Verratti, Ibrahimovic on song as PSG pummel Nantes

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Thiago Motta celebrates his goal with Blaise Matuidi.OtherThiago Motta celebrates his goal with Blaise Matuidi.

Paris Saint-Germain roared back into action at the Parc des Princes in superb style on Sunday, comprehensively dismantling a suicidal FC Nantes side 5-0 in their first home game of 2014.

The champions’ victory re-establishes their five-point lead over title rivals AS Monaco at the top of Ligue 1, while also creating a 13-point gap between them and fourth-placed AS Saint-Etienne. A Zlatan Ibrahimovic double as well as goals from Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and Edinson Cavani did the damage for Laurent Blanc’s men, but they were helped by the woeful visiting defence.

• Report: PSG 5-0 Nantes
• Ligue 1 review: PSG maintain gap

Although he was not among the goals on the night, it was arguably Marco Verratti who caught the eye alongside the insatiable Ibrahimovic. The diminutive Italian was pivotal in the build-up to two of PSG’s goals; winning the penalty for the hosts’ second of the night before brilliantly intercepting the ball before playing the Swede in to square for strike partner Cavani to make it four.

It was an excellent response from Verratti to one of his poorest showings of the season in midweek against Girondins de Bordeaux in the Coupe de la Ligue, where a stray pass contributed to an equaliser that fortunately did not matter eventually. The Italian was back to his usual best against Nantes, playing a prominent role from midfield and looking very impressive on the ball. The 21-year-old was withdrawn after 64 minutes to massive applause, with the score at 5-0, in order to ensure maximum freshness while the team is one midfield option light because of Adrien Rabiot’s knee injury.

Otherwise, it was Ibrahimovic who once again attracted the most admiring of glances.

The talismanic striker ended what, by his extremely high standards, could be classed as a drought, two consecutive matches (across League and cup) without scoring, with the first half penalty won by Verratti. Then in the second 45, he unselfishly squared the ball for Cavani to net his first goal of 2014 after an excellent tackle and pass from Verratti before lashing home after substitute Javier Pastore had a shot blocked to complete the scoring.

After his brilliant showing against Bordeaux in the Coupe de la Ligue in midweek, Pastore was not afforded a rare league start by Blanc. "El Flaco" came on in place of Verratti with the fans eager to see if he could continue his recent revival and cap it with a first home goal since last January in the Coupe de France against Toulouse. It wasn’t to be, though, and PSG could not find a way to breach a porous Nantes back line.

Ibrahimovic’s double moves him onto 17 goals for the season, just 13 away from last campaign’s total of 30, while he also pulls clear of Monaco’s James Rodriguez in the assist stakes with nine. Cavani now has 13 for the term and breaks his duck for the year, having gone three games without finding the net since his double against AS Saint-Etienne in the Coupe de la Ligue at the end of 2013.

Another major positive for Blanc and his players will be the fact that they kept their first clean sheet in more than a month.

Not since their victory over FC Sochaux-Montbeliard, also a 5-0 drubbing at the Parc des Princes, had PSG gone an entire 90 minutes or more without conceding a goal. That run was ended after three league matches, seven in all competitions, and the champions are now just two goals worse off than third-placed Lille OSC who have the best defence in Le Championnat having shipped just 12 goals. In truth, Salvatore Sirigu was little more than a spectator for the 90 minutes and was barely forced to make a save.

However, one possible negative for Blanc will be that neither Ezequiel Lavezzi nor Lucas Moura were able to adequately take their chance to impress up top alongside Ibrahimovic and Cavani.

The pair were given 45 minutes apiece and neither were able to significantly contribute, although the Brazilian did look lively as ever after being introduced. Perhaps Le President’s so-called strongest XI needs a rethink with regards to that position and a chance could open up once again for Jeremy Menez, who was left frustrated on the bench as his team cruised home.

Most importantly, though, PSG’s winning momentum continues and the five-point lead over title rivals Monaco was immediately re-established. Blanc took no unnecessary risks and immediately brought his key midfielders off once the game was effectively over, in order to preserve them while he scours the transfer market for another option to bolster the ranks before the end of January.

The capital club can now look forward to Wednesday’s Coupe de France clash with Montpellier HSC, knowing that they are under no extra pressure in Le Championnat. Having never really gotten out of third gear against Nantes, the players should not be too tired ahead of the cup tie, a bonus if extra time is needed.

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