During the last round of Ligue 1 fixtures, Paris Saint-Germain secured a vital victory against bitter rivals Olympique Marseille.
The 2-0 triumph keeps PSG sitting pretty atop the Ligue 1 classement—ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, they are eight points ahead of their nearest rivals.
At the time of writing, Paris, on 64 points compared to AS Monaco’s 56, look like a comfortable bet to retain the French title.
This weekend has already begun with good news for the capital club.
Marseille, rivals in name and reputation rather than menace these days, fell at home to 11th-placed OGC Nice.
Paris, however, have their own challenges. Today Laurent Blanc’s side take the flight to Corsica for a date at the Stade Armand Cesari for a battle against islanders SC Bastia.
Having experienced the atmosphere and the passion of the Lions of Furiani first hand, I can testify to the intensity and ferocity of stadium’s ambience as well as the partisan tendencies of the city’s local fans.
While Bastia have struggled in their last two home fixtures, against Monaco and Saint-Etienne, their rise to the top half of the French rankings has been underpinned by clinical home form.
Before the Monaco defeat, the intimidating atmosphere of the Armand Cesari had brought 10 victories in their previous 13 games, with only one defeat, to Lyon.
By contrast, they have won only one in their last 15 away games.
This weekend, Bastia’s fine home record will be severely threatened once again. Not only are the champions coming to town, but they will also have to contend specifically with the dual threats of Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Cavani returned to the team last week, in the clash with Marseille, after more than a month on the sidelines. Both the Uruguayan and his Swedish strike partner impressed—the former scored, while Zlatan contributed an assist for Brazilian left-sider Maxwell.
It is credit to Paris’s immense resources that even during Cavani’s absence, the side barely missed a beat, winning twice and drawing with second-placed Monaco in the principality.
The Uruguayan’s return, however, will add another delicious dimension to PSG’s attack. Cavani’s form in the capital since arriving from Napoli has been exceptional. He has been man of the match on two occasions and has scored 18 goals.
His goal last week, only eight minutes after entering the fray in le Classique, was testament to his class.
He finished off an excellent team move by heading home a cross from right-back Gregory van der Wiel, confirming the score at 2-0. In a microcosm, it demonstrated exactly what Cavani’s incisive finishing and excellent off-the-ball movement can bring to the side, and why the South American is such a valuable contributor for Blanc’s side.
As part of a broader narrative, the magnificent team interplay, completely bewildering the fallen giants of Marseille before Cavani’s emphatic finish, was an illustration of the changing face and the shifting power dynamic of French football.
OM are no longer realistic, genuine contenders to Paris’s crown, and this fact has rarely been more evident than when Cavani contributed the coup de grace last weekend.
While Cavani’s return, particularly in testing away fixtures such as the battle with Bastia, will be an added gloss to Paris’s league form, his greatest contribution may come in the Champions League.
PSG sent shockwaves through Europe with their emphatic 4-0 victory away against Bayer Leverkusen. The Germans may not have been wholly adequate Champions League opponents, but Paris’s dominance will mean that few would relish the prospect of a trip to the Parc des Princes in the quarter-final.
The return of Cavani, who remains one of the world’s finest strikers, should strike fear into the hearts of PSG’s potential Champions League opponents.
One of the key things to watch out for during today’s clash with Bastia will be the interplay and interaction between Cavani and PSG’s incumbent superstar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It was Blaise Matuidi, rather than the Swede, who stole the kind of headlines traditionally associated with the former Barcelona man following the midweek international friendlies. Matuidi’s goal for France against the Netherlands was a magnificent expression of technical prowess and individual ingenuity.
Zlatan, according to the Daily Mail, was quick to take credit for Matuidi’s agile volley and, against Bastia, will have the opportunity to remind the world that he remains the ultimate purveyor of goalscoring theatrics.
Last weekend, Ibrahimovic missed out on the opportunity to become the all-time highest scorer in the history of the Classique but still managed to contribute an assist, as mentioned above. Zlatan currently tops both the goalscoring charts (22) and the assists charts (10) and remains the league’s outstanding individual.
Unlike Ezequiel Lavezzi, who frustrates Zlatan with his wasteful (if hard-working) forward play, the effective and direct Cavani should dovetail sublimely, once again, with the creative Ibrahimovic.
The two men should have the quality to guarantee the title returns to Paris. While their progress in the Champions League will be watched keenly, their immediate challenge, however, will be found on the fields of Corsica.
Many have fallen there before, but you suspect, with Cavani and Zlatan back together at the helm, Paris will have enough to continue their march.
All statistics according to whoscored.com