Zlatan Ibrahimovic might hog the headlines at Milan but Ante Rebic has quietly carved out a key role for himself in the Rossoneri attack despite stiff competition from both veteran stars and up-and-coming talent.
Milan fans are preparing for their first home Champions League match in over seven years with Spanish champions Atletico Madrid visiting the San Siro on Tuesday night.
With ageing forwards Olivier Giroud and Ibrahimovic troubled by injuries and the coronavirus since the start of the season Croatia attacker Rebic has stepped into the breach up front, shifting away from his preferred position of winger to give Milan a point around which their younger attacking talent can buzz.
A scorer so far this season at Liverpool, where he gave Milan their half-time lead, and in a creditable 1-1 draw at Juventus, the 28-year-old also laid on Ibrahimovic’s only goal of the season in their 2-0 swatting of Lazio earlier this month.
His two goals add to the 11 he netted last season, all in the second half of the league campaign as Milan finished second behind champions Inter Milan, their highest league placing since 2012, when Ibrahimovic was in his first spell at the seven-time European champions.
This season Ibrahimovic has only featured in the 24 minutes he played against Lazio at the San Siro, and with Giroud first being hit with a bout of Covid-19 and then a back problem Rebic has happily taken on the mantle of two prolific international goalscorers.
On Saturday Ibrahimovic admitted “I am not Superman” in an interview with magazine Sportweek, and with the Swede turning 40 next weekend and his contract up at the end of the season Rebic knows there is plenty of space for him in coach Stefano Pioli’s plans for the season.
“I give him credit every day and after every match. He’s a player who can play in any role and can help us change matches,” said Pioli after the draw at Juve.
Low key performances in Milan’s recent wins over Venezia and Spezia, which temporarily earned them top spot in Serie A, should not distract from the fact that Rebic has become a big game performer that the Rossoneri can rely on.
He has scored in his last three matches against Juventus and has most impressed when it matters — such with his well-placed header at the Allianz Stadium which ensured Milan remain unbeaten in Italy.
Pioli subbed Rebic at half-time on Saturday against Spezia, saying afterwards that he was tired after featuring in every Milan match so far this season, alongside Giroud who was not fully match fit and struggled to make an impact on his return.
Milan will take to the field on Tuesday with memories of Liverpool’s aggression fresh in their minds and with plenty of vibrant attacking talent ready to pounce on an Atletico team who were beaten by lowly Alaves.
Brahim Diaz, Rafael Leao and Alexis Saelemaekers, who are all 22 years old, are growing into match winners but Rebic is one of those without whom Pioli can rarely do.