Sat. Jan 23rd, 2021

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Italy the veterans’ playground with Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic top of scoring charts

5 min read

The past few seasons have seen Serie A develop the reputation of being a safe haven for Premier League players who have lost their way.

The likes of Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku have grasped the fresh opportunity to rediscover what they had been missing in England’s top flight, turning out great performances with consistency for their new clubs. 

But after six league games, it is safe to say that Italy‘s top division should now be viewed as a veterans’ playground, with two other former Manchester United stars lighting up Serie A. 

Serie A is fast becoming the veterans' playground with two evergreen strikers in great form

Serie A is fast becoming the veterans’ playground with two evergreen strikers in great form

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo lead the scoring charts after six league games

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo lead the scoring charts after six league games

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo appear unstoppable in Italy. The Swede leads the race for the Capocannoniere award having netted a remarkable 10 goals in six league games. 

The 39-year-old’s return to European football late last year was met with surprise among fans and pundits. 

Given the former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain star’s age, what possible use would he be to Stefano Pioli’s Milan? 

Yet Ibrahimovic has proved once more that you rule him out to your peril. 

The 39-year-old has likened himself to Benjamin Button as he continues to roll back the years

The 39-year-old has likened himself to Benjamin Button as he continues to roll back the years

The Swede was at the double and gave Kalidou Koulibaly the run around in the win over Napoli

The Swede was at the double and gave Kalidou Koulibaly the run around in the win over Napoli

‘I’m like Benjamin Button, I was born old and I die young,’ he once famously quipped. 

If his performances in this opening stanza are anything to go by, he will take some stopping these season. 

Against a confident Napoli side, with one of Europe’s best central defenders in Kalidou Koulibaly on show, Ibrahimovic rolled back the years with a sublime performance for Pioli’s side at the San Paolo.

Milan’s talisman scored his first with a wonderful header from a deep cross that left Alex Meret with no chance between the sticks. His second, a tap in with the thigh just after half time, was a typical poacher’s effort. 

AC Milan lead Serie A and ordinarily very few would be able to keep up with Ibrahimovic

AC Milan lead Serie A and ordinarily very few would be able to keep up with Ibrahimovic

However, Ronaldo is displaying the sort of form to match the former Barcelona and PSG striker

However, Ronaldo is displaying the sort of form to match the former Barcelona and PSG striker

He was substituted with 10 minutes remaining and Italian media are reporting he has picked up a hamstring problem, which would be a huge concern for Pioli. 

In this sort of form, it would seem implausible for any of his rivals to keep up with him. Unless, of course, you are Cristiano Ronaldo. 

It is becoming increasingly apparent how much this Juventus side lean on their 35-year-old superstar. New boss Andrea Pirlo has often lauded his striker’s contributions, but Ronaldo’s performances for the Old Lady speak for themselves.

The latest of which, against Cagliari, showcased just why the Portuguese supremo is in a league of his own. 

The Portuguese netted a superb brace of his own as Juventus saw off Cagliari on Saturday

The Portuguese netted a superb brace of his own as Juventus saw off Cagliari on Saturday

Juve got a glimpse into life without Ronaldo and looked rudderless in the defeat to Barcelona

Juve got a glimpse into life without Ronaldo and looked rudderless in the defeat to Barcelona

The Juventus attacker scored two outrageous goals, the first of which was a reminder of the Ronaldo of old as he cut in from the left, shimmied away from two defenders before rifling into the bottom corner.

His second exemplified the well-rounded attacker he has become in recent years, arriving to finish at the back post with a deft touch that kept Pirlo’s side within touching distance of league leaders Milan. 

Juve looked rudderless and often short of ideas without Ronaldo in the Champions League clash with Barcelona, a sign of what is to come should the Portuguese leave amid reports linking the 35-year-old with a return to Madrid.  

Juventus' ambitions to win 10 league titles in a row seem to rest solely on Ronaldo's shoulders

Juventus’ ambitions to win 10 league titles in a row seem to rest solely on Ronaldo’s shoulders

We are often told that it is a young man’s game, and that the age of 30 is to be feared among players, with the steady deterioration of form and ability an inevitability. Father Time, it is often said, is undefeated. 

But at the combined age of 74, Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo are putting paid to that myth, both examples of the incredible dedication required to squeeze every ounce of potential out of themselves.

It is true, neither are able to replicate the sort of dazzling contributions made as younger men. Yet as Charles Darwin once remarked, it is those that best adapt to their changing environment that survive and thrive. 

Romelu Lukaku has started strongly and will have to maintain that form to keep up with the pair

Romelu Lukaku has started strongly and will have to maintain that form to keep up with the pair

Ibrahimovic rarely, if at all, runs the channels now, chasing loose balls that a young whippersnapper would hunt for. Instead, he lets his aerial ability and impeccable first touch be the basis of his contribution, often setting the foundations for attacks.

Ronaldo still has the pace to keep defenders on edge, and is far quicker than the Swede so isn’t as limited in attacking movement. But the Portuguese is disciplined in staying within the confines of the penalty box width. 

It is not quite the two-horse race for the golden boot that many feel it will turn out to be, though, with Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku hot on the heels of the two evergreen veterans. 

The Inter striker has continued his fine form from his debut campaign in Italy, scoring seven goals in seven league games to move just behind Ronaldo in the scoring charts. 

Ibrahimovic of AC Milan has adapted his game and is less focused on running the channels at 39

Ronaldo is key to Juventus and his contributions will be central to their title hopes

Ibrahimovic (left) and Ronaldo (right) will play a huge role in the destination of the Scudetto

It didn’t really happen for the Belgian in Manchester, but under Antonio Conte he is enjoying a new lease of life, with his playing style often mirroring one of a battering ram leaving many Serie A sides devastated in his wake.  

All the pressure is on Juve to defend their crown, having dominated year in, year out, the past decade, with Inter and AC Milan hot on the heels of the Old Lady.

Each side is spearheaded by three elite scorers who, minus Lazio’s Ciro Immobile, are head and shoulders above the rest of the division.

It is fair to say the ambitions of AC Milan, Inter and Juve rests on the shoulders of each of their strikers. 

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