Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Ultimate Rivals XI: Cesc Fabregas, Cristiano Ronaldo and Serie A legends

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Like a fine wine, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has seemed to get better and better with age.

Having starred for the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, Inter Milan, and Barcelona, the Swedish striker has played against some of the game's modern greats in his 22-year, 906-game, still ongoing career.

Although he spent just over 18 months in the MLS, Ibrahimovic is still doing it at the top level as AC Milan's top-scoring talisman, aged 39.

With a trophy collection that likely requires its own room rather than a cabinet, those who've stood in the 6ft 5in man's way are some of the elite players of his generation – or should we make that plural?

Ibrahimovic hit 17 goals in 27 games for AC Milan in 2020-21
(Image: Getty Images)

Unfortunately for both us and his nation (but not opposition defenders), Ibrahimovic won't be strutting his stuff for Sweden at EURO 2020 following a knee injury.

The 39-year-old came out of international retirement after missing the 2018 World Cup but will have to watch from home as the tournament kicks off this week.

So, ahead of a summer that will see him prepare for his 23rd season in senior football, let's take a trip down memory lane and collate an XI of Ibrahimovic's most common foes.

Ultimate Rivals XI – The Rules

  • Our Ultimate Rivals XIs are made up of players who have faced our subject player most often during their careers, both for club and country.
  • They have to have been on the pitch at the same time as our subject player, and stats are taken from all competitions.
  • The team isn't necessarily the 11 players who've faced our subject player the most, just an eleven that would fit into a team.
  • All appearance stats are taken from transfermarkt.com.
  • Let us know your thoughts on the teams in the comments.

Goalkeeper: Stephane Ruffier

Appearances against Ibrahimovic: 14

Starting in France, the recently-retired Ruffier spent 10 years between St. Etienne's posts.

In the striker and stopper's first four meetings in 2012 and 2013, Ibrahimovic failed to get the better of the goalkeeper, losing twice and drawing the same amount.

However, the Swede would win the next 10, including the penultimate bout which saw Ibrahimovic net his one and only Manchester United hat-trick in a Europa League round-of-32 first leg in February 2017.

Right-back: Javier Zanetti

Appearances against Ibrahimovic: 13

Zanetti spent 19 years on the blue side of the San Siro
(Image: Getty)

It's no surprise that one of the game's finest ever right-backs has faced one of its most feared marksmen plenty of times.

Inter Milan legend Zanetti was once a teammate of Ibrahimovic's but battled with the towering Swede whilst he was with Barcelona, Juventus, and cross-city rivals AC as well as briefly at the 2002 World Cup.

Though never directly scrapping with the striker, these two 21st-century Italian football icons played out three draws, with Ibrahimovic winning four and Zanetti six.

Eight years his senior, the Argentine is now a vice-president at Inter.

Centre-back:Philippe Mexès

Appearances against Ibrahimovic: 13

Another pair of one-time teammates, Mexes met Sweden's star whilst he was employed by another trio of clubs.

Also retired, the ex-France defender became teammates with Ibrahimovic for one season at the San Siro (2011-12), when the striker bagged 35 goals in 44 appearances.

They still managed their final clash in 2012, though, as France faced Sweden at that summer's European Championships and Ibrahimovic blasted in a typically acrobatic volley.

The group stage match was one of nine wins he managed over Mexes, losing just three times.

Centre-back: Walter Samuel

Appearances against Ibrahimovic: 13

Ibrahimovic turned red in 2010 after his sport spell with Barcelona

Given Ibrahimovic's myriad of clubs, Samuel continues the theme of former teammates making this rivals XI.

He shared three seasons at the San Siro with the centre-back but also briefly met him on the international stage alongside Zanetti in Japan.

The young forward's two-minute cameo preceded an equal five wins each and two draws in the 12 subsequent clashes, including Jose Mourinho's 2010 semi-final masterclass when Samuel's Inter toppled Ibrahimovic and Pep Guardiola's Barcelona on their way to a Champions League triumph.

The no-nonsense defender had the last laugh too, completing a Milan derby double in 11-12.

Left-back:Manuel Pasqual

Appearances against Ibrahimovic: 11

Certainly one of the lesser-known names in XI, Pasqual made fewer caps for Italy (10) than he did appearances against Zlatan.

An offensive left-back who boasted the tag of being a dead ball specialist, the former Fiorentina man exclusively met the four-time Serie A champion with La Viola.

Although Ibrahimovic has played with better left-backs, Pasqual's crossing capabilities would've been right up the Swede's street if they were ever teammates.

He was a favourite opponent of his, however, going unbeaten until their final meeting in 2012.

