Paris Saint-Germain’s 1-0 win away to OGC Nice on Friday moved the French champions 13 points clear at the top of Ligue 1. That margin was then consolidated by AS Monaco’s shock 1-0 defeat at Evian Thonon Gaillard, incidentally the only team to have also beaten PSG this season, on Saturday.
Timothee Kolodziejczak’s second-half own goal was enough for Laurent Blanc’s men to secure the points and a ninth consecutive win in all competitions at the Allianz Riviera but star strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani were involved in the defining moment.
It was something of a surprise to see both start on the Cote d’Azur and play the full 90 minutes, considering the Parisians’ upcoming UEFA Champions League quarter-final double-header against Chelsea, but Blanc evidently felt that their partnership needed that time in order to be ready for Jose Mourinho’s men.
As it turned out, it was not the best of games for either player, but it proved to be a crucial victory for the defending champions.
Here is a closer look at how each player performed against Nice.
Since his double in a 2-0 home win over AS Saint-Etienne a fortnight ago, there is a feeling that Ibrahimovic has been holding himself back. Both against FC Lorient and now Nice, the team won 1-0 and their talismanic striker appeared to be conserving his energy.
With Chelsea on the horizon in the Champions League next week, that is no surprise.
The towering striker still did enough to help his side to victory in Nice though, even if he will not be credited with the assist for Kolodziejczak’s own goal.
Zlatan was able to head a lofted Javier Pastore pass into the path of strike partner Cavani, only to see the former Olympique Lyonnais defender narrowly beat the Uruguayan to the ball and send it into his own goal.
Otherwise, Ibrahimovic was restricted to few chances and played more of a creative role in the game.
The 32-year-old did have one clear-cut chance late in the first half, seeing a powerful close-range effort saved well by Nice goalkeeper David Ospina, who was in inspired form all game.
He also set up the impressive Lucas Digne for a chance late on in the match, after beating Ospina to the ball but ex-PSG man Mathieu Bodmer was back in time to hack the ball off the line.
Aside from that though, it was a relatively quiet night for the Swedish international. Expect an improved showing against Chelsea in Europe next week.
Rating: 2.5/5—It was not vintage Zlatan but in the end it did not matter. He did enough to contribute towards his team’s narrow victory and secure three important points on the road.
Cavani’s night was similarly as frustrating. El Matador has been searching for his best form since returning to action after a hamstring injury at the start of the month and he continues to struggle.
It was another committed performance from the South American, but there can be no mistaking the concern that Blanc must feel ahead of the Chelsea clash, with Cavani showing anything but predatory instinct in front of goal at present.
The Uruguayan did play a role in the goal and thought that he had in fact given PSG the lead, only for the goal to later be credited to Kolodziejczak but most importantly he was in the right place at the right time to profit from Ibrahimovic’s unselfish play once again.
Otherwise, Cavani had to fashion his only other real chance for himself. Hitting a brilliant low curling shot from the edge of the area on the turn, the 27-year-old forced Ospina to make another excellent save in the first half.
That was as good as it got for Cavani though and he will be aiming to put in an improved showing against Chelsea.
Rating: 2.5/5—Not Cavani’s best game, but he is now rediscovering his instincts after a frustrating period on the sidelines. In the right place to profit from Ibrahimovic’s knockdown header, the goal was created. It will not be long before both are in tandem once again.
Thanks to Friday’s 1-0 win over Nice, PSG can finally focus on the upcoming Chelsea double-header in Europe. Monaco bottling it in Evian also means that Blanc can fully rotate his squad between games, against Stade de Reims, in order to be in optimum condition against Mourinho’s side.
The big question for Ibrahimovic and Cavani is whether or not they can rediscover their best form together in such a high-pressure game.
While there are no concerns over the Swede’s big match appetite, questions remain over Cavani’s mental state. Still committed on the field, he is lacking his usual confidence and swagger in front of goal.
Until he finds the net without the aid of an opposing defender, this malaise may continue a little while longer. It will likely take a moment of Ibrahimovic inspiration and unselfishness to bring this particular horse to water.