Despite big signings, Cavani emerges as leader of PSG attack
PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain broke the bank to buy the world’s two most expensive players but its best piece of business may have been not selling Edinson Cavani.
While Neymar has been reduced to tears recently amid reports of tensions with PSG coach Unai Emery, the prolific Cavani has emerged as the leader in a star-studded attack.
It is now a matter of when, not if, the Uruguayan becomes the club’s all-time scorer.
Quite some turnaround.
Two years ago, Cