Paris Saint-Germain’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic was informed by UEFA on Tuesday that his two-match Champions League ban had been reduced to one match on appeal. The Swede, who saw red in Valencia during the first leg of PSG’s 2-1 victory in the last 16, sat out the return leg in the French capital meaning that he has now served his ban.
Ibra will be back to face former club Barcelona at the Parc des Princes next Tuesday, and his return is a massive boost for the team and for coach Carlo Ancelotti.
PSG have struggled at times without the talismanic striker, so to have him available remedies a potentially large headache for the Italian who struggled to offset the 31-year-old’s absence in the last round against Los Che.
In the Valencia match, the team did not look the same without Ibrahimovic, and it was laid bare for all to see just how badly the team misses him as a focal point when he is unavailable. The play flowed through the half-fit Lucas Moura in the middle alongside Ezequiel Lavezzi, but the partnership of the pair up top together lacked the penetration that Ibra brings to the side.
Moura’s strong understanding with the Swede also came to the fore as the Brazilian struggled without his substantially larger protective foil, meaning that he was often toiling alone as the hosts became more defensive once it became obvious that they were not going to score an early opener.
Ibrahimovic with the added motivation of facing Barcelona will be an asset to Ancelotti’s side.
Not only is he PSG’s top scorer this season with 27 goals in all competitions from 33 appearances (via WhoScored.com), he is set to face the team that he left after one season having scored 16 goals in 29 appearances. That ratio is better than one goal in every two matches, and the Swede won the Spanish league title, the FIFA Club World Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and a Spanish Supercopa double.
Yet Ibra’s time in Catalonia is largely seen as a failure because of his frosty relationship with then-coach Pep Guardiola. The towering striker has a point to prove to Barca and European football when the Spaniards come to town and being available over both legs instead of just the away leg gives him maximum opportunity to influence the tie.
The fact that he is available for the home leg and not just the away leg cannot be underestimated. If PSG are to beat Tito Vilanova’s side, they will need to make the most of their initial home clash before travelling to the Camp Nou in the hope of keeping Lionel Messi and company at bay.
Ibrahimovic will be key to this, whether he is creating or scoring, and the French capital club need him to be at his ruthless best over both legs. But arguably the home leg is more important given that Ancelotti’s side will need to counter Barca’s dominance of possession with some incisive fast-break football that utilises the abundance of speed in attack that the Italian has at his disposal.
Ibra’s return will allow Carletto to drop Lavezzi back to the left side of the midfield and possibly play Jeremy Menez up top alongside him. Moura should return from injury to take his place on the right, allowing the hosts a premium of pace. That aspect of PSG’s game is something that will be crucial in any potential victory over the Spaniards.
There are also some parallels between France and Spain’s World Cup qualifying clash at the Stade de France on Tuesday and next week’s meeting at the Parc des Princes. Crucially, the emphasis will be on Ibrahimovic’s role as it was on Karim Benzema’s for Les Bleus.
Franck Ribery and Mathieu Valbuena had some success on either side when creating chances and getting into dangerous positions. But Benzema, who is now without a goal for France in over 1000 minutes of international football (via the Telegraph), and Ribery both missed glorious opportunities.
Ibrahimovic and Benzema are a different calibre of player. When the pressure is on, you would be more confident of the Swede finding the back of the net than the Frenchman, and Ancelotti would be sensible to emphasise Benzema’s failings to Ibra in the build-up to the match.
Last but not least, though, his return from suspension is important because it creates an intriguing story that adds spice to an already top-billed match. With so much riding on the game already, Ibrahimovic’s history with Barcelona creates another element of interest.
The match is a key moment in the capital club’s new history under Qatar Sports Investments. However, it will also indicate how far PSG have come since the summer of 2011 in direct comparison with Barca, the benchmark for any side with ambitions of becoming Europe’s best.
If the clash of European football’s top team against European football’s great pretenders was not already the tie of the Champions League quarter-finals, it is now. The stakes don’t get much bigger than this for PSG and Ibrahimovic.