Why Edinson Cavani Will Step Up for PSG in Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Absence
Despite an array of superstars available to coach Laurent Blanc, PSG struggled to find the back of the net on Friday against Evian Thonon Gaillard. Without the striker who has scored 58 goals in 69 league games, they need one of their other high-profile players to step up and prove that they are far from a one-man attacking unit.
Ibrahimovic has already begun light training, though he will miss next weekend’s game at home to Saint-Etienne. He could make his return to action for Sweden against Austria in their European Championship qualifier on September 8.
PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back in training already, following his injury vs. Bastia last weekend.— Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip) August 20, 2014
That should see the 32-year-old return for the away trip to Rennes.
This opens a window for Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani. He has been quick to make a point of wanting to play the role of central striker this season, per Sky Sports, and now he has to let his feet do the talking.
Here is why Edinson Cavani will step up for PSG in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absence.
Already Active in Front of Goal
In each of PSG’s three league games so far this season, Edinson Cavani has played every minute. He scored a wonderful goal in the 2-0 home win over Bastia at the Parc des Princes, but he failed to find the net in the goalless draw against Evian on Friday.
Playing in the No. 9 role, flanked by Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore, Cavani had a couple of decent chances against Evian. His left foot shot in the first half flashed past Jesper Hansen’s left-hand post. The 'keeper had to make a smart save in the second half as Lucas slipped the striker through on goal.
Hansen had to save two of Cavani’s four shots on goal, which takes the striker to 14 shots for the season. According to WhoScored.com, he is averaging 4.7 shots per game and leads PSG in this category.
It is encouraging that he has been active in front of goal, and you have to think with a striker of Cavani’s class and experience, sooner or later the shots will turn to goals. It looks like the forward is just lacking a little bit of confidence at the moment.
An Abundance of Support
Any good striker needs support to score goals. Not everyone can create chances from nothing like Ibrahimovic, but luckily for Cavani, he has a great supporting cast available to him.
On the wings, he has Lucas Moura, Ezequiel Lavezzi and possibly Javier Pastore who can all help set up goalscoring opportunities for the former Napoli striker.
The support doesn’t always have to come from the wings though. Against Bastia, Cavani’s goal came from a beautiful over-the-top pass from Marco Verratti, and with Pastore also impressing when played in the deeper role, the support for Cavani will come from all over the pitch.
So far this season, Pastore leads PSG with two assists, Verratti got one against Bastia and Lucas was the player who set up Cavani’s best chances against Evian on Friday.
What Cavani needs is movement around him to create space to run into. If you watch the second-half chance against Evian that Hansen had to save, it was the run from Lucas that occupied the defence, allowing the striker to run in behind.
The pass was perfect, and given another opportunity, it really should have led to PSG scoring the opening goal.
Verratti showed quick thinking and wonderful execution against Bastia to pick out Cavani with a free kick. They lacked that dynamism against Evian and will need to sharpen up and react quicker if they are going to help out their Uruguayan teammate.
Desire to Prove Doubters Wrong
Last season, Cavani scored 16 goals playing the majority of the season alongside Ibrahimovic. In its most simplistic form, the formation was classed as 4-3-3, but the movement and players used made it much more versatile that it sounds.
Cavani was not playing as an out-and-out winger and was given full freedom to cut inside and exploit the space left by the opposition defenders.
Although Ibrahimovic scored 26 goals, the Swede played a deeper role than the normal No. 9. He would come deep to collect the ball, and the 11 assists he contributed showed the more creative side of his game.
Ibrahimovic’s movement opened up a huge hole in the centre-forward position, something that Cavani was allowed to fill at every opportunity. When he aired his concerns over PSG’s tactics, he made it sound like he was stuck out on the wing, but that was far from the truth.
Speaking to L'Equipe in April, via ESPN FC, Cavani spoke of his new responsibilities.
As an attacker, I am used to finishing attacks and scoring and today I must perform other tasks. No, it is not easy, it's true.
I do not want to talk about sacrifice, because I am happy putting the effort in. But today I hold a more defensive role than before.
I am more like a defender and it is more difficult because, when I arrived, I had other ideas.
If you look at a typical PSG game from last season—we’ll take the 3-1 win away at Rennes—you can see from an average position map that Cavani is taking up a central position alongside Ibrahimovic.
However, when Cavani has been given his chance to play the No. 9 role without Zlatan’s support, the striker hasn’t set the world on fire. What Cavani needs to realise is that Ibrahimovic takes a lot of the attention away from Cavani and opens up huge gaps for the player to slip into.
This is what is so irritating about Cavani. Given his chance in Zlatan's absence & does nothing to take it. Problem is not system or Ibra.— Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip) August 22, 2014
Without his partner, Cavani has to do more of the work himself.
Against Saint-Etienne, Cavani has another chance to show that he can carry the burden of being Paris Saint-Germain’s main striker, and another limp performance will do nothing but cast more doubts over his ability to carry the flame once Ibrahimovic steps down.
This is Cavani’s chance to shine, and it would do wonders for the striker's confidence if he can fire PSG to glory during Ibrahimovic’s absence.