Indomitable Ibrahimovic sparkles in five-star PSG triumph
Paris Saint-Germain hit their stride on Sunday when AS Saint-Etienne were the visitors to the Parc des Princes, crushing Les Verts 5-0 to move second in the early-season Ligue 1 table.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was once again central to the French champions' success -- bagging a treble when he was not even in peak condition -- but strike partner Edinson Cavani also got in on the act with a spectacular strike, and Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier added a calamitous own goal.
PSG's 0-0 draw with Evian Thonon Gaillard one week before has now been well and truly forgotten.
Before the match, most of the talk centred on whether Ibrahimovic would play much of a part in the clash. The Swede missed the stalemate in Annecy after he picked up a minor injury in the 2-0 win over SC Bastia, but returned to training at the beginning of the week leading up to the clash with Christophe Galtier's men after returning to his home country for a short rehabilitation spell.
Keen to prove himself fully recovered in order to be sure of his place in the Sweden squad for the Scandinavians' next two matches, he put on an absolute clinic.
Ibrahimovic's hat trick shoots him immediately to the top of Le Championnat's goal-scoring charts with five for the season but more impressively, it was the PSG No. 10's sixth treble in the capital club's colours.
The numbers continue to astonish. In 96 matches for Les Parisiens in all competitions, the 32-year-old has scored 83 goals and provided 27 assists. Comparing PSG with and without Ibrahimovic became futile a long time ago; this was simply further emphasis of the player's indispensability to Laurent Blanc's men and an illustration of everything that was missing in the Evian draw that he was absent for.
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What is curious is that Cavani, his strike partner, once again failed to step up in his absence. However, with the Swede restored to the side, el Matador suddenly looked like more of a threat again. Admittedly the Uruguayan found the net in emphatic fashion against Bastia once Ibrahimovic was taken off with an injury early on, but against Saint-Etienne he profited from his teammate's presence.
Ibrahimovic's virtuoso performance put Cavani under pressure to respond, and the PSG No. 9 did just that, netting a stunning strike from the edge of the area to remind his many detractors exactly what he is capable of.
It appears, whether the South American likes it or not, that playing alongside Ibrahimovic is capable of bringing out the best in him. Perhaps a purple patch of form for the Swede will see Cavani rediscover the same heights he scaled with PSG when he first arrived last season.
Equally deserving of credit on the night was Javier Pastore. The Argentine has come into form at the start of this season, and el Flaco managed to keep French international Blaise Matuidi out of the team for the match. Pastore -- making his 100th PSG appearance -- took his chance and delivered another excellent display from his position in the midfield three. If the 25-year-old continues in this form, it will give Blanc a selection headache in the midfield as the season progresses.
Also worthy of note was Maxwell, who reclaimed his starting role at left-back from Lucas Digne and provided two assists on the night in an excellent performance
It might be nit-picking for now, but PSG's victory also exposed Lucas Moura's questionable contribution. The Brazilian was a peripheral figure against Saint-Etienne, and although this has not been the case all season long, he must learn to be more decisive on a more regular basis if he is to justify his regular place in Blanc's starting XI.
Aside from that though, it was an excellent result thanks to a good team performance.
Les Parisiens were helped massively by the fact that Saint-Etienne were tired out by their UEFA Europa League exertions on Thursday, but PSG were also much improved from their dour showing against Evian the week before.
Three consecutive clean sheets is a great way for David Luiz and his new teammates to have started Ligue 1, but will hope to be able to take this current defensive form into the UEFA Champions League when it starts after the current international break.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.