Ibrahimovic treble leads PSG past Nice

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty ImagesPSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic catapulted himself straight into the Ligue 1 goal-scoring race with a hat trick in Saturday's 3-1 win over Nice.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic led Paris Saint-Germain to a 3-1 win over OGC Nice at the Parc des Princes on Saturday with his second hat-trick in as many weeks. The Swede followed his blistering four-goal haul against RSC Anderlecht in the Champions League last month with another treble that moves Laurent Blanc's side five points clear at the top of Ligue 1.

- Match report: PSG 3-1 Nice

PSG moved into a two-goal lead before Nemanja Pejcinovic was allowed to register a consolation strike for Les Aiglons in the second half. However, Claude Puel's side could not keep the talismanic Ibrahimovic out and he completed the scoring at 3-1 to the defending champions. Following AS Monaco's 1-1 draw against Evian Thonon Gaillard at the Stade Louis II yesterday, the result has the potential to be an important moment in the title race even at this early stage.

Although it was an improved display from the 1-1 midweek draw against Anderlecht in the Champions League, with PSG rediscovering their clinical side, it is impossible to look further than Ibrahimovic when identifying the greatest positives. In this sort of form, it is little wonder that the towering striker has been touted as a possible FIFA Ballon d'Or winner. Ibra now has five goals in his last 10 matches and 15 from 16 games in all competitions this season.

The campaign started with many wondering if the Swede could possibly replicate last year's incredible form with the addition of Edinson Cavani to the team. Those questions have been answered in spectacular style after a slow start to the term. El Matador may have one goal more than Ibrahimovic at present, but the tall 32-year-old has moved into contention at the top of the Ligue 1 scoring charts just a goal behind Monaco's Falcao and teammate Cavani. The two even showed signs of improved link-up in the second half; the Uruguayan winning the penalty that Ibra converted, following a delicate chipped pass.

Special praise must go to Lucas Moura who, despite the frustration of starting on the bench behind Javier Pastore, still managed to cram an impressive performance into a 16-minute cameo. Less than a minute after replacing the Argentine, the Brazilian provided Ibrahimovic with his hat-trick thanks to a perfectly weighted cross similar to the one he set Cavani up with against FC Lorient last week. Moura has been in impressive form in recent weeks and it was something of a surprise to see him dropped, but his recent omission from the Brazilian national team appears to have reinvigorated him.

On the other hand, Pastore was better but still continues to pose some problems for Blanc in midfield. The enigmatic playmaker put in arguably his best performance of the season so far, certainly in the opening 45 minutes. However, that is not saying much considering how poor he has been so far this season.

Pastore looked calm and more confident on the ball when he received it, but an encouraging display from him paled as soon as Moura was introduced. The Brazilian's direct approach immediately exposed the Argentine's inefficiency and underlined why Moura should not be taken out of the starting XI at present, certainly not for the sake of accommodating Pastore.

Gregory van der Wiel's resurgence continued with another impressive showing at right-back. The Dutchman, recently recalled to the Netherlands squad for the upcoming November friendlies after having to withdraw for the final World Cup qualifiers in October, provided yet another assist for Ibrahimovic's opener. The 25-year-old has caught the eye in recent weeks, particularly against SL Benfica and RSC Anderlecht in the Champions League and Olympique de Marseille where he provided assists. While plenty is being made of Ibrahimovic and Cavani's struggles to feature effectively in the same starting XI, van der Wiel's good understanding with the Uruguayan on the right is paying off in its own way with Ibra the main beneficiary.

Nice, unlike Anderlecht, set up to play against PSG rather than stifle the French champions into complacency. Former PSG men Mathieu Bodmer and Didier Digard featured from the start for the Cote d'Azur outfit, but Bodmer had his Parc des Princes homecoming cut short through injury. Digard, however, was impressive, intelligently laying the foundations for Les Aiglons' consolation goal that Pejcinovic converted following an impressive Christian Bruls cross.

Elsewhere, Adrien Rabiot filled in brilliantly for the absent Marco Verratti who missed out with a knee injury. The teenage sensation is developing at a rapid pace and grows with maturity in every passing match. The return of Thiago Silva to captain the side from the start was another big boost. Favoured over Marquinhos, possibly to ease his transition back into the first team, it is likely that we will see him paired with his young fellow Brazilian after the international break.

Overall, the 3-1 victory was a big result; PSG taking their first real opportunity to pull away from Monaco and bouncing back immediately from the disappointment of their performance against Anderlecht in the Champions League. Having looked as if he would not figure prominently in the race to become France's top goal scorer this year, Ibrahimovic has roared back into contention and now only trails Falcao and Cavani by one goal.

That is good news for Sweden who now need Ibra to maintain his stellar form in front of goal as they tackle Portugal over a two-legged play-off for a place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. For PSG, it is two weeks of deserved rest before travelling to face Stade de Reims. Fittingly, the champagne side are the last to have beaten PSG in a competitive fixture, that coming back in March, which only served to spur PSG to their incredible current run of 24 matches unbeaten in Ligue 1.

The possibility of equalling and breaking FC Nantes' 32-game record is edging closer for Blanc and his men.

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