“Right now, he’s better than [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo.”
Those were the words spoken earlier this week by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger when asked about the performances of Paris Saint-Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Frenchman went on to say that the Swedish international is at the peak of his career and best understands how to use his skills, and that the emphatic results we’ve been seeing of late from Ibrahimovic are simply a result of his eventual “arrival” as a complete and modern striker.
But those words will all be glossed over given the severity of his opening statement.
Zlatan—the enigmatic, slightly odd but incredibly talented striker—being as good as the two players who are undisputedly heralded as the world’s best?
Surely not, but perhaps there’s some merit to Wenger’s statements—at least in terms of the 2013/14 season.
Through 11 league games this season, Zlatan’s Paris Saint-Germain are yet to be beaten, and much of that comes down to their star striker. Ibrahimovic has netted five goals at a conversion rate of 11.9 percent, and has already created 20 goalscoring chances with three assists. By the time you throw in his 32 headers won from 41 attempts, it’s clear just how much of a focal point he is to their attack and how damaging he can be with the ball at his feet.
Yet when it comes to comparisons against the La Liga forwards in Ronaldo and Messi, Ibrahimovic is seemingly still a little off pace. Ronaldo has 11 league goals at a conversion rate of 17.2 percent; Messi eight goals at 21.6 percent.
Ibrahimovic tops them slightly in terms of goalscoring chances created, but with 15 and 18 chances created respectively, both Ronaldo and Messi are close on his heels in this regard, so it’s tough to call this an advantage to Ibrahimovic.
He’s behind the pair in terms of shot accuracy, though, which is an aspect that appears to provide some disparity between the trio.
One aspect where Zlatan is much closer to the pair than what might be thought of is in terms of take-ons completed. Both Ronaldo and Messi are considered prolific dribblers capable of beating anyone in world football, while Ibrahimovic isn’t thought of in the same vein, but the statistics suggest otherwise.
Ronaldo has a take-on completion percentage of 53 percent this year Messi has a take-on success of of 55 percent, and Ibrahimovic success at take-ons is also at 55 percent as well.
It’s worth nothing that he hasn't attempted anywhere near the same amount as either player, but as we've seen before, Ibrahimovic isn’t exactly lacking when it comes to close control. Anyone doubting that needs only to remember this stunning goal.
Obviously, the three players mentioned all play very different roles in different teams so comparing them face-to-face only goes so far. The intricacies that Ibrahimovic provides in linking with Edinson Cavani don’t apply to someone like Messi at Barcelona, where all the attack funnels through him. The talents that Ronaldo has in crossing the ball from either the left or the right doesn't effect Ibrahimovic as much either, who is perhaps more of a true “striker” than either player.
But what is clear is that in terms of talent and success, the Swedish international isn't as far behind as the gap might have seen at the start of the year.
Whether his PSG outfit have the depth of talent capable to produce on the European stage this season remains the biggest question behind his re-emergence as one of the best in the world, but so far, you’d say that the French champions are certainly on the right track to doing just that. And most of it is all thanks to Zlatan.
- Sports & Recreation