Why It Is Now or Never for PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Champions League

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Why It Is Now or Never for PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Champions League
Frank Augstein/Associated Press

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his Paris Saint-Germain teammates host Bayer Leverkusen in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 clash at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday, practically assured of their place in the quarterfinals already thanks to a 4-0 first leg lead.

Sami Hyypia’s side are not expected to put up enough of a fight to prevent the French champions from breezing into the last eight, but they will have a point to prove in Paris.

So too will PSG’s star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic though, who will be keen to underline the team’s title-winning credentials in this season’s competition as well as his own.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

While the ambitious project being assembled in the French capital is quickly taking shape, the Swedish superstar is already primed for success. There can be no doubt now that the 32-year-old is in the form of his career, but will it last past this season?

There is a case to state that Ibrahimovic stands his last real chance of capturing an elusive Champions League title this campaign, with PSG already on the verge of a second successive quarterfinal appearance.

Following last weekend’s goal and a single assist with the brilliant scorpion kick that laid on Ezequiel Lavezzi’s first, the former AC Milan man has 23 goals and 11 assists in Ligue 1.

Based on league form alone, the talismanic striker is now one of Europe’s most decisive players this season, narrowly along with the likes of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, Ibrahimovic is also the second-best scorer in this campaign’s Champions League, with 10 goals to Ronaldo’s 11 and is currently enjoying his most sustained spell of prolific form in his 15-year career.

Francois Mori/Associated Press

Considering PSG’s current form under coach Laurent Blanc and the way that the team are playing for the Swede lately, there may be no better time for Zlatan to triumph on the European stage.

It is 21 years since France last had a team that won the competition, when Olympique de Marseille beat AC Milan back in 1993. With no FIFA World Cup to look forward to in the summer, Ibrahimovic will be keen to remind everybody why they should be mourning his absence in Brazil.

Having played for five sides that have gone on to lift the Champions League, but also having left two of them just before they prospered, the Swede must feel that it is his time now.

The potential path to the final is a relatively favourable one.

Spanish giants Barcelona, opponents in last year's quarterfinals for PSG, are somewhat in decline. Bayern Munich are under pressure to become the first team to win back-to-back titles, while former coach Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid are perhaps the most daunting of all possible opponents in the last eight.

Aside from those three and arguably only really the latter pair, few potential match-ups will send a shiver down the spines of Ibrahimovic and his Parisian teammates.

Bettering last year's Champions League quarterfinal appearance is a very real possibility for Blanc's men at present.

EuroFootball/Getty Images

Simple logic also plays a part though.

While Ibrahimovic may go on to enjoy yet another superb season with PSG next term, physically and numerically he will be one year older. With age, no matter how indestructible the athlete appears to be, physical attributes will start to decline.

The PSG man will be acutely aware of this, mindful even, that this is one of the main reasons why he might never enjoy as good an opportunity as this one at present.

Can he realistically maintain this sort of stellar form at the age of 33 going on 34 though? 

With Zlatan, of course, anything is possible.

There is also no doubt that PSG will strengthen again ahead of next season, making European success even more of a possibility. But, although his recent back problems have been dealt with, for a period it looked as if the Swede would have to take a short break.

The towering striker has been fortunate so far in his time in France that he has not suffered any serious injuries. If he were to pick one up this season or the next, similar to strike partner Edinson Cavani’s recent hamstring problem, then that spell on the treatment table could initiate a rapid decline.

Michel Euler/Associated Press

While undoubtedly at the peak of his powers both technically and physically, Ibrahimovic has to make the most of his chance to finally claim the Champions League title as part of one of the best-assembled teams in this season’s competition.

Besides, how long he remains top dog in the French capital could eventually impact on how long the likes of Cavani will stick around for. The Uruguayan, at present, is forced to play in a less favourable wide-right role and is reportedly frustrated by Ibrahimovic’s dictation of his regular position.

Finally triumphing in Europe would enable the dominant player to relinquish his inescapable influence over the current PSG team somewhat, allowing the capital club to put plans in place for the future.

Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

For now though, Ibrahimovic is their undisputed leader and by far the Parisians’ best player. But there is a danger that the French champions will be unable to get over their reliance on him once he starts to decline physically.

That period could begin as early as the start of next season.

Ibrahimovic was slow off the mark this campaign, needing until Matchday 4 of the calendar to score his first goal of the season and then going another six weeks before starting to find the back of the net regularly.

The same slow recovery should be anticipated at the start of next term.

If PSG were to win the Champions League under Ibrahimovic’s influence this season, the process of switching to a post-Zlatan era at the Parc des Princes when the times comes would not be as hard as it would be with a stubborn Ibrahimovic hanging on in the hope of completing his trophy collection.

 

*All of Ibrahimovic’s league statistics are thanks to ligue1.com, while UEFA.com provides his and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League figures.

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