Ibrahimovic in inspired form as PSG convince in win over Benfica

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

"Teams have more respect now for Paris Saint-Germain than they did last year. We can be serious contenders for the Champions League title," said Zlatan Ibrahimovic ahead of PSG's clash with Benfica.

If anyone was skeptical about PSG's credentials following those remarks, the 90 minutes that followed will have wiped away many of those concerns.

The French champions' 3-0 demolition of the Portuguese side on Wednesday night was worthy of Barcelona and any of the competition's other hot favourites this season. In 30 first half minutes at the Parc des Princes, Laurent Blanc's side comprehensively swept away their opponents and main rivals for top spot in Group C.

It was a thoroughly dominant showing, demonstrating how lethal PSG can be when their stellar collection of talent clicks into gear. The French champions lost none of their possession-based style that has become a regular feature this campaign, but were inspired to a ruthless showing in front of goal by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede struck twice, either side of a Marquinhos goal, to send PSG into the half time break comfortable and in full control. They never loosened that grip, despite not pushing for further goals, and move top of Group C with an impressive victory.

However, it was not just the score that was impressive on the night, it was the whole performance. Only Barcelona have produced a showing in the Champions League over the last 10 years that can boast more than 812 passes with a completion percentage as high as 97 percent.

Ibrahimovic may have been the PSG ringleader, but Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi and Marquinhos, who were all outstanding, aided him brilliantly. In such an excellent overall team performance it is difficult to single out a few individuals when so many were impressive, but those three were impeccable for PSG on the night.

A raucous Parc des Princes was buzzing for the visit of Jorge Jesus' side with a large Portuguese contingent in the crowd thanks to the sizeable expatriate community in Paris. It took less than five minutes for Ibrahimovic to silence them. The Swede tapped home from close range after Gregory Van der Wiel's pass, capping a beautiful passage of play for the hosts that featured a delightful flicked pass from Verratti.

There was much more to it than just that goal though. Even by that early stage it was clear that the soon-to-be 32-year-old was in the mood to celebrate his birthday a day early, immediately pulling all of the strings for Blanc's side and looking more vibrant than he did against Toulouse at the weekend.

By the time he headed home his second goal 25 minutes later he was running the match. Meeting a Thiago Motta corner, he towered above Ezequiel Garay to powerfully nod the ball in as PSG threatened to run riot. He also played a big role in the second goal; his slick back-heeled pass allowed Verratti to scoop the ball into the path of Matuidi who turned it back across goal for Marquinhos to fire home his third goal since arriving at the club this summer.

The 19-year-old Brazilian is growing in confidence all the time and while keeping his impressive goal-scoring run going, he looked calm and composed at the back and made a number of important interceptions. Matuidi was as irrepressible as ever and Verratti is showing tremendous maturity for a player who last year looked as though he was going to become severely handicapped by a questionable attitude.

If Paris Saint-Germain did not already have Europe's attention thanks to their ambitious transfer exploits over the past two years, then they have it after comprehensively dismantling last season’s Europa League runners-up.

The most striking thing about the performance though, more than the destructive nature of the first 30 minutes, was the desire of the players to be first to the ball. PSG displayed a hunger, particularly in the first half, that was echoed all over the pitch by Blanc's side and ensured that Benfica never got into the match.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
GettyImagesZlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates his opener for PSG.

It was a complete showing, devastating at times, and thoroughly satisfying for those who had claimed that the team has not been playing at its true potential. The first 45 minutes was a demonstration of exactly how awesome that potential is, and a promise of further spectacles to come in Europe and at home.

Comfortably the best that the capital club have played all season, the performance eclipses the 2-0 win in Bordeaux that had been universally hailed as the team’s best prior performance.

The victory in Bordeaux was good, but it was impressive more because of the circumstances and the fact that PSG exhibited impressive control of the game, despite coming off the back of an ill-timed international break. It was against a very limited side though and Benfica were expected to run Blanc's side close pre-match.

Aside from Edinson Cavani failing to find the net in a quiet performance, there was little for Blanc to complain about. Alex was brought off late in the game as a precaution to ensure that he is fit to face Marseille on Sunday. Zoumana Camara replaced him. The Parc des Princes crowd also held their collective breath when Marquinhos went down after a collision with giant striker Oscar Cardozo in second half, although he turned out to be fine.

Jeremy Menez's temper tantrum will be one small concern, despite Blanc dismissing it in his post-match press conference. The French international, still in the process of returning from injury, stormed off when he learned that he would not be making an appearance from the substitutes bench and was promptly sent home by PSG President Nasser Al-Khelaifi according to reports.

Ibrahimovic, in touch of class, is reported to have jetted off to Sarajevo after the match to visit a terminally ill child who has stated that his final wish is to be able to meet Zlatan. Hajrudin Kamenjas, an 8-year-old Bosnian suffering from leukaemia, reportedly only has one month to live and when the Swede was informed of the child's story he vowed to "see what he could do."

Overall, it was a highly satisfying performance and a thoroughly deserved victory. PSG open up a three-point lead at the top of Group C and the showing demonstrated Champions League winning credentials. If Blanc's side can beat Marseille on Sunday now, this season's dream is well and truly bigger than ever.


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