Cavani brilliance helps PSG past Saint-Etienne

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Edinson Cavani scores for Paris Saint-Germain against St Etienne.GettyImagesEdinson Cavani was the star once more for Paris Saint-Germain.

When Paris Saint-Germain paid a French football record 64 million euro transfer fee to Napoli for Edinson Cavani back in the summer, questions were immediately asked over whether or not he was worth such a hideously expensive amount. Less than six months later, though, those reservations over the Uruguayan's valuation are disappearing by the game. Thanks largely to Cavani, PSG managed to dump the holders out of the Coupe de la Ligue on Wednesday with a narrow 2-1 win after extra time.

El Matador netted both for Laurent Blanc's side, while former PSG man Mevlut Erding grabbed one for Les Verts. The double were Cavani's 12th and 13th goals in his past 12 competitive games for the capital club, and he did exactly what he was bought to do: score goals when there seems to be little or no way through in games. Last year, PSG lacked a cutting edge at times in front of goal despite Zlatan Ibrahimovic's sensational exploits. In the absence of the suspended Swede, the South American was there to find the net when it really counted and turn a game that would have resulted in a draw or a loss last year, into a 2-1 victory.

Despite the prolonged evening, Cavani put in a performance of the highest quality and was a worthy match winner, even if his teammates were not all entirely convincing over the 90 minutes. The 26-year-old was in excellent form, putting in an energetic performance and capping it with two very well taken goals. Controlling Marco Verratti’s brilliant chipped cross after some good build-up play between the Italian and left-back Lucas Digne, he took the ball around Stephane Ruffier before firing home the first after 25 minutes.

Over the entire 120 minutes, Cavani’s work rate was sensational. The Uruguayan was effective at both ends of the pitch, going forward well attempting to create chances but also getting back to help out his midfield, and even the defence. It is not just a one-off story from Wednesday’s match, though: It has been true of his efforts over the whole season so far. His second of the night once again featured Verratti. The diminutive Italian produced a perfect lofted pass into the path of substitute Jeremy Menez, and the Frenchman’s cross picked out El Matador’s instinctive and brilliantly timed run, with Cavani applying a clinical final touch.

There may still be questions over whether or not he plays better on his own up front without Ibrahimovic in the same side, although they have both been scoring goals alongside one another of late. But, with or without the Swede, it makes little difference; Cavani scores the goals that he was bought to score, whether he is on the right or in the middle.

Another positive on the night was the performance of Lucas Moura, who was given a rare chance to impress from the start in the absence of Ibrahimovic. Played on right, the Brazilian international displayed lightning pace and frightening dribbling skills, producing a vibrant performance despite having no goal to show for it when substituted with 20 minutes left. Few players in this PSG side are as direct as Moura, even Menez, who is normally very good at having that sort of impact but struggled on the night. Blanc perhaps regretted taking the Brazilian off so early, as the hosts struggled more than they had already done in the second 45. Without the Selecao star, PSG had no effective creative outlet going forward for the remainder of the match despite a much improved substitute appearance from Javier Pastore.

Verratti, as mentioned, was excellent once again and ran himself into the ground. Despite cramping up badly towards the end, he managed to provide Menez with the crucial pass that allowed the Frenchman to cross for Cavani’s winner. Verratti was vital to both goals, and his recent performances have been some of his best and most accomplished since joining the French champions. Digne’s solid showing was another positive, filling in excellently for Maxwell and continuing to grow into the left-back spot while the Brazilian nurses a wound that was inflicted by an over-zealous Ibrahimovic against FC Sochaux-Montbeliard a fortnight ago. With Maxwell struggling to overcome the problem, Digne looks likely to start against his former club Lille OSC on Sunday.

Menez’s booing when appearing as a substitute was a significant negative point but one that was fully expected given his recent lackadaisical approach. He appears to be living on borrowed time at the Parc des Princes, but his assist for Cavani’s winner will win him back some faith and prolong what now looks like an inevitable separation. Extra time was not ideal ahead of Lille clash on Sunday, but with the victory secured and safe passage to the quarterfinal stage confirmed, it should not have a huge impact with only one game left before the winter break.

Despite the positives, though, PSG have still been unable to beat Saint-Etienne over 90 minutes recently and have not done so since 2011. However, it is the sixth time this season that PSG have scored later than the 86th minute to seal a win with Blanc’s side making a reputation for themselves as a group who do not stop fighting until the end. With their goal of having a chance to win the Coupe de Ligue for a record fourth time still intact, the side from the capital will be confident heading to the Stade Chaban-Delmas to face Girondins de Bordeaux in the quarterfinals in mid-January.

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