Following his incredible four-goal performance in Paris Saint-Germain’s 5-0 demolition of RSC Anderlecht in the Champions League on Wednesday, can Zlatan Ibrahimovic make PSG genuine title contenders? That is the question on everybody’s lips right now.
With the talismanic Swede in such insatiable form, it would be foolish to suggest otherwise. It should be tempered, though, by the fact that PSG are hardly in the most testing of groups. However, you can only beat the teams put in front of you, and that is what PSG are doing at present—and in dominant style.
Ibrahimovic demonstrated against SL Benfica and then Anderlecht that he is still pulling all of the strings for Laurent Blanc’s side. Despite the preseason expectation that he would share the goalscoring responsibility with new signing Edinson Cavani from a more withdrawn role, Ibra has come to the fore once again.
The signing of El Matador appears to have pushed Ibrahimovic to raise his game even from last season’s high standards. There is also a sense of greater maturity about the towering striker and the PSG team as a whole.
After a slow start to the season in Ligue 1 and the Champions League, he has hit top form in recent weeks. An impressive double against Bastia at the weekend, including a spectacular back-heeled volley, showed a player with sky-high confidence at present.
Ibrahimovic's and Cavani’s inability to strike up a prosperous partnership so far has been a hindrance, but only a slight one. The mere presence of the Uruguayan in the same team as the mercurial Swede makes PSG a more formidable opponent.
Based on last season’s continental showing, which only saw them eliminated on away goals by Barcelona at the quarterfinal stage, PSG should go at least one step better this year. Last time out, they were missing a predatory striker to play alongside Ibrahimovic in place of the wasteful Ezequiel Lavezzi, plus the squad depth which is now in place.
Ibra looks to continue the impressive early tournament goalscoring form that has seen him shoot up to six goals in just three games, one behind Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Added to that, although PSG are currently top of Ligue 1 and two points clear of title rivals AS Monaco, Blanc’s side are looking stronger and more convincing in Europe than domestically.
Part of that is not Ibrahimovic’s doing, but rather the natural progression of a side that has played together for more than one season. But his insatiable appetite going into every match is leading the side from the French capital by example right now.
Since the injury to fellow ex-AC Milan man Thiago Silva that saw him inherit the captain’s armband with which he is so familiar at international level, Ibrahimovic has been transformed. Although his necessity to lead by example has arguably damaged the possibility of improving the link-up with Cavani in the short-term, it has reinvigorated him after a slow start to the season.
While Ibrahimovic is sporting the armband in the absence of Silva, expect this sort of performance to continue. His PSG teammates feed off of his confidence, and at the moment their momentum is almost unstoppable.
That will undoubtedly be challenged once the group stages are over and Blanc’s side face higher-quality opposition, but for now the team are fostering a winning mentality that will be hard for opponents to break. A point will come, though, where Ibrahimovic and Cavani need to strike up an understanding in order for PSG to realise their true potential.
Last season’s quarterfinal berth was largely down to Ibra’s selfless creativity. Although he is scoring more goals already this campaign, he will need to rediscover that same level of productivity in order for PSG to better last year’s showing.
To do that, Ibrahimovic will need to be the one providing the ammunition for Cavani in the crucial matches as well as contributing directly himself.
Can the Swede win PSG the Champions league on his own? Probably not. There are a number of teams out there that play as a unit and would pick apart a PSG team relying solely on Ibrahimovic. But with PSG now resembling more of a team than ever before under Qatar Sports Investments, he does not need to go it alone, as he has the support of a stellar cast and a prolific partner in crime.
Ibrahimovic has the ability to drive PSG all the way in Europe, but he needs to take advantage of the tools available to him, which includes getting the best out of Cavani.