The Swede, who has been in fine scoring form since the start of 2015, found the net once from the penalty spot in the first half. He then bagged two in far more impressive fashion in the second half to book PSG’s first appearance in the competition’s final since 2011 and their first time under Qatar Sports Investments’ ownership.
Romain Hamouma had given Christophe Galtier’s visitors some hope when he headed in a superb Yohan Mollo free-kick just four minutes after Ibrahimovic’s opener. However, Ezequiel Lavezzi doused those dreams of Stade de France with a second-half header from a Javier Pastore cross equal to Mollo’s delivery.
It was an entertaining first half, with Saint-Etienne actually enjoying the better of the chances. After Hamouma’s header, ex-PSG man Mevlut Erding was gifted a golden chance to put Les Verts 2-1 up by an inexplicable Gregory van der Wiel back pass.
Nicolas Douchez came to the rescue not once, but twice for Les Parisiens. The veteran French goalkeeper did well to block Erding’s effort the first time and then made a flying save to deny ASSE captain Loic Perrin from heading the visitors into a marginally deserved lead.
The second half was a different story, though, and it was almost exclusively Zlatan writing it.
Ibrahimovic’s penalty to open the scoring had been the 33-year-old’s 100th goal for the club in all competitions since signing in the summer of 2012. However, not content with that impressive feat, the PSG No. 10 waited until Lavezzi had headed the hosts into a 2-1 lead on the hour before preparing to kill Saint-Etienne off in style.
Nine minutes from time, the Swede ran onto a through ball from substitute Blaise Matuidi before impudently rounding ASSE goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier and firing into an empty net. Then, in the final minute of the 90, he collected a pass from 17-year-old substitute Jean-Kevin Augustin, shifted the ball onto his left foot and fired in a low effort past a demoralised Ruffier.
Ibrahimovic now has 17 goals across all competitions since the start of 2015 with the defending French champions. His second and third against Saint-Etienne take him up to 102 goals, just seven shy of all-time Parisien record holder Pauleta with 109.
On top of that, it was the Scandinavian superstar’s second hat-trick of the season against Les Verts and his second treble in PSG’s last three domestic matches.
Three of those six goals have admittedly been penalties, but his individual displays against both FC Lorient in Ligue 1 and ASSE in the cup have been of the highest quality. Even though his goals against Les Merlus were hardly the most impressive, his creativity and work rate merited his status as the match-winner.
Ibrahimovic opened the scoring with another spot-kick against ASSE, but it was his brilliant back-heeled pass that set up Lavezzi’s chance before the Argentine was fouled. The Swede was as involved as he was against Lorient but far more clinical in front of goal, and it bodes well ahead of the Coupe de la Ligue final against SC Bastia on Saturday.
Although Zlatan is the one making the headlines, though, the high-quality performances of many of his team-mates, in the second half especially, should not go unnoticed.
Full-backs Van der Wiel and Lucas Digne might have struggled early on, putting central defenders Marquinhos and captain Thiago Silva—as well as the solid Douchez—under unnecessary pressure in the first half. However, both wide men improved in the second half.
The midfield trio of Yohan Cabaye, Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot performed remarkably well for a unit that lacks regular game time together, with the younger Frenchman looking particularly mature.
Lavezzi enjoyed a rare good performance—even if that still involved a number of missed opportunities—but it was Pastore who caught the eye as well as Ibrahimovic.
El Flaco has been superb pretty much all season long for the capital outfit, and the Argentine was once again integral in the Saint-Etienne win, providing a delightful assist for Lavezzi’s collector’s item of a header.
Overall, it was a job well done by PSG. They thoroughly outplayed ASSE in the second half and deserved to advance to the final, even if the 4-1 final score was perhaps a little flattering.
Blanc will have wanted his players to avoid extra time and penalties ahead of Saturday’s Coupe de la Ligue final, and they did exactly that. The key, though, was that Ibrahimovic rose to the occasion and the French tactician admitted as much to PSG.fr after the match.
We are playing every three or four days. We need to recover well. Tonight the players produced an excellent match, technically very good. The players enjoyed themselves and we could see that in the second half. When you keep winning, the recovery is easier and quicker, so I hope we keep winning. Zlatan? He's an unbelievable player and will keep scoring goals.
When the super Swede is in the mood to put in a top drawer display, something that is admittedly becoming a rarer sight these days, few teams—if any—in France can live with him.