He was the shining light in the victory over FC Porto last night and it was something we had not seen for some time. The lean Argentine came into his own, orchestrating the attributes we all know has and endeared to. The past 12 months have been a massive struggle for him, not all his fault, but he made a point against the Portuguese and gave Carlo Ancelotti some food for thought. Great to see you back El Flaco.
Pastore is a confidence player. No two ways about it, he revels in it and if it somewhat diminishes, he suffers. That has been pretty much the case since last fall. In the final weeks leading up to Antoine Kombouare’s dismissal as coach, he struggled to continue the early season form that earned him plaudits all over France. The then record Parisien signing was instrumental in everything the team did and even brought the best out of peers. Playing just behind the striker(s), it is where he excelled. Those galloping runs, cutting through opposition defences and splitting them in two with a diligent pass were a common occurrence in Ligue 1. But the eventual change in coach, a change of tactics and formation brought all that to a halt.
Ancelotti utilised him frequently when he first arrived. His traditional 4-3-2-1 was in full effect, with Pastore occupying one of the two central attacking spots behind the striker. In truth, he did well there. With no out an out striker – Jeremy Menez as the false number nine the majority of the time – pretty much everything was going through him and Nene. The goals may have dried up since his early flurry, and perhaps no way near as effective since the weeks that transpired from his signing, but no doubt he was a key asset to the team.
This season has been a different story. The arrival of new players in the summer has made competition for places intense. Carlo is happy with a standard 4-3-3 formation, swapping back to a more rigid 4-5-1 if need be. In the early part of the season he was played in his favourable position behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Menez who lead the line and he impressed, netting against Toulouse and Dynamo Kiev in the process. But, the 2-2 draw in Marseille altered Carlo’s thinking and felt more inclined to have two supporting wingers for Ibra who could then drop deep. This was more to isolate the space down the flanks for opposing teams. Unfortunately, Flaco was dropped and has seen his playing time reduced.
Ancelotti is under no illusion that he needs to recapture that confidence that made him so pivotal in his early days. He said; “Pastore has a confidence problem. But he can play in a counter-attacking side. He has the ability to deliver that final pass, like he did against Rennes for Nene’s goal. All his teammates believe in him, he just has some confidence issues. He needs to get out of this situation as quickly as possible. When I’m building my team, I don’t look at salary or passports of my players.”
Carlo will help him, no doubt about that. He realises that he has a special player on his hands but he just needs to find the correct solution to get the best out of him.
Last night, the surprising thing was not the inclusion of Pastore, but where he played. Carlo fielded a standard 4-4-2, with the Argentine playing left-midfield. Somewhere I cannot recall him – in recent times anyway – playing. Nevertheless, he flourished there. He is not the quickest of players but he was able to come inside, link up with his teammates and look for the overlapping runs from Maxwell. It worked a treat. It was as if the old Pastore had been born again and it was great to see.
He found himself a little exposed at times defensively, Porto’s goal illustrated that. Maxwell was out of position and Pastore did well to get back and cover but he sold himself a little in the challenge allowing Danilo to cross which was headed in by Jackson Martinez. Nothing that some fine tuning can sort out.
Hopefully, he has done enough to warrant a starting berth at the weekend at home to Evian. The standing ovation he got from the entire Parc des Prices when he was substituted late in the second-half is proof enough.