Seeing Zlatan Ibrahimovic gracing a football pitch once again on Sunday night was one of the defining images of the 2-0 win over Marseille in the classique. After not adorning a Parisian shirt since the 21st September against Olympique Lyonnais – the 33-year-old received a raucous reception as he entered the fray. Each touch was greeted with a roar and cries of ‘Ibra’ by the PSG support. Having the talisman back is massive but during his absence two of the big man’s teammates have grabbed the bull’s horns with both hands and thus becoming two of PSG’s most important components in attack; Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore.
Who would have thought this last season? Two players who were scrutinised. Their futures at the club were continuously questioned, no more so than ‘El Flaco’ who looked a foregone conclusion to seek pastures new after a third consecutive season of not fulfilling his potential. The Argentine along with his agent remonstrated a desire to stay at the Parc des Prices and snubbed any such talk of a return to Serie A. Financial Fair Play ramifications did not help either with the club having to find ways to overcome it. The persistence of Angel di Maria meant a marquee name would have to leave in order for him to arrive. Pastore looked to be one of those who could be moved on. Di Maria ended up in Manchester. Pastore remained in Paris. Funny how things turn out.
Lucas arrived with a monstrous price tag for a teenager in January 2013. The deal had been agreed the previous summer with Manchester United pulling out of negotiations with Sao Paulo by deeming the deal too expensive for an unproven talent. Sir Alex Ferguson said at the time; “I find it quite amazing that a club can pay €45m for a 19-year-old boy… when somebody’s paying that for a 19-year-old boy you have to say the game’s gone mad”. And there was logic to his point. Lucas had not yet tasted European football, very much a family lad who was accustomed to his roots back in Brazil. It was never going to be plain sailing to begin with. The important thing is the club understood the adaptation would be gradual, but the player would eventually become a key player for the team.
Like Pastore did in his first two months at the club, he had a very positive start. This included a stunning performance at the Camp Nou against Barcelona in the second-leg of the Champions League quarter-final. He was undoubtedly the most influential player on the pitch in an attacking sense. Operating out on the right-hand side, he terrified Jordi Alba at left-back who struggled to deal with him for most of the night. The Brazilian’s ability to pick the ball up from deep, run with it at pace and leaving his adversaries for dead is something we had not seen done to that Barca team on too many occasions (just after the Pep Guardiola era). Perhaps the element of the unknown played a part from a Barca perspective but what a performance.
Again, just like JP’s start, the honeymoon period simmered and before you knew it the consistency of those mesmeric performances turned out to be non-existent. There were glimpses of course but never a pro-longed period of good form. In Pastore’s case you can definitely make a point in him being played out of position under Carlo Ancelotti. The number 27 was even adopted as a false number nine at one point during Carlo’s early days. He had been ushered out on the left-hand side more often than not where his abilities were compromised. As for Lucas he has had to compete with the likes of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi , Jeremy Menez and Pastore himself for a starting berth the season before last. He was in and out the side and went missing in games.
I have written pieces on both players this season analysing their turn in fortunes but there is no doubt the faith from the coach and renewed confidence has played a major part in the turnaround. Pastore has played predominantly in the midfield trio as well as coming in from the left-hand side where he is effective in both cases. Both missed the World Cup and were able to knuckle down in pre-season which helped immensely. The sharpness from both is there. The acceleration Moura shows at times is frightening. Pastore’s control is reminiscent of his early Parisian days. Both are now catalysts in attack and without question two of the first names that Laurent Blanc will put on his team sheet.
It is an incredible turnaround from both. It is delightful to see as it has been a rocky road. We are reaping the benefits of the massive investment and belief in the pair of them and long may it continue.