Zlatan again centre of attention, but with a chance to prove creative capabilities

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?'s Michael Cox uses FourFourTwo's StatsZone app – now FREE and featuring data from the UEFA Champions League – to assess the Swedish striker's chances of getting revenge over one of his former clubs... 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is accustomed to being the centre of attention. Throughout his career, there has been a consistent pattern wherever he goes – his clubs depend upon him too much. At Ajax, Inter, Milan and now PSG (and also sometimes at Juventus) Ibrahimovic has dominated the side to a staggering extent, marginalising the other creative players.

The exception, of course, was at Barcelona – which means that the Swede will dominate the build-up to tonight’s game even more than usual. This is not Ibrahimovic’s first meeting with Barca since his departure – he faced them with Milan last season, and since the departure of Pep Guardiola, there isn’t the same personal rivalry to fire him up. However, as a player frequently accused of underperforming at this stage of the Champions League, Ibrahimovic will be desperate to make an impact against his former employers.

Oddly, in Ibrahimovic’s debut campaign at PSG, he plays a completely different role in Ligue 1 and the Champions League. In domestic football, he is essentially an old-school no.9, prowling the penalty box and waiting for service. It’s a slightly more refined role, of course, because of his all-round game – but 25 goals and six assists in 26 starts tells the story. Ibrahimovic has also attempted 128 shots this season, 24 more than any other player in the league – no wonder he’s the top goalscorer in France.

In Europe, it’s a completely different situation. He’s only scored two goals in seven starts – a record equal with the likes of Gary Hooper, Gervinho and his club’s two Brazilian centre-backs, Alex and Thiago Silva. His shooting in recent European matches has often been wayward:

But that’s because Ibrahimovic takes on a different role in Europe. As Carlo Ancelotti has tinkered with his formation and starting XI, Ibrahimovic’s precise instructions have changed. But in many matches, he becomes more of a link-up man than a goalscorer – not quite a false nine, but always moving towards the play to encourage midfield runners to get beyond him.

With a supporting cast featuring the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, Lucas Moura and Jeremy Menez (and previously Nene, who departed in the January transfer window) – all quick players that enjoy running with the ball – PSG are more of a counter-attacking side in the Champions League. This is largely because their continental opponents don't 'park the bus' as often as their domestic rivals.

Ibrahimovic becomes the chief creator. He’s recorded five assists in this season’s competition – more than any other player – including four in PSG’s 4-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb. Alex, Menez, Blaise Matuidi and Guillaume Hoarau all benefited from Ibrahimovic’s neat link-up play.

In Champions League football, he plays more passes (46 to 40.3) and has a higher pass completion rate (78% to 74.9%) than in Ligue 1. PSG will be pushed back into their own half by Barcelona’s ball retention tonight. “We may not have a lot of possession, but as soon as we get the ball I want my team to show character and inspiration to go forward and score,” said Ancelotti in his pre-match press conference. “We have defended very well so far this term and we've done well on the counter-attack. This is what we want to do tomorrow because we'll need it if we are to get a good result.”

It’s especially important PSG get runners forward in support of Ibrahimovic. As the away win in Valencia showed, he can be excellent at combining with Pastore and Lavezzi.

Ibrahimovic, of course, was sidelined at Barcelona because he appeared incompatible with their passing style and because Messi, in his new ‘false nine’ role, was being moved central. Tonight, Ibrahimovic has a chance to demonstrate that he is perfectly capable of being a central creative threat himself.

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