Radamel Falcao may be missing once again this weekend, but the other two of Ligue 1’s “Big Three” were in action.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani took their chance to put some space between themselves and the Colombian, putting pressure on AS Monaco as Paris Saint-Germain thumped FC Sochaux-Montbeliard 5-0 on Saturday.
PSG go a provisional five points clear of AS Monaco ahead of Les Monegasques' clash with struggling AC Ajaccio in the principality on Sunday, with second-placed Lille OSC faltering to fall four points off the top spot.
Ibrahimovic and Cavani were at the heart of the action for Laurent Blanc’s side at the Parc des Princes, with the Swedish wizard in particularly impressive form. The talismanic striker scored twice and created another two goals, while El Matador bagged one and provided another.
But more pointedly, the pair scored in a match when on the pitch at the same time for the second consecutive home game. More than that, each assisted one of the other’s goals, and that is a first this season.
It was a display, admittedly against limited opposition, that suggests the two are getting it together on the pitch.
Cavani’s goal was brilliantly taken and displayed exactly what makes the Uruguayan and Ibrahimovic such a potent pairing. The Swede dropped deep to collect the ball and, midway between the halfway line and Sochaux’s goal, produced an outrageous clipped pass that landed perfectly at Cavani’s feet.
With plenty still to do, the summer signing displayed expert predatory skills to get the ball under control and finish.
Ibrahimovic’s strikes were also well taken, but they were different types of finishes.
The first was a powerfully struck free-kick that gave Sochaux goalkeeper Pierrick Cros no chance of keeping it out. The second was a well-worked move featuring Lucas Moura, with Cavani providing Ibra an easy finish after unselfishly squaring the ball in front of goal.
Such a show of appreciation from El Matador was no less than the mercurial Ibrahimovic deserved on the day, after providing Thiago Silva with PSG’s opener and playing a key role in Ezequiel Lavezzi’s too.
Early in the first half, Ibra produced a sublime, dinked cross to the back post where Silva was waiting to stab home from close range. It was also his pass to Thiago Motta, via a Sochaux defender, that provided Lavezzi with the chance to net his first Ligue 1 strike since away at FC Nantes back in August, when he secured a late 2-1 win.
Although he didn’t complete a hat-trick of assists or goals, the double fired Ibrahimovic up to 13 league goals for the season, while Cavani’s strike takes him up to 11. Monaco’s Falcao currently trails both with nine.
However, Zlatan’s assist double makes him Le Championnat’s most generous provider with six so far this term. Monaco’s James Rodriguez trails by one pass.
50 - @Ibra_official has played 50 Ligue 1 games, scoring 43 goals and assisting 14 others. Zlatan.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) December 7, 2013
Cavani cannot boast the same generosity though, as that pass for his teammate’s second of the match on Saturday was his first assist of the campaign.
Perhaps that underlines the improvement in their relationship. It is now more of a two-way street and both benefit from linking up with one another. As the old adage goes, the more you give the more you get in return.
This is certainly true for Ibrahimovic, who now leads the league in both categories, having accepted that he needs to share the limelight more this year.
One instance that illustrates their improved relationship though, perhaps missed by most, was what happened when Cavani was booked for diving towards the end of the second half.
Instead of keeping quiet and perhaps allowing himself a wry smile that the Uruguayan had been unable to add to his tally, as many would have expected, the Swede leapt to his strike partner’s side to protest the decision. This earned himself an avoidable booking for his troubles—highly unlike Ibra, it has to be said.
This suggests that Cavani has finally earned his teammate’s trust, and Ibrahimovic is prepared to put himself on the line in return. After weeks of gradual progress and the occasional frustrating display, the two are starting to find form together and are developing a strong understanding. It has taken five months.
There can be no doubt as to who is the more complete player of the two, but providing assists every week is not what Cavani was bought to do. He was acquired to put the finishing touches to Zlatan’s mastery and that is exactly what he is doing.
Providing his partner with the odd chance when possible though is a sign of respect. It is the sort of respect that Ibrahimovic will recognise and will enable their relationship to continue to thrive as the season progresses.