The news that UEFA reduced Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s ban would not only have thrilled the Paris Saint-Germain supporters but pleased the neutrals as well. Meanwhile, the Barcelona contingent would not have been as welcoming of the decision and understandably so. Given that the Swede is now available to face the Catalans in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, it completely changes the dynamics of the encounter against the Catalans with the Parisians standing a much better chance than they would have without him.
PSG was an emerging force last season but with the acquisitions of Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura and in particular, Ibrahimovic, they are a serious threat this time around, even for the likes of Barcelona. They have been much more solid at the back this season but it’s the talismanic figure of Ibrahimovic up front that’s been the decisive difference.
If you remove the striker’s goals from PSG’s tally in their current league campaign, they would be 17 points worse off and languishing in the bottom half of the table. Their record without the front man in Ligue 1 and the Champions League this season further emphasizes his importance to them. They failed to win any of the four games he was absent for, only managing three draws and a defeat.
What’s even more worrying is that PSG scored only 3 goals in his absence. Not only is Ibrahimovic their top scorer and that of the league as well with 25 goals, but he’s also scored nearly half of his side’s tally in the league this season. The league leaders don’t have another striker anywhere near as prolific as him, especially since the departure of Nene who was their top scorer last season.
He is their chief goal scorer
Ibrahimovic is PSG’s premier goal scorer but he’s also vital to their system. He’s the only target-man they have available and without him, they aren’t able to play five in midfield with just the lone striker effectively. He doesn’t just hold up the ball, he’s always heavily involved in the link-up play as well. He’s the focal point of their attack and there is no denying that they struggle without him.
When PSG face Barcelona over two legs, putting away their chances which are likely to be few and far between, will be essential to toppling the Spanish giants. Ibrahimovic is crucial to them as a clinical finisher having bagged 31 goals in all competitions with only Ezequiel Lavezzi reaching double figures among the rest of the squad with just 11.
As far as the games against Barcelona are concerned, Ibrahimovic gives PSG a boost in the aerial battles. The Catalans have never been comfortable with aerial assaults and the towering Swede is the perfect candidate to take advantage of that. Not only does his presence in the air come into play from set-pieces but he will also be a good target up front for the likes of Javier Pastore and Marco Veratti to launch their long-balls towards, a tactic they may have to resort to more frequently against the Blaugrana than they would against other sides.
He is a potent aerial threat
In a duel with Barcelona, the lone striker may face long periods of isolation up the pitch and so Ibrahimovic’s exceptional hold-up play will inevitably come into play, especially on the counter-attack. Not only is he great at shielding the ball but he also possesses a good range of passing that enables him to pick out one of the forward runs of his team-mates to good effect. These are qualities they would sorely miss from a tactical perspective in his absence.
However, it’s not all about tactics and strategies. Games like these are frequently decided by a moment of brilliance and that’s just one more thing Ibrahimovic brings to the table. This powerhouse of a striker is not all about brute force, he has the aptitude to indulge in the more delicate and artistic side of the game and often does so with sublime execution. Whether it’s a stunning volley, a delightful chip or a clever knock-down, the 31 year is capable of pulling something out of the hat at any given moment and hence possess a threat to Barcelona that none of the other Parisian players can boast of.
He can produce something special
Furthermore, it’s no secret that the confident and sometimes even arrogant striker enjoys facing his former clubs. In fact, he scored against Barcelona last season in the red and black of AC Milan when the two sides met in the Champions League. Granted, he only scored once in the three games he played against them in the competition but that would have been enough for them to be weary of him this time around.
Additionally, he scored against his former teams Juventus and Inter Milan on numerous occasions during his time with the Rossoneri.Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that despite the big-money recruitment of so many exciting talents, Ibrahimovic stands out as the star amongst them and is irreplaceable for PSG at the moment. His mere presence on the pitch will give the rest of the team a lift and as long as he remains on it, they will believe that they have a chance even against the might of Barcelona.
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