During Paris Saint-Germain’s 1-1 draw with Monaco back in October, the image of Edinson Cavani looking aimlessly up at the sky showed a striker seemingly wondering where it had all gone wrong.
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It was only the ninth week of the season, but a failure to hit the target against Caen, Toulouse and Barcelona in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absence had turned the spotlight directly on the former Napoli forward.
Nothing went Cavani’s way that night. He worked extremely hard, looking to get on the ball at every opportunity, but with 60 minutes gone another chance presented itself, his mistimed swing of the boot caught nothing but air, the ball bobbled wide and the Parc des Princes crowd looked on bemused at what had happened to the striker who had scored 29 goals in Serie A in his final season for Napoli.
Seven months later, Cavani’s season-ending double against Stade de Reims took his tally in Ligue 1 to 18 – two more than his debut campaign in Paris – and his total in all competitions to 30.
Since arriving in France, Cavani has been linked with a move away from the club on an almost weekly basis. Each goal drought brought stories of unhappiness but now, going into the summer transfer window, Laurent Blanc and PSG need to do everything they can to keep the striker in Ligue 1.
After losing to Barcelona in the 2012-13 Champions League quarter-finals, it was suggested that a top-level striker would help the Parisians close the gap. Cavani landed in Paris amid huge fanfare and expectation, but in truth, it hasn’t quite worked as anticipated.
The 16 goals in his first season, plus the 18 in Ligue 1 and six in the Champions League this term represents a good return, yet criticism still remains. On the biggest stage, he’s still not as clinical as was hoped. Against the likes of Reims, Metz and Evian, scoring a couple of goals is what is expected, it’s when Chelsea and Barcelona come to town that a club wants their Dhs258 million (€64m) striker to find the back of the net.
Since joining PSG, Cavani has played four times in the quarter-finals of the Champions League – he is yet to score a single goal. However, there are signs over the past two months of the season that Laurent Blanc has found a way to get the best out of the 28-year-old.
During Saturday’s title parade in Paris, Cavani took to the mic and addressed the crowd, saying: “Merci à tous et à la prochaine saison!” It was short but impactful. “Thanks everyone, see you next season.”
Those words were quite a contrast to an interview he did with the French edition of GQ at the start of May, in which he said: “I would score many more goals if I played as a centre-forward. I want to play as a centre-forward and in that position my performances would certainly improve. It is the role that I prefer, by a long shot. Will I stay at PSG? I might, I might not. I don’t know what could happen.”
Q: Cavani said we’ll see you next year. PSG president “Definitely, Edinson’s the future of the club, he’ll stay & prove to be a top ST.”
— Tarek Khatib (@ADP1113) May 24, 2015
When Ibrahimovic picked up his first heel injury of the season, Cavani played five times in the Swede’s absence, but could only find the net twice. At every point during his time at PSG, the striker has blamed the tactics, but it was clear that rather than Blanc holding him back, it was his own demons stopping him from finding top gear.
Playing 4-3-3, with Ibrahimovic constantly dropping deep to pick up the ball gave the Uruguayan acres of space through the middle to exploit. Defensively, he would have to stay wide and cover the full-back, which perhaps slightly limited his opportunity to hit on the break.
@POAEurope Cavani has an excellent workrate.Considering hes played second fiddle to Zlatan Ibrahimovic his goal return is decent
— الياس (@ily_patel) April 12, 2015
However, in attack, there was nothing stopping Cavani playing through the centre. All too often his movement lacked desire, imagination or even determination. It was joked that he was at times PSG’s best defender. You couldn’t fault his workrate and in the Champions League he has sacrificed himself for the team in order to keep games tight.
During Ibrahimovic’s recent ban, Blanc made a slight tweak to the formation, and it has allowed Cavani to blossom. In his absence, the striker ended his drought of 671 minutes without a Ligue 1 goal and scored four times in the three games Zlatan missed.
Rather than a straight up 4-3-3, Blanc has moved Javier Pastore into the No. 10 role and given the Argentine playmaker the keys to the car. Cavani was allowed to play as a centre-forward and even with Ibrahimovic back in the team, he has scored six goals in four games.
Since ending his drought, the Uruguayan has hit 10 in seven. Blanc’s change has meant that the striker has been able to shake off the defensive responsibilities and look to play a leading role, always trying to make runs off the shoulder of the last defender. The vision of Marco Verratti and Pastore has helped massively, but you can see from the acute finish against Reims, this is a striker now oozing confidence.
In the last seven matches of the season, that trio combined for 12 out of 25 goals and seven assists. Now, it is almost irrelevant where and if Ibrahimovic plays, as the success has come from the combinations between the aforementioned players.
PSG need to be very careful this summer. There will be a temptation to sell Cavani and push to try and sign a bigger name like Angel Di Maria or Paul Pogba – both excellent players, but neither is going to give you 18 league goals a season. It is unlikely the Parisians can make those moves without selling, but letting Cavani go now would mean they would still have to sign another top striker before the start of the season.
— Messi Minutes (@MessiMinutes) May 18, 2015
It would also mean that over the next 12 months they would be losing both Cavani and Ibrahimovic. The Swede’s contract is up at the end of next season and to have to replace both players, while keeping within the Financial Fair Play constraints, would be close to impossible – without losing quality in the attack.
Blanc’s tweaks seem to have seen Cavani rediscover his smile and PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi clearly wants him to stay, recently stating: “Edinson Cavani is a player I really like. I can tell you that he is very much with us, and the question of his departure has not arisen. Paris loves him and he loves Paris.”
To keep Cavani smitten, PSG should tell him that in 12 months this will be his team. Keeping their current No. 9 will allow PSG to strengthen the midfield and the squad this summer and then they will be free to pursue either Alexandre Lacazette or Nabil Fekir of Lyon next summer to replace Ibrahimovic.
— Paris No Limit™ (@ParisNoLimit) May 26, 2015
It is too easy to look at the small picture and sell the forward to try and sign someone like Di Maria or Pogba. However, if Blanc continues with this new formation, giving the former Palermo forward the freedom that he craves, they have a chance to look further ahead and build and bigger and better squad.
Make the wrong move and they could be playing catch up for the next few transfer windows and they will have to watch Cavani celebrating in the arms of someone else.
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