Zlatan Brace Secures Three Points Against Bastia

Paris Saint-Germain battled through injuries and rolled to a 0-2 victory in Corsica Saturday night against SC Bastia.

The first half was all about the defense as PSG were devoid of creativity with only Javier Pastore capable of picking out a pass. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani both looked off in terms of first touch and control and while Benjamin Stambouli put in a decent shift defensively, his partnership with Adrien Rabiot led to a breakdown in the usual midfield tempo. The former Tottenham Hotspur man doesn’t have Blaise Matuidi’s positional sense and at times stayed back when he should have joined the attack and vice versa.

Regardless, Thiago Silva was immense. Marquinhos wasn’t bad, Maxwell was solid, Serge Aurier was fantastic—but it was O Monstro who dominated proceedings. The captain didn’t put a foot wrong the entire half, and covered for the occasional midfield miscommunications with world class tackles.

For all the rotation in midfield, the defense was (barring the injured David Luiz) full-strength—and I was surprised to see Layvin Kurzawa not start. The only forward to get a proper rest was Angel Di Maria. I’m not sure I understand Laurent Blanc’s decision to play Ibrahimovic and Cavani the entire match; that’s exacerbated more by the fact that Lucas Moura, who certainly won’t start against Madrid on Wednesday, was subbed off for Ezequiel Lavezzi. With clamor from supporters to see more of the promising young Jean-Kevin Augustin, even the return of Rabiot might not allay some of the frustrations. I know most Parisian faithful would rather see JKA get gametime than Pocho, who finds himself on the wrong side of 30 and very much on the fringes at the Parc.

Lucas is another player to highlight. Though Cavani and Zlatan could be called wasteful in the first half, Lucas exerted effort, attempting seven dribbles in the first 45 minutes alone. Though he was unable to find an end product, he was the most noticable of the Parisian forwards, particularly when compared to his anonymous run of games recently.

The second half brought a much improved performance from the young Brazilian, exemplified by contrast in the clips above and below. Though he didn’t record an assist, his two key passes on the night came early in the second half and he served as a constant threat on the right, where he should be permanently deployed, in my opinion. Lucas can swing in a solid cross, and is perhaps unlucky that Zlatan didn’t put a head to this one.

Ibrahimovic’s brace, to be quite blunt, paints another generous picture of his performance. Though neither was a penalty (for once), they were mostly down to the hard work in the box of Aurier, Pastore, or Cavani. That’s not to say it’s a mark against; Ibra can get into the box and finish with the best of them and his goals did win all three points. It’s just that Ibrahimovic still doesn’t seem to have a defined role in the team. Ideally he bombs into the box from a deeper position, but when he’s focusing on dropping deep he robs his teammates of the ball and, particularly in the fist half, he could have created twice the chances that he did if he wasn’t so eager to try something spectacular. In addition, I remain unconvinced regarding the Pastore-Zlatan pairing. The Argentine playmaker is a crowd favorite at the Parc, and when he’s in form he’s one of the most entertaining players in Europe. He has a certain spark that Ibra lacks nowadays and when the big Swede drops back, he tends to interfere with the space that Flaco has to work with. PSG’s best run in the league last year was with Cavani feeding off Pastore. With the addition of a stable midfield of Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti, and Matuidi, plus the constant movement of Di Maria, surely that success could be replicated.

Lastly, the issue of Salvatore Sirigu. It wasn’t a brilliant evening for the former Parisian no. 1, and PSG fans must be feeling awfully nervous with Kevin Trapp set to miss another month at least through a muscle injury. The young German keeper played two great games against Shakhtar Donetsk and Olympique de Marseille before his injury and those standards have been quite suddenly lowered. Not only is Sirigu’s notorious shakiness in the air back, but he’s nowhere near as good with the ball at his feet as Trapp. The mistake below speaks for itself. Hopefully the Italian will find his feet before the Madrid game or else we might see Nicolas Douchez between the sticks!

So it’s a familiar feeling for PSG fans, in the end. Nothing new. A lazy performance salvaged by some second-half energy. Blanc still has my full confidence, but one has to feel that his tactical rigidity is taking its toll on this team domestically. Ibrahimovic may be an iconic part of the team’s possession-based philosophy, but dropping the Swede for smaller games in favor of Augustin and taking full advantage of the counterattacking ability of Lucas and Pastore would perhaps bring this group back to life. It’s not as if counterattacking football and possession football are mutually exclusive either. Barcelona just won the treble based on that style! Sure, a win is a win and it’s not likely that Paris will start losing any time soon domestically, but there’s something to be said for winning with confidence rather than limping to the finish line.

Tags Adrien Rabiot Edinson Cavani Ezequiel Lavezzi Javier Pastore Laurent Blanc Ligue 1 Marquinhos Maxwell SC Bastia Serge Aurier Thiago Motta Thiago Silva Zlatan Ibrahimovic