How will Blanc overcome Ibra, Cavani absences?

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Paris Saint-Germain prepare to welcome RSC Anderlecht to the Parc des Princes for Tuesday’s Champions League Group C clash, but will potentially be without both star strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani. Victory will confirm the French champions’ place in the next stage of the competition, but manager Laurent Blanc could be about to experience something that has yet to cause him a headache this season.

A fortnight ago, PSG thumped Anderlecht 5-0 at the Constant Vanden Stock and the Belgian champions are not expected to pose a much greater challenge this time around. Ibrahimovic scored four of the capital club's five that night, Cavani the other. It was the first time that both featured on the same score sheet when playing together.

The only question it seemed was how to get them to play together and score prolifically as a unit.

On Tuesday, Blanc could go from feast to famine and be without both through injury. Ibrahimovic missed Friday’s 4-0 demolition of Ligue 1 strugglers FC Lorient, but Cavani featured and scored twice. The Uruguayan has since picked up a hamstring strain and was not named in the squad, while Blanc confirmed Ibra is also not fully fit and that he will “exercise extreme caution” in using him.

It is safe to say that the talismanic Swede will start on the bench at best against Les Mauves, only coming on if PSG are in desperate need of his ingenuity.

Assuming both are absent, Blanc can still continue with the 4-3-3 that has served his side so well this season. The only problem is there is no natural focal point in that formation without Ibrahimovic or Cavani. Ezequiel Lavezzi often played through the middle under Carlo Ancelotti last season, but the Argentine is not the most clinical of options.

Jeremy Menez can also fulfil that function, but like Lavezzi is also not the most prolific when played in the most advanced positions.

Hervin Ongenda would have been another possibility in that role, given the score against Anderlecht two weeks ago and the nature of their poor performance, but he has been left out altogether. Blanc was perhaps not comfortable enough to play the 18-year-old in such an important match. However, there is another possibility that presented itself in the form of Javier Pastore’s return from his dubious recent injury on Friday.

The enigmatic playmaker replaced Thiago Motta in the 69th minute against Lorient and received a warm reception from fans when many expected booing for his lacklustre showings so far this season. Pastore fared well, looking energetic and as though he is looking to prove a point, but only had 21 minutes to impress Blanc. Given Le President’s positive opinion of the Argentine, he will be in contention to face Anderlecht.

Should he play, there is a chance that he will come in behind two strikers or a more intriguing possibility that PSG may play with a sort of “false nine” complexion. With Pastore, Lavezzi, Menez and the in-form Lucas Moura, Blanc has plenty of pace, creativity and technical ability at his disposal, but little clinical edge.

Going with Moura and Menez with Pastore just behind, the need for a focal point of the attack is negated, at least in theory.

The big concern is that the Argentine has been in reliable form and changing the attacking dynamic in such a drastic way could be a big risk. It may be more tempting to stick with Lavezzi on the left, moving Menez inside and keeping Moura on the right to continue his impressive recent form. Pastore could come into the centre of midfield at the expense of one of Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti or Blaise Matuidi if Blanc feels strongly that Pastore deserves to start, but that has not worked so far this year.

One positive to offset the uncertainty surrounding Ibrahimovic and Cavani is Thiago Silva makes his return to the squad from injury, having been missing since PSG’s draw with AS Monaco in September. The Brazilian has been called up by national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari for the November friendlies, along with PSG teammates Maxwell and Marquinhos, and will be keen to prove his fitness. In the expected absence of Ibrahimovic, Silva will take the captaincy straight back, despite Motta filling in well with both unavailable against Lorient.

Although defeat against Anderlecht would not be fatal, victory means PSG are guaranteed their spot in the next round ahead of time and all but assured that they will also finish on top of Group C. Winning would also allow Blanc to make a greater number of changes to his side in the remaining games against Olympiakos and Benfica, assuming he does not against the Belgians. With an out-of-sorts OGC Nice side looming on Saturday, he has the opportunity to do so.

However, the momentum built up by the side at this time is too great. PSG need to keep winning in order to continue to put ground between themselves and their rivals domestically and in Europe. Adrien Rabiot whispered the word “invincible” following the victory over Lorient. In order to accomplish such an immense feat, there must be no mercy shown at any point, even against the Champions League whipping boys.

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