Zlatan Ibrahimovic usually gets his fair share of stick – mainly in jest more than anything – but this week it has been a bit more personal. The big Swede has not been the player he has been in the previous two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain and there are a couple of reasons for that. But, with the biggest game of the season thus far taking place tomorrow night, now is the time for him to step up!
Ever since he netted a hat-trick against Saint-Etienne all the way back in August, Ibra has not been the same. Even though Les Verts’ goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier played a massive helping hand in the Parisian victory, we did not envisage any sort of decline in our main talisman. However, this heel injury that he picked up has plagued his entire campaign and it appears as if he is taking it one game at a time.
Playing in a deeper role is seemingly his preference these days and you can evidently see that he is dropping further back. Can he have an influence in this role? Absolutely, but it is taking away those qualities up front. He needs to be in that final third more as his potency will not have lost any edge. He has still come up with some big goals despite the dip in form; notably the winner against Saint-Etienne in the quarter-final of the Coupe de la Ligue as well as the victory in the league over them at the end of last month. The 33-year-old also got the opener in that decisive group topper against Barcelona in the final group game of the Champions League until the defence completely capitulated (ended up losing 3-1). Still, is it enough? Not by his standards, no!
He needs to do more but at the same time coach Laurent Blanc likes him that deeper role. LB said just before the Lille game earlier in the week; “We need someone capable of directing the play and holding onto possession, which Ibra is very good at. It’s a very good thing for the team that Ibra drops deep and gets involved in the play”.
So it’s a decision from the coach for him to do that – along with some influence from Ibra of course. So he is ultimately doing what is being asked. Still, the coach wants to find that balance between the number 10 and Edinson Cavani who can came inside from the left. The pair of them have 20-league goals between them which is not bad but could be so much better – especially when you look at the figures from last season.
The pair will be in the starting-XI for this fascinating clash at the Stade de Gerland tomorrow. If Ibra needed any fuel added to his fire, he can thank not only Lyon coach Hubert Fournier but also Marseille defender Rod Fanni. Yesterday, quotes came out from the pair of them with the OM man’s being the most provocative. He told Le Parisien; “I have had the desire to throw a punch at Ibrahimovic more than once. We have said things to each other in English that I cannot repeat in public”.
OK, from a PSG perspective we all love and adore Ibra. We know he can get under the skin of opposition players. I think he would take Fanni’s quotes with a pinch of salt but will bottle them up for when we face Marseille at the Velodrome in April. But, the quotes from the Lyon coach may have been mind games but it will certainly inject some spice into the game. He thinks the striker gets away with profanity towards referees as he curses them in English and Italian.
Fournier said in his pre-match presser; “All referees are insulted by this person. Apparently, the referees are not bilingual or trilingual, so they do not understand”.
Again, cannot dispute the fact that Ibra’s character will see the red mist descend over him if he is not happy with a referring decision but he can use Fournier’s quotes to his advantage tomorrow. He has come under stick this week. And the fact he refused to speak to the reporters after the Lille game – whilst telling his teammates not to either by claiming he’s the ‘boss’ – has rubbed some people up the wrong way. It was evidently meant in jest but again it something that will be held against him.
All he can do to silence his critics is put on a performance tomorrow night against the league leaders! Victory for Paris Saint-Germain will finally put a mark at long last on this title race from our point of view. And we need an inspired Zlatan to achieve that!