A jigsaw puzzle in Paris

Playing out of position, Pastore has yet to fire on all cylinders, writes Ian Hawkey

Paris Saint-Germain's Javier Pastore and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Getty Images
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The summit of Europe is not so much a distraction for Paris Saint-Germain as an overwhelming raison d’etre.

They go into this weekend, and their Ligue 1 assignment against Nantes, looking once again like the party guests who, while engaging a familiar acquaintance in conversation, keep looking over their shoulders to see if there is someone more interesting to talk to.

PSG play Barcelona on Wednesday, with the leadership of Uefa Champions League Group G at stake and, though they may be lagging leaders Marseille by a point in the French table, Barca at Camp Nou is the fixture that most excites them.

The Parisians could have moved above Marseille had they not let a 1-0 lead slip against Lille in midweek.

That was the reigning French champions’ fifth draw away from home in an unbeaten season.

Thus, it again posed questions about their focus on defending their domestic title and about how well they carry their status and swagger when striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not in the team.

Still bothered by an ankle issue that cost him seven weeks, the Swede was rested at Lille.

So far, Ibrahimovic has only played in half PSG’s Ligue 1 matches.

He has managed to squeeze six goals into those eight fixtures, but more importantly, in his absence, PSG have been more likely to drop points.

Ibrahimovic is such the main man in how PSG both brands itself and plays that other illustrious, expensive footballers are obliged to adapt.

Edinson Cavani, the Uruguayan centre-forward, has spoken of the compromises he makes by operating in wide positions so Ibrahimovic can command the central space, and suggested strongly he is not always comfortable doing so.

Talk of tension between the pair is not entirely subdued by images of their celebrating goals enthusiastically together.

Cavani cost PSG more than €60 million (Dh272m) last year. Three years ago, the club invested over €40m in Javier Pastore, then 23, and a figure who will always have his name in bold in the story of PSG’s recent boom.

With his signature, from Palermo, the epoch-shaping investment of the Qatari billionaires who took over PSG became real, headline-making.

The fee set a French record.

The payback has been, well ... underwhelming.

Pastore is a refined talent, and a frustrating one.

He is a fixture in Laurent Blanc’s XI, at least in league matches, but his influence ebbs far more often than that of, say, Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, Ibrahimovic’s senior sidekicks in attack.

Pastore has had his moments, like the brilliant, angled goal he scored against Chelsea in a Champions League quarter-final last season, but he has had his vanishing acts, too.

Sections of the crowd whistled him regularly last season.

Pastore told French newspaper L’Equipe of the difficulties of his role.

“I like to play as a number 10,” he said, “but with Zlatan being such a complete player in that position, you can find yourself treading on his toes, so you work out how to play according to what he does.”

Blanc suggested recently that he would like Pastore to be more assertive.

He praised the Argentinian for his goal in the 3-2 win against Metz two weeks ago.

“There was a time Javier would have passed to Zlatan from that position instead of shooting,” he said.

Pastore was enjoying a good run of form and growing confidence at that stage.

But against Lille three days ago, he had a another uninspired, flat night.

He remains in most Parisian minds the overpriced star who launched PSG’s big project, though the club have faith he will one day flower into something more than that.


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