AS Monaco put Ligue 1 title rivals Paris Saint-Germain under pressure going into Sunday’s clash with AS Saint-Etienne, narrowing the gap at the top to just five points temporarily. The defending champions did re-establish their eight-point cushion, though, and had a Zlatan Ibrahimovic double to thank for that.
The Swede has been Le Championnat’s lone star striker in recent weeks, with Monaco’s Radamel Falcao a long-term absentee and Cavani away for “personal matters” after a hamstring injury kept him out of action for a month.
Now, though, his striking partner is back for PSG, and the pair featured prominently for Laurent Blanc’s side as they overcame Saint-Etienne in straightforward fashion on March 16.
Here is a closer look at how the pair performed in the 29th round of French top-flight games last weekend.
Ibrahimovic’s double on Sunday was significant for more than just the three points they secured against Saint-Etienne, the Swede’s 24th and 25th league goals of the campaign combine with all of his goals across all competitions to make a total of 40 for the season so far.
Carlos Bianchi’s record of 39 goals in all competitions in a single term stood from 1977-1978 until the 41st minute of the clash with Saint-Etienne at the Parc des Princes.
The talismanic striker is enjoying his most prolific season to date and still has two months of the season to go to add to his impressive tally.
10 - Only Lionel Messi has scored as many league goals than Zlatan Ibrahimovic (10) in Europe’s Top 5 leagues in 2014. Kings.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 16, 2014
While there was an element of controversy about PSG’s opener in the 2-0 win over Les Verts, his second left no one in doubt. Cavani turned provider brilliantly, giving Ibrahimovic the easiest of chances to tuck in from close range.
Although his two goals were his main contribution to the game, he also found time to provide Cavani with a brilliant chance to find the net for the first time since his headed goal in a substitute appearance against Olympique de Marseille earlier this month.
The Uruguayan volleyed his effort wide, but it was a reminder of how good a provider Ibrahimovic is, even though his league-leading 11 assists state his case emphatically.
At present, the towering striker is proving unplayable for Ligue 1 defences, and the main question now is where he will stop.
It was not quite as good a night for Ibrahimovic’s teammate Cavani. Largely frustrated, the Uruguayan had to make do with providing an unselfish assist for his teammate.
Despite a disappointing night in front of goal, compounded by a few missed chances, there were reasons for positivity from the 27-year-old’s performance.
El Matador was more involved than he has been in some games so far this season, trying to involve himself in the play at every attempt and tracking back to help defend with his customary willingness.
Cavani’s positioning does not always complement Ibrahimovic’s, but the pair made a concerted effort to bring each other into the play, which almost combined to spectacular effect with the South American’s volleyed effort flying not far wide.
In sharper match fitness, the former SSC Napoli man would have finished those sorts of chances with aplomb.
As it is, his confidence is evidently low after the period spent out through injury. It will take another couple of weeks to get back up to speed.
Next week’s clash with FC Lorient should suit Cavani, as Ibrahimovic will be suspended following his third yellow card in 10 games against Bastia last week.
The Uruguayan will be expected to lead the line, flanked by Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi, with both in good form and the Brazilian something of a creative force for PSG so far this season.
Ibrahimovic will have to wait until the away clash with OGC Nice the following week to get back into action, but the upside is that the Swede can take the break that he arguably should have been handed by coach Blanc for the UEFA Champions League encounter.
Can Cavani thrive without PSG’s leading scorer alongside him?