Defensive midfield:Daniele De Rossi

Appearances against Ibrahimovic: 15

Topping the charts for total tussles with Zlatan, the tough-tackling Italian was another largely one-club man.

De Rossi represented Roma against him on 14 occasions, only winning three times, before a 15th and final clash at EURO 2016 at the group stage as Italy won 1-0.

Twice Ibrahimovic got the better of De Rossi in Coppa Italia quarter-finals (once each with Juventus and Inter), and twice in Supercoppa finals (both with the Nerazzurri).

Despite the misery the 2013 Puskas Award winner inflicted on the 117-time capped Italy international, he does boast something Ibrahimovic doesn't: a World Cup winners medal.

In addition, De Rossi scored the only goal of the game as Roma beat Inter to lift the 2007 Supercoppa.

Centre-midfield: Andrea Pirlo

Appearances againstIbrahimovic: 13

Pirlo will be looking for a new job this summer
(Image: REUTERS)

Here's a man Ibrahimovic even played against whilst his foe was on the touchline.

Pirlo's short-lived spell as Juventus manager saw him face the AC Milan striker this past season but their playing days began in 2003.

The calm and collected Italian (then of the Rossoneri) met Ibrahimovic's Ajax at the Champions League group stage.

AC won both games 1-0, prior to a 1-1 EURO 2004 affair with their national teams, one of four draws as the classy middle man boasted five victories to pip him in their record book.

Teammates for a season at the San Siro, only three years separate the pair but the white lines of the pitch do now.

Centre-midfield: Cesc Fabregas

Appearances against Ibrahimovic: 13

Ibrahimovic branded Fabregas and co as 'babies' when they met at Stamford Bridge in 2015
(Image: Reuters)

Having both plied their trade in England, France, and Spain, the Spaniard and Swede are common enemies.

Draws dominated their bouts but Fabregas' four wins in their meetings give him the edge after the duo met in the UCL last 16 two seasons in a row in the mid-2010s.

One of which saw the four-time Ligue 1 winner sent off for PSG as Chelsea players swarmed the referee after he made a late tackle on Oscar.

In fact, it wasn't until their final clash that they met in league play but they could've been teammates if Ibrahimovic was a bit less self-confident as a teenager.

Whilst current Monaco man Fabregas was at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger offered the 17-year-old Malmo starlet a trial but he rejected it – "Zlatan doesn't do auditions."

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Attacking midfield: Simeone Perrotta

Appearances against Ibrahimovic: 13

At the tip of our midfield diamond is another relatively unknown name in comparison to the others in this XI.

It's also the man Ibrahimovic lost the least amount of times to – just once as his Inter fell 3-1 to at home to Roma in 2007.

Perrotta, who was born in Ashton-under-Lyne and whose parents ran a local pub, scored in the victory, but the Nerazzurri beat the Giallorossi to that year's Scudetto by 22 points.

10 wins meant Zlatan's point-per-game versus Perrotta was 2.64, the highest of the side, and to add insult to injury, the box-to-box midfielder saw red for dissent from the substitutes bench in Roma's Suppercoppa win.

Centre-forward: Cristiano Ronaldo

Appearances against Ibrahimovic: 13

Zlatan could only congratulate his fellow United alumni when their nations met in 2013
(Image: AFP PHOTO/ MIGUEL RIOPAMIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)

From Zlatan's highest average points rate in this XI to his lowest, as the five-time Ballon d'Or winner had defeated Ibrahimovic just once before 2020.

Having missed Milan's loss to Juve in January, the Rossoneri no. 11 scored in a 4-2 win last season before clocking up 66 minutes in his side's 3-0 Turin triumph last month.

Also meeting while Ronaldo was at Old Trafford and then Real Madrid, their biggest battle came in a 2014 World Cup play-off as CR7 scored a hat-trick to send Portugal to Brazil.

Set to lock horns during the next campaign, we can't wait to see these modern greats meet again.

Centre-forward: Francesco Totti

Appearances against Ibrahimovic: 14

With exactly 1,000 minutes shared together on the pitch, Totti's time playing Ibrahimovic – like former teammate De Rossi's – was often dismal.

Just two victories and one draw is all the Stadio Olimpico legend can say for himself, but he did score in the aforementioned 3-1 win like Perrotta.

The true antithesis of Zlatan, Totti spent 25 years with Roma as his sole club.

Different paths but equally astounding careers.

Substitutes:

Doni (11), Christian Panucci (12), Giorgio Chiellini (12), Loïc Perrin (12), Cristian Ledesma (12), Clarence Seedorf (12), Mirko Vucinici (13)

How would this team fare in a real match? Have your say in the comments section.

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