Javier Pastore spectacularly shook off six months of poor form to score one and set up two others as Paris Saint-Germain beat Girondins de Bordeaux 3-1 at the Stade Chaban Delmas on Tuesday to reach the Coupe de la Ligue semifinals.
The Argentine was on target in the first half and provided two late strikes for Adrien Rabiot and Blaise Matuidi as PSG eventually overcame coach Laurent Blanc’s former club to reach the last four of either domestic cup for the first time since Qatar Sports Investments took over in 2011.
Following the 2-1 victory over Ajaccio in Ligue 1 on Saturday, "Le President" rang the changes with Pastore one of seven players to come into the starting XI, and the enigmatic playmaker, who had made an impressive cameo appearance in Corsica, was the pick of the bunch in the Gironde.
The 24-year-old broke the stalemate at the end of a nondescript first half, firing in a low finish after some excellent work from the lively Lucas Moura, who himself had been afforded a deserved but rare start.
Then, with just five minutes remaining and the score 1-1 following Andre Biyogo Poko's 48th-minute goal, which drew Bordeaux level, Pastore demonstrated his sublime potential once again, slipping a delightfully simple and intelligent pass into the path of the onrushing Rabiot, who slotted home his second goal of the season.
Three minutes later, El Flaco provided another, this time teeing up Matuidi via substitute Edinson Cavani with more expert vision to complete the scoring.
While there can be no debating that Pastore has endured a woeful start to the season, this was exactly the sort of performance that Blanc, the capital club’s owners and, crucially, the fans have been waiting for.
It is proof that his talent, which can be lost inside him at times, has not diminished. Pastore clung to his flash of brilliance from the Ajaccio match, using it as a springboard to spectacular effect, and Blanc will no doubt reward him for that with a starting berth in Le Championnat against FC Nantes at the Parc des Princes on Sunday.
This was PSG’s third win over Bordeaux this season, but the result is more significant because it demonstrates how Blanc has significantly bettered Carlo Ancelotti in some areas since taking over in the French champions’ hot seat.
A part of that success is down to the increased maturity of a squad that has played together for more than one season, of course, but PSG have also bettered themselves in the league and now the Coupe de la Ligue, while another quarterfinal berth in the Champions League is a distinct possibility.
On Tuesday, the former France coach once again demonstrated excellent tactical nous and personnel skills, rotating his side significantly and eventually reaping the dividends from those decisions.
One particular bonus will have been the accomplished performance of 19-year-old defender Marquinhos. The Brazilian international was deployed in an unfamiliar role at right-back.
Although he has experience in that position from his time with AS Roma, it is a far from his natural role, but the Selecao star was impressive throughout. Solid and calm, he put in a mature performance and, although it is not an ideal long-term position for him, Marquinhos' adaptability is a timely boost for Blanc.
Following Christophe Jallet’s recent surgery on a back problem, the coach had looked likely to dip into the transfer market in that position, but now it appears that Marquinhos might be able to share the load when Gregory van der Wiel is unable to start.
Also worthy of note was Rabiot, who netted the all-important second after playing a role in Bordeaux’s goal, although Marco Verratti's poor pass must also be blamed for allowing Biyogo Poko to intercept and score with a simple finish.
The victory moves PSG one step closer to the Stade de France final, with their chances of also reaching the latter stages of the Coupe de France still looking good following their 5-2 thrashing of Stade Brestois last week.
An improvement on both of last year’s domestic cup showings was one of the things asked of the side at the start of this season, and they are delivering at present.
This ability to take the two trophies seriously has enabled Blanc to fully rotate his sizable squad and keep the majority of his players happy with regular matches, something that did not always happen under Ancelotti.