It may not have been pretty, but Paris Saint-Germain secured three important Ligue 1 points with a 1-0 win over Valenciennes at Stade du Hainaut on Wednesday.
Edinson Cavani’s solitary goal on the stroke of half-time was enough to see Laurent Blanc’s men past a stubborn home side, but it was not a convincing showing from the defending champions.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s pass provided El Matador with the goal, laying it on a plate for the Uruguayan’s third goal of the league season.
However, PSG did not build on their lead and Valenciennes were unlucky not to score in the second 45.
Alex’s precautionary exit at the interval will have alarm bells ringing with ageing replacement Zoumana Camara looking rusty once again after struggling against Monaco on Sunday.
The result was the most important, though, moving the side from the capital into top spot before Monaco hosted Bastia.
Here are six things we learned from Valenciennes-PSG.
For the entire 90 minutes, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani created one chance between them, but together they scored one goal and that was all it took to secure the victory.
Moreover, it was the only pass that Ibra made to his strike partner over the entire first half that made the difference (stat via @OptaJean).
Blanc elected to go with a 4-3-3 formation again, but the goal came from a central position. It was absolute brilliance from Ibrahimovic who showed great awareness, vision and precision—not to mention patience—in his pass before releasing Cavani.
It was the sort of pass that predatory strikers fantasise about.
The successful link-up was a rare example of the two working in tandem, though. Cavani is yet to be able to reciprocate Ibrahimovic’s generosity and once again the front three created little in the way of clear-cut chances.
If PSG are having headaches up front thanks to the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-Edinson Cavani conundrum, then Daniel Sanchez’s Valenciennes are experiencing full-on nightmares.
Should VAFC go down, which looks likely following that performance, it will be due to a lack of goals scored more than anything else.
Anthony Le Tallec missed a gilt-edge chance late on and Mathieu Dossevi worked hard but in the end produced very little.
It is a familiar story for the northerners, having scored the joint-lowest total in Ligue 1 after seven matches and having lost six of those seven consecutively.
This story does not appear to have a happy ending in store.
Despite the clean sheet for Laurent Blanc’s side, PSG looked shaky at the back and Thiago Silva’s absence looks as though it will prove costly at some point.
Alex, who has only just returned from injury, was taken off as a precaution at half-time.
His replacement, Zoumana Camara, looked rusty once again and a constant concern for PSG in the second half.
A third clean sheet of the campaign is a huge boost for the defending champions. But should Alex be out for a period while Silva is nursing his thigh injury, as revealed by Blanc (h/t ESPN FC), PSG will be struggling for depth.
Valenciennes’ lack of overall quality is apparent when watching them play.
There is little creative talent, no sense of urgency and a generally workmanlike demeanour to their performances with no end product.
VAFC boasted no player of remote enough quality to trouble PSG on the night and the lack of talent up front is particularly worrying.
Daniel Sanchez’s team have scored a Ligue 1 joint-lowest four goals, while conceding 12 in just seven games.
Six of those seven results have been losses and, perhaps more tellingly, three of their four goals were scored on the opening day of the season.
Valenciennes have failed to score a single goal in five matches, relegation form by any standards.
Part of that is an over-reliance on unused substitute Gregory Pujol who is simply not the same player that he was in years gone by. Since a 17-goal haul in 2010-11, he has only scored 12 times in the league over the past two seasons.
PSG’s second string looked shaky and unconvincing.
Lucas Digne struggled at left back and Christophe Jallet had a woeful 90 minutes.
Nobody exactly covered themselves in glory, but the pair were the most exposed at full-back and contributed to the visitors’ unbalanced defence.
Although Blanc’s side did not concede this time, it was hardly an advert for the French duo to start more games in the near future.
Digne was arguably lucky not to see red for a foul on the stroke of half-time and Jallet looked uncomfortable playing for the first time since the 1-1 draw with Ajaccio.
Javier Pastore also returned to the side and looked improved, but he still misplaced far too many passes to have earned applause.
However, his attitude and work-rate were far better than prior to his recent injury.
Valenciennes gave PSG far too much respect and it played into the side from the capital’s hands.
Laurent Blanc’s side were not at the races in northern France yet still almost had to settle for a draw.
Had Daniel Sanchez’s men not been so in awe of their opponents, they arguably could have taken a point—or more—from the game.
They didn’t, though, and the defending champions stumbled to victory more thanks to the hosts’ ineptitude rather than their own industry.