PSG out of sync in draw vs. Reims
Paris Saint-Germain got their 2014-15 Ligue 1 campaign going, away to Stade de Reims on Friday, and for the fourth time in as many seasons, the capital club emerged without a victory. The French champions battled to a 2-2 draw at Stade Auguste Delaune thanks to a Zlatan Ibrahimovic double.
But Laurent Blanc's men should have been comfortably ahead before the hosts took a 2-1 lead after falling behind early on Ibrahimovic's early goal. Ex-PSG youth coach Jean-Luc Vasseur -- "the French Jose Mourinho" -- was denied a memorable Championnat debut victory over his former side as Reims' tactician, but the six-time French champions were good value for their point.
Ibrahimovic once again made the ultimate difference for les Parisiens, scoring twice to ensure they took a point from their opening fixture. The draw helped maintain the Swede's record of never having lost the first game of the season with PSG. However, it was still far from his finest performance since signing for the French giants. The 32-year-old missed a first-half penalty, having also passed up the easiest of chances just moments before when he hit the post from close range, and his second goal was debatable, as it could have easily gone down as a Johnny Placide own goal instead.
But Zlatan is still scoring, even when not necessarily playing at his best. The same cannot be said of his strike partner, Edinson Cavani, though. Despite it being a new season and a fresh chance to impress by returning to his prolific best, El Matador was exactly the same player he has been since the turn of the year. Even at the World Cup with Uruguay, miles away from PSG and his positional problems and struggles with PSG's over-reliance on Ibrahimovic, Cavani was unimpressive.
It was the same story against Reims. The 27-year-old was deployed loosely on the left side of the front three -- with Lucas Moura on the right -- coming into the middle as often as he could, but he still could not take a single chance that came his way. It is now reaching a point where the South American's problem extends outside of what happens on the pitch and in the shadow of Ibrahimovic. This genuinely appears to be something more deep-rooted and personal to Cavani.
The PSG No. 9 proved in the first half of last season that he and the Swede can coexist. It was not always brilliant and at times looked quite awkward, but it worked. Blanc managed to get the pair playing together and both scoring goals before it all stopped suddenly in January of this year for Cavani. Since then, the former SSC Napoli man has not been the same. The continuation of his poor form from the second half of last season into the early part of the new campaign raises serious questions for Blanc.
The most pressing question is whether or not Cavani's mind is in the right place mentally, and if not, why whatever the issue may be was not taken care of over the summer. Despite all the suggestions that it is his role on the pitch position and his failure to develop a rapport with Ibrahimovic, the striker is playing like a man with deeper troubles on his mind.
Cavani was not the only PSG player guilty of a poor performance in Reims, though. Captain Thiago Silva was rushed back into action following the international break in an effort to shore up the defence. But the move had the opposite effect, and Blanc's men shipped two goals before halftime. Lucas, selected at the expense of the talented, homegrown youngster Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, also struggled to impose himself. Blanc's decisions proved to be wrong, particularly not starting one of his most in-form players from preseason. But it did not ultimately prove costly.
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Overall, it is a satisfactory result considering that so many of PSG's regular starters were out resting after their recent returns to training following the World Cup. Blanc would have expected more had it been later on in the season. But with his squad so fragmented right now, it is difficult for him to complain too much.
The Cavani issue certainly continues to give Le President plenty of food for thought. The importance in getting more of his first-choice players back in time for the clash with SC Bastia at Parc des Prince next week will not be lost on the Frenchman, either.
Jonathan Johnson is based in Paris and the voice of PSG TV. He also writes for French Football Weekly. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.