Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paris Saint-Germain Are Dragging Each Other Down

Jonathan Wilson@@jonawilsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2015

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 17:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain reacts during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea at Parc des Princes on February 17, 2015 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

This has been a miserable season at Paris Saint-Germain and, in particular, for their storied forward line.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final at Stamford Bridge last season, when they squandered a 3-1 first-leg lead to lose on away goals, but rather than a figure burning with the rage to right what he presumably sees as a wrong, Chelsea faced a player whose impact on the game was minimal until he drew a smart save from Thibaut Courtois in injury time.

Given PSG won 3-1 at home to Chelsea in last season’s quarter-final and still didn’t make it through, and given that Mourinho has never lost a two-legged tie after a scoring draw in the first leg, the 1-1 scoreline may be terminal.

Tuesday’s performance was in many ways typical of PSG this season. There was much that was adequate or better about their play but little sense of conviction or urgency.

Injuries haven’t helped, but considering the amount they have spent on their squad, it’s hard to be sympathetic.

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 17:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain takes on Nemanja Matic of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea at Parc des Princes on February 17, 2015 in Paris, France.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Too many individuals are out of sorts, and that includes Ibrahimovic. Of course, for him, poor form is relativeeven ignoring the largely mythical complication of his supposed inability to perform in big games or against Premier League sides (his four goals in that friendly against England surely having put to bed for good the suggestion he struggled against robust "British-style" defending).

He has scored 11 goals in 16 starts in the league this season. His pass success rate, even, is up marginally, from 76.4 percent to 77.9 percent, according to WhoScored.

That doesn’t mean he’s suddenly laying in team-mates for hundreds of goals, though: Ibrahimovic has managed just one assist this season as opposed to 11 last (when he scored 26 goals).

And that’s not entirely a result of his team-mates missing chances: Key passes are down from 2.1 per game to 1.2. His WhoScored rating has correspondingly fallen from 7.83 to 7.41.

In part, that’s to do with the failings of the team as a whole, for which Laurent Blanc must take much of the responsibility.

Michel Euler/Associated Press

A sense of stagnation has fallen over the side, almost as though theentirely reasonableexpectation of league success has dulled the whole process for them, leading to an excessive focus on the Champions League.

Perhaps the most worrying statistic for Ibrahimovicgiven one of his great virtues is his capacity to manufacture chances from next to nothingis that he is averaging just 3.5 shots per game this season.

Again, for most forwards, that would be a thoroughly laudable figure, but last season, he was averaging five.

There are other statistics that show a marked change, but the significance of these is harder to read.

His attempted long balls, for instance, have fallen from 2.8 per game to 1.2, suggesting he is dropping deeper less and less often, becoming more and more disaffected and moving less as a result.

Similarly, through balls are down by a factor of three, again suggesting he isn’t falling deep, finding pockets of space from which he can spring others. His aerial ability, at least, remains undiminished, winning 2.1 duels per game this season in the league as opposed to 2.2 last.

Christophe Ena/Associated Press

Yet to accuse him of a lack of effort would also perhaps be misleading. Ibrahimovic’s defensive work has actually become more effective: an average of 0.4 tackles and 0.4 interceptions per game as opposed to 0.3 last.

Clearances, though, are down, from 0.9 to 0.7, again probably indicative of the fact he’s spending more time higher up the pitch.

The mechanics of a team are complex. It would be wrong to blame Ibrahimovic for PSG’s drab form this season, but his struggles are emblematic of wider difficulties.

Perhaps he would be more effective in a more fluent, more energised team, but it’s also true that he is 33. This was a team built to serve his needs, and as he falters, so too does the side as a whole.

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