Will Zlatan Ibrahimovic dominate Major League Soccer in 2019? We assess whether he is ready to take the league by storm ahead of the new season.
Ibrahimovic signed a new one-year contract with LA Galaxy in December and has made no secret of his desire to star in a Galaxy shirt in 2019.
Ahead of the new campaign, he has pledged: “I will break every record in the MLS this season.”
Even putting his confident personality to one side, the stats suggest Ibrahimovic could play a starring role in the league yet again, which begins live on Sky Sports Football on Saturday.
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Ibrahimovic started his time in America with a bang after recovering from a long-term knee injury.
In 2018, he scored 22 goals and contributed 10 assists for the Galaxy, making him the league’s second highest top scorer behind Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez.
In doing so, he became only the third player in MLS history to score 20+ goals and record 10+ assists in a single season.
His overall contribution as a team player was one of the reasons why the front office decided to hand him an upgraded designated player contract for the 2019 season.
“With Zlatan returning, we will continue to improve our team in advance of the season.”
Zlatan was named Galaxy Player of the Year, won MLS newcomer of the year and won MLS goal of the year for his sensational half-volley from 40 yards on his debut.
And even though the retired Sweden international is now 37, he has spoken about completing “unfinished business” in America – branding the league “MLZ” after signing his new contract.
LA Galaxy have not won an MLS Cup since 2014 and it is clear the Galaxy’s management wanted to shake things up heading into the new season.
MLS’ most decorated club have appointed Argentine manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who led Boca Juniors to the Copa Libertadores final last season and has won two Argentine championships.
He’s already handed the captain’s armband over to Ibrahimovic, after Ashley Cole’s contract was run down last year, and Schelotto has given his full backing to the former Manchester United, Barcelona and Milan striker.
“I think he’s experienced, he’s a leader. He had to be the captain for the team,” Schelotto told media after the Galaxy’s final pre-season match against Colorado Rapids.
“It’s very important for everyone here. I hope he has a good season, because it will be very good for us, for every player, for the coaches.”
Who is he working with?
There is extra goalscoring responsibility on Ibrahimovic’s shoulders this season with his 2018 strike partner Ola Kamara – after playing most of last season in a 4-4-2 – reportedly finalising a move to Chinese Super League club Shenzhen FC.
The Norway international’s looming departure means Ibrahimovic will likely demand greater service from fellow marquee players Giovani dos Santos, Jonathan dos Santos and Romain Alessandrini in the new campaign.
One of that trio is almost certain to leave the club in the next month, too, as Ibrahimovic’s new contract means he now takes up one of the three designated player spots.
Last season LA Galaxy failed to make the play-offs on the final day of the regular season, and their late collapse in form last year has clearly played on Ibrahimovic’s mind during pre-season.
“Normally where I go, I win, and I didn’t succeed with that here,” Ibrahimovic said on MLS media day in January. “It was not OK.
“I think the fans deserved more than what they got, they deserve more credit for what they have done throughout the season and we didn’t even make the playoffs.
“For me, that is something new. It’s catastrophic not to make the play-offs.”
Will he be MLS MVP?
Ibrahimovic has consistently stated he wishes to be the best player in MLS in 2019, but he faces some stern competition to be considered the best in the league.
Atlanta’s Martinez took the Most Valuable Player honours last year and beat Miguel Almiron, who is now at Newcastle United, to the award. The 25-year-old Venezuela international scored 35 goals in 39 appearances last season – 12 more than Ibrahimovic.
Wayne Rooney was instrumental in D.C. United’s late run to the play-offs last season and is expected to be the focal point of the club’s attack once again. Ibrahimovic spoke of Rooney’s quality in the league last year.
“I think so far he did fantastic, he changed the team he came to and they have done good results,” Ibrahimovic told Sky Sports News in October.
“Before he came it was different results, but he has been playing good and scoring goals and he shows that he is Rooney.
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“I don’t need to describe Rooney. Everybody knows Rooney and they know his quality, so it’s only for him to play the games and perform.”
For all of Zlatan’s bravado, he will be aware of the elite competition he has to outperform to cement a legacy in America.