Ibra is back!
OK, it may not have been the prettiest of goals, but they all count.
Almost four matches into the season, last year’s top scorer, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, finally broke his duck with his first strike of the campaign against EA Guingamp.
Finally, Ligue 1 is showing signs that it will get the title race it craves and the goalscoring shootout to go with it, as France’s top flight reached the end of its fourth week. Paris Saint-Germain’s hard-fought 2-0 home win over EA Guingamp moved them into the top four, with AS Monaco triumphing in Sunday’s battle between the top two with Olympique de Marseille.
The Principality outfit go top, two points clear of fourth-placed PSG, with the pair currently the league’s only unbeaten sides. They also get set to face off in the French capital in two matches’ time. Marseille drop to second, one point behind Monaco and one point above their fierce rivals. But the PSG-Monaco-Marseille title race that was predicted preseason is slowly taking shape.
As for the crown jewels of Le Championnat, it was another mixed weekend. Ibrahimovic is finally off the mark, netting the defending champions’ second goal in the win over Guingamp, and Radamel Falcao was on the score sheet once again for Monaco. It was a more frustrating weekend for Edinson Cavani, though, who was left frustrated at the Parc des Princes on Saturday.
With this weekend’s goals, the Uruguayan is on two for the season with teammate Ibrahimovic now on one. Colombian Falcao, though, is motoring away with three, although he still trails his teammate Emmanuel Riviere by two strikes and is currently level with OM’s Andre-Pierre Gignac.
Heading into the international break, Ligue 1 has taken on an intriguing complexion with Monaco at the summit and some big clashes to come once domestic duty resumes. Falcao travels to Paris to face Ibrahimovic and Cavani in Week 6 before Laurent Blanc’s side travels to face title challengers Marseille three games later.
Here is how the stars fared individually this weekend.
Worryingly for Monaco fans, Falcao exited the field with 17 minutes left to play clutching his ankle. However, before that, he had ensured that Claudio Ranieri’s side was on level terms with its league-leading hosts with a 47th-minute equaliser.
Similar to his goal against Bordeaux, there was a large slice of fortune involved in the strike, not to mention some awful defending from the home side, but El Tigre’s predatory instincts came to the fore again. In the right place at the right time, Layvin Kurzawa’s cross was somehow allowed to reach the 27-year-old, who scored with the easiest of finishes.
The Colombian had few other opportunities of note, but in true clinical style took his best chance. His injury was a sour note on an otherwise successful evening where his side proved a point with victory. It looked like one that could keep him out for a few weeks, so we might not see him again until the trip to Paris on Sunday, September 22.
However, it was his substitution that allowed Riviere to take to the field and net the game’s winning goal—the Frenchman still putting his teammate in the shade as he moves up to five goals for the season.
Another player proving a point this weekend was Ibrahimovic, who scored his first goal of the new Ligue 1 season after almost 360 minutes of play. The Swede almost crashed in a free kick in the opening two minutes against Guingamp, but the ball cannoned out and Ezequiel Lavezzi missed the rebound when it was easier to score.
Further frustration followed as the talismanic striker endured a bruising afternoon, enjoying few chances as their inferior opponents stifled his PSG side. But two minutes after Adrien Rabiot gave the hosts the lead when a draw had looked inevitable, the 31-year-old struck.
Chasing down an excellent long-range cross-field pass from right-back Gregory van der Wiel, Ibra got the better of goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa and defender Jeremy Sorbon to bundle the ball home—sparking celebrations from the crowd and the towering frontman, who was visibly relieved.
Once again, his linkup with Cavani showed signs of potential, but on a day where PSG were not at their best collectively, it was the man who was so often their saviour last season that came to their rescue.
Cavani was perhaps the most frustrated man on the pitch for the capital side on Saturday, enjoying few clear-cut chances to build on his opening two goals this term. Two headers that were well-saved, a miscued volley and a wayward shot from the edge of the box were the sum total of his openings despite a hard-working display.
Playing out wide as part of a three-man attack alongside Lavezzi and Ibrahimovic, Cavani’s best chances came from set pieces as he was often too far wide to be involved in the clearest of chances given the game’s scrappy nature. Dropping back into midfield to collect the ball and to help his midfielders out, El Matador was full of running, but the chances were not falling to him naturally, something Blanc needs to consider.
The South American looked dangerous when Lucas Moura replaced the ineffectual Javier Pastore, with his supply immediately improving. But it was an otherwise frustrating afternoon despite his relatively heavy involvement.
So another week of Ligue 1 action passes, and all three strikers are up and running for the season, making the contest more interesting now. With PSG and Monaco to meet in the capital in a few weeks’ time, Falcao’s one-goal cushion over Cavani could be extinguished by the time the pair meet, particularly if the Colombian misses the FC Lorient game through injury.
With Ibrahimovic among the goals now, he also has the chance to claw back some ground on Falcao when the champions take to the pitch at the Stade Chaban Delmas in Bordeaux in a fortnight. For now, though, Falcao and Monaco are looking good, with PSG still struggling to hit top gear.