Ibra double secures PSG silverware
Paris Saint-Germain continue to warm up nicely ahead of the start of the new Ligue 1 season next Friday. Thanks to a Zlatan Ibrahimovic double, the French titleholders secured a second consecutive Trophee des Champions title with a 2-0 win over last campaign's Coupe de France winners, EA Guingamp, in Beijing.
After the Swede's early double at the Workers Stadium, PSG goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu saved a Mustapha Yatabare penalty to ensure that the French capital outfit claimed their fourth piece of silverware in the past 13 months.
It was a relatively convincing performance, but Les Parisiens' continued overreliance on Ibrahimovic was also evident once again. The 32-year-old was in insatiable form in the first half, picking up where he left off in the recent 6-2 friendly win over Kitchee in Hong Kong -- in which he scored three times -- to find the net twice early on. The opener was particularly special, as he curled in a lovely effort from the edge of the area after losing his man.
While it was vintage Ibrahimovic, though, it is difficult to not wonder how PSG would have fared without him.
Once the Swedish superstar had bagged his brace, the Ligue 1 titleholders took their foot off the gas and lost the attacking verve they showed in the first half-hour. Even the introduction of Edinson Cavani just after the hour mark -- as well as the subsequent change in formation to accommodate the Uruguayan -- could not produce a second wind.
Ibrahimovic shows no signs of slowing down, despite approaching his 33rd birthday, and he continues to look ruthless in front of goal. However, the incessant transfer speculation regarding Cavani's future suggests that PSG are still reluctant to consider life without the Scandinavian to the point where El Matador's importance is still being questioned. That dependency on Ibrahimovic is understandable to a point, while he remains in his current form, but the problem is that with age come injuries and a gradual drop in form.
Will the side from the French capital be made to pay for their continued overreliance on their talisman later on in this coming season? It has only taken them so far in the past -- domestic glory but not further than the quarterfinals of the Champions League -- and a greater sharing of the goal-scoring burden between PSG's two main stars is needed.
Cavani featuring for just under half an hour inhibited Laurent Blanc's ability to experiment with new ways for the two strikers to combine ahead of the start of the Ligue 1 season -- PSG visit Reims on Friday -- next week.
Had the Cavani not missed the Kitchee clash because of the virus that delayed his arrival in Asia, perhaps Blanc would have been able to start both he and Ibrahimovic together against Guingamp. As it is, the French capital outfit enter the coming Championnat season still seeking new ways to effectively incorporate Cavani into the team's style of play.
For Blanc, though, there will be a great deal of personal satisfaction out of this victory. Not only is it the first piece of silverware of the season, to alleviate any potential early pressure on the tactician, it is also his fourth Trophee des Champions triumph, which makes him the most-decorated coach in the history of the fixture.
Le President will be pleased to see Ibrahimovic finding his feet earlier in the season than usual -- the Swede is a notoriously slow starter -- but will also be frustrated that Cavani was not available to him a little earlier this summer.
However, one bonus for Blanc and the team this preseason has been the excellent form of Jean-Christophe Bahebeck. The 21-year-old continued his impressive preseason campaign with another excellent performance, and it was the PSG youth academy product that won the penalty that allowed Ibrahimovic to score his second. With Ezequiel Lavezzi still to return to training after World Cup duty, Bahebeck could be in line to feature at Reims.
Sirigu's penalty save was another plus point. The Italian goalkeeper showed that he can be relied upon to compensate for the lack of authority boasted by the temporary Marquinhos-Zoumana Camara central defensive partnership that is expected to start next Friday in the absence of Thiago Silva and David Luiz who are, like Lavezzi, still on holiday.
Overall, it was a solid start to the season and a sign that PSG are ready to once again assert their dominance over Ligue 1 before building up steam ahead of another Champions League assault. If Ibrahimovic can hit the ground running, and Blanc can come up with the right formula to successfully get the best out of both the Swede and Cavani at the same time, then PSG can go from strength to strength.
Considering that they were without a number of regular starters in Beijing, the style of play from last term was largely unchanged, and there is plenty still to come from the champions.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.