is yet to score in the top-flight and the signing of Álvaro Morata over the summer seems to have replaced the Argentine as Cristiano Ronaldo’s perfect partner. Dybala has attempted just one shot on target to date and created four chances for his teammates in Serie A, which is not an encouraging haul so far.
However, he found the net in his last appearance in the Champions League against Ferencváros. Could that be enough to put him back on the right path?
The Torino Train Wreck
2020/21 has not been kind to Torino and new manager Marco Giampaolo. The Granata have picked up just five points from their first seven games. In the three-points-for-a-win-era, Torino have always been relegated when they’ve earned five points or fewer at this stage in the season (in 2002/03 and 2008/09).
They’ve proved that they can be a danger going forward, with talisman Andrea Belotti scoring six goals so far, and Torino 12 in total. Belotti is the first Torino man to score as many as six goals by this stage in the season since Alessio Cerci in 2013/14.
But where Torino have shown an enormous weakness is in their failure to hold onto leads. Torino have dropped 11 points from winning positions so far in 2020/21, more than any other side in the top five European Leagues.
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