Week 29: Ligue 1 Talking Points: What would PSG without Ibrahimovic look like?

French football writer Eric Devin‘s new Ligue 1 Talking Points column took the plaudits last week and he returns with five more reflections on last weekend’s top flight action.

Frustrated by the officiating (and it wasn’t great) after Paris Saint-Germain’s 3-2 loss to Bordeaux on Sunday, the big Swede was caught on film disdaining the refereeing, in a foul mouthed tirade directed at the officials. Lionel Jaffredo did arguably have a shocker, failing to control the general flow of a physical game and also doing nothing to penalise a backpass to Cedric Carasso just after PSG had tied the contest.

Regardless of whether or not he has a point, Ibrahimovic has made himself front-page news in France with his comments. Marine Le Pen, the leader of conservative group National Front opined on national radio that the striker was more than welcome to leave if he didn’t like France and Socialist leadership said much the same.  

The success that PSG have had with Ibrahimovic leading the line in his first two seasons is considerable and has served to build up a fair amount of goodwill towards the player. Beyond raising the league’s profile, it is also hard to argue that Ligue 1 as a whole has not benefitted from the club’s success. Lyon had been struggling financially just before QSI’s takeover of the capital club, and things were looking dicey in terms of France maintaining its three Champions’ League places. 

However, with pressure being heaped on them from all corners, it is hard to imagine that the LFP will not throw the book at Ibrahimovic. With their weekly disciplinary hearing set for Thursday and three of PSG’s next four matches being the Coupe de la Ligue final, Coupe de France semi-final and a key run-in with Marseille in the league, the striker’s unwise comments could serve to derail a potential treble. It really depends on when the LFP decide to make the decision, because it is possible that they do not call Ibrahimovic to a hearing until after the international break, which would shift the games that he would miss from any potential sanctions.

While there might of course be appeals in any event which could lead to a potential postponement of the suspensions, perhaps it would make sense to envision a PSG without Ibrahimovic. 

After all, even with ten men for more than ninety minutes at Stamford Bridge, PSG demonstrated a surprisingly fluid ability to cover their bases, managing to put two past the supposed best team in England. While it is true that those goals were more down to poor marking, and Chelsea were abject on the night, Ibrahimovic is 33 and his performances this season have been a step down from their best, even against the supposedly lesser opposition of Ligue 1. A look at how PSG might line up and cope in his absence is a thus a worthwhile exercise for the present and the future.   

Edinson Cavani’s arrival in the summer of 2013 should have been a clear sign of PSG’s plans for the future. Obviously the long-term replacement for the Swede in a way that would allow for tactical continuity by being a big unit at the head of a forward three, Cavani in many ways offers much more than his fellow striker. Often used on the left but also, owing to his mobility, able to drop back and press the opposing centre backs, when employed as a no. 9, Cavani’s goals have not been as plentiful as last season. They have, however, been the difference, particularly in the Champions’ League, where he scored the winner in three successive group stage matches in which Ibrahimovic was absent, his hard work proving the difference against stubborn APOEL Nicosia.

With youngster Adrien Rabiot looking brighter in recent cameos, but Yohan Cabaye likely missing after going off against Bordeaux, a potential XI against Lorient on Friday could look something like this, if we imagine that Ibrahimovic is not included (although he probably will be): Sirigu, van der Wiel, Camara, Silva, Maxwell, Verratti, Motta, Matuidi, Lavezzi, Cavani, Pastore. That would leave the bench fairly thin, especially as David Luiz and Marquinhos are also struggling with injuries and probably won’t be risked, but it would, in Zlatan’s absence, create a much less static attack.

With a 4-3-3 designed to facilitate hitting teams on the counter, as Real Madrid have so ably demonstrated at times this season, PSG could  look even more threatening once Lucas Moura returns to supplant Lavezzi after the international break.

Another alternative would be to play Pastore behind a front two of Cavani and youngster Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, in what would essentially be a 4-4-2 diamond. Either would work, and with the success that Lyon have had using the formation, a tactical tweak should not be ruled out. However Laurent Blanc decides to proceed, the next month or so will be a real litmus test as regards finding a sustainable modus operandi post-Ibrahimovic. With Financial Fair Play already a factor, the opportunity for PSG to re-focus their attack around the players already in place could just be a blessing in disguise.

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