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Ibrahimovic and Robinho prove me wrong

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Phil Minshull | 19:13 UK time, Monday, 14 February 2011

Every so often, a blogger has to put their head above the parapet and admit that he or she was wrong about something they have written in the past.

That's what I'm doing right now.

At the start of the season, I expressed a lot of scepticism about whether Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho were going to have a positive impact on AC Milan after their summer moves from Barcelona and Manchester City respectively.

In stark contrast to my original prognostications, both players have not been the divisive force I suspected they might be and, thanks in part to the duo's efforts, Milan are looking like they might take their first Serie A title since 2004.

Having seen a few of their recent games, I also have a feeling that Champions League opponents Tottenham will find out just how influencial the pair have become at the San Siro when the two teams meet on Tuesday.

Ibrahimovic has scored 13 goals in Serie A alone this season, bagging another four in the Champions League before the New Year. Robinho has added another nine to Milan's tally of 44 goals this term, including two in Saturday's 4-0 win over Parma, the first time he had been on the scoresheet twice since he moved to Milan.

Ibrahimovic and RobinhoIbrahimovic and Robinho have put Milan in sight of the Serie A title. Photo: AFP

World Soccer magazine this month called Ibrahimovic and Robinho "a strike partnership of terrifying possibility" - and I cannot do anything other than endorse that assessment.

Both players seem to have matured at Milan under the guidance of coach Massimiliano Allegri. Ibrahimovic, in particular, has added a few strings to his bow since his return to Italy's second city and has become a lot less greedy with the ball, providing his team-mates with opportunities rather than bidding only for personal glory, a facet demonstrated perfectly when he set up the evergreen Clarence Seedorf for Milan's first goal against Parma on Saturday.

It is this aspect of his game that has helped endear him to the Rossoneri fans, who, like me, had placed question marks against his name at the start of the season.

It would be a surprise of massive proportions now if Milan do not exercise their option to purchase the former Inter Milan striker from Barcelona at the end of the season. It could turn out to be the bargain signing of next summer - and Allegri certainly expects Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani, the right-hand man of club owner and under-fire Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, to write a cheque for 24m euros.

"There is no better player in the world than Zlatan Ibrahimovic," said Allegri last week. "Alongside Messi, he is the absolute strongest. He has character, determination and this year he has been decisive on many occasions."

The victory over Parma also extended Milan's unbeaten run to eight games in Serie A - although it came after two draws against Lazio and Genoa - and maintains their three-point lead over surprise challengers Napoli.

It is a slender advantage and certainly not insurmountable with 13 games still to play, especially when you consider that Milan are fallible, having tripped up at the end of last year at home to both Ajax in the Champions League and Roma on the domestic front.

The prevailing opinion is that Milan can be punished by fast men down the wings, so Spurs are certainly going to miss the injured Gareth Bale. However, in a season when Inter Milan - undergoing a resurgence under former Milan coach Leonardo - and Juventus have failed to offer any sort of sustained domestic challenge, there is the growing feeling that this could be Milan's year.

Allegri sounded more optimistic about his side's title chances after Saturday's game and issued a mild rebuke to some of his critics over the last few weeks.

"I think it's important to analyse the performances," said Allegri. "We didn't play poorly against Genoa, apart from a certain stage of the second half. We deserved to win against Lazio, so it's not like we were in crisis. The players did well (against Parma) and this makes me happy. We were aggressive again and this is important. Aggressiveness is fundamental. Seedorf played a great game, especially in terms of intensity."

Robinho was even more bullish on Saturday night. "Bring on Tottenham," he said. "We want to win everything. If we carry on doing well then we can win this Scudetto."

Ibrahimovic and Robinho have hit it off so well under Allegri that he has amended the 4-3-3 tactical formation he preferred at the start of the season to either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-1-2.

Milan also have Alexandre Pato, who has scored nine league goals but has had an erratic season after seemingly having his nose put out of joint by the arrival of high high-profile new team-mates. They also strengthened their strike force with the acquisition of Italy's controversial bad boy Antonio Cassano. After a few mediocre games, he finally sprung into life against Parma and scored his first goal since joining from Sampdoria during the January transfer window.

"I'm thrilled to have got my 100th Serie A goal," said Cassano. "This is the start of a new chapter in my career. From now on, I want to win everything - and with the team and this club, we can do it. If we continue to play like this, then nobody can stand in the way.

"I'm learning at Milan that you have to be 100% all the time and the objective is always to win. If someone makes a mistake, I try to comfort them. After all, they can misplace a pass because they work so hard, whereas I am not exactly the hardest runner."

Antonio CassanoCassano has vowed to change his ways following his move from Sampdoria. Photo: Getty

At least Spurs will not have to worry about Cassano, who is cup tied after playing for his former club in the preliminary rounds last summer.

"Watching the Champions League from outside will be tough for me," added the Italian international. "I would like to have played against Tottenham. Anyway, I'll be there to root for my team-mates as a fan."

Comments on this blog in the space below. Other questions on European football to: I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.

Q) Why do Palermo not call back Edinson Cavani from his loan at Napoli given his exceptional goalscoring form? Some of the loan and part-ownership deals in Serie A seem quite puzzling to me given how often lesser clubs loan out top talent to clubs above them in the league standings.
Amyn Merchant, Toronto, Canada

A) Cavani took his total to 20 goals in Serie A on Saturday with both of Napoli's goals against Roma and he currently tops the Serie A scoring charts. But my understanding is that Palermo cannot recall Cavani. Cash-strapped Napoli wanted to sign him permanently last summer but it made more financial sense to defer the payment of a 16m euros transfer fee. Champions League football next season should help them find the cash. The loan and part-ownership deals among Serie A clubs are really just a way of helping the 'lesser clubs' manage their cash flow better, although, as you say, sometimes the deals are puzzling to say the least and don't help give many Italian clubs the financial transparency that Uefa wants to implement.


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