How Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic Would Work Together at PSG
Since the news of Paris Saint-Germain’s successful bid for Napoli’s Edinson Cavani (h/t ESPN FC), talk regarding the potential move has centred almost exclusively on whether or not the Uruguayan can function alongside partner-to-be Zlatan Ibrahimovic (h/t ESPN FC).
Utterly dominant in the French capital since arriving last summer, the Swede’s agent Mino Raiola has stated on a number of occasions that his client will not be leaving PSG this summer.
The Italian’s recent comments about Ibrahimovic and Cavani playing together (h/t ESPN FC) suggest that the capital club did in fact run the idea of signing "El Matador" past Ibra and his outspoken representative before making a move.
However, speculation continues that the two are not compatible.
Last season, PSG would have won Ligue 1 more convincingly, and arguably even beaten Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals, had Ezequiel Lavezzi not missed crucial chances in both the first and second legs.
It would be unfair to blame the team’s exit entirely on the Argentine, but those two games against the Spanish giants offered the capital club a snapshot of two things:
One, what they had currently and how far they’d come in the two years since being taken over by Qatar Sports Investments.
Two, what they needed to reach the next level in order to beat the likes of the Catalans.
The lack of a second natural striker was as obvious domestically as it was in Europe. The French champions scored 69 goals last season compared to the 75 the year before, when Ibrahimovic was not at the club.
Although Carlo Ancelotti started the season with PSG using the towering striker as the focal point of the attack, it became obvious immediately that the required results to win Ligue 1 would not be forthcoming.
The side from the capital went through a disappointing run of results towards the end of 2012, culminating in a 2-1 defeat at Nice, leaving the Italian with one match to save his job.
Porto at home in the final match of the Champions League group stage was that final game in question; one that Les Parisiens won 2-1.
From then on, Ancelotti favoured a 4-2-2-2 approach that finally got the side scoring goals with relative freedom.
Jeremy Menez and Lavezzi filled in admirably at times alongside Ibrahimovic, but the bottom line is that they were not consistently clinical enough, particularly in the biggest games.
Add to that Ancelotti’s flat-out distrust of one-time French international Kevin Gameiro, and it was clear since earlier this year that PSG would be in the market for a prolific goal scorer this summer.
In fact, the club were linked with Cavani as early as April by RMC Radio (h/t ESPN FC), the same source that broke the story of Ezequiel Lavezzi’s move to Paris.
This is a move that has been thoroughly thought out by PSG, before Ancelotti even announced his intention to leave the Parc des Princes.
Firstly, signing Cavani will enable Ibrahimovic to indulge in his creative side more than he was allowed to last year.
Although many claim that the 31-year-old and Cavani are similar players, watching the Swede, particularly in Europe last year, he is more comfortable dropping deep and providing as many goals as he scores.
Ibrahimovic is, without doubt, more complete than he has ever been at present, and this signing is designed to give him and the current side their best chance yet of winning the Champions League.
Crucially, playing alongside Cavani will empower Ibra to pursue those goals under less pressure than he was subject to last year when his form arguably dictated PSG’s results.
The compatibility of the 26-year-old Uruguayan sensation with one of football’s most notorious egos has met with consternation in some quarters.
Speaking with Le Parisien (h/t ESPN FC), former PSG coach Gerard Houllier hinted that it is inevitable that the pair will clash. He also made it clear who he believes will be the problem in that pairing.
"When he wants to play, he's the best in the world," Houllier said of Ibrahimovic.
"He's a great player. When you have a player like him in the team, it's a good thing. When you have two on the other hand..."
However the Swede’s agent Raiola, predictably, came out in defence of his client (h/t ESPN FC).
"Certainly, Cavani and Ibra would form a great duo, although even I could play with Zlatan - he's the best,” Raiola said.
The Italian super agent is not the only fan of that potential partnership though.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc is also salivating at the prospect and is confident that the pair will hit it off (h/t ESPN FC).
“Yes, they are compatible,” he told L’Equipe recently.
“Cavani is a generous player, who eats up space and has an important presence in front of goal. In terms of their profile, they are complementary.”
He did not rule out the possibility that there would be a clash of egos though.
“As they are two big players, normally, they should get on. After that, there may be an ego problem to sort out. The club should come before everything else."
One obvious drawback in the partnership is a potential lack of pace.
However, Lavezzi, the currently injured Menez (h/t ESPN FC), Lucas Moura and Kevin Gameiro are all capable of offering a burst of speed from out wide or off the bench.
Blanc will likely favour the Argentine in his favoured left-hand side role, with the Brazilian in his familiar berth on the right and the French pair playing second fiddle.
This approach obviously has a limited shelf life, and it is hard to not look at the Cavani deal without thinking that PSG are doing their business now with one eye on the future.
It would seem likely, at present, that this potential Ibrahimovic-Cavani pairing would be a one-season-only deal.
The Swedish talisman will be approaching the end of his contract at the end of the coming season.
Assuming that there are too many similarities between the two, PSG will look to move a 32-year-old (at that point) Ibra on and bring in a younger, faster alternative.
That reasoning is also likely one explanation as to why the capital club did not firm up their tentative interest in now-Borussia Dortmund star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang while he was at Saint-Etienne and available (h/t ESPN FC).
The comments from Raiola, so often Ibra’s vital and trusted mouthpiece, make it appear unlikely that there will be an initial ego problem between the former AC Milan man and the incoming Napoli star.
In time, perhaps character differences will surface and the pair will clash.
But initially, at least, expect the pairing to be every bit as dangerous as it sounds when spoken aloud.
On paper the proposed partnership is one of, if not the best, in Europe at present.
However, it is also an experimental one.
PSG are arguably banking on the single-season novelty value of the pairing to exploit their opponents’ inability to familiarise themselves with the daunting reality of facing both players together.
The French champions, whether it is a spoken objective or not, will be targeting Champions League and Ligue 1 glory this season, and in style.
Part of the reason behind those massive expectations will be this partnership.
The other will, no doubt, be the club’s desire to maximise Blanc’s stay in the French capital while also giving themselves a reason to justify dispensing with "Le President" should a more prestigious candidate become available at the end of the season.
With Cavani on board though, there can be no doubting that PSG are genuine contenders for continental success this season.
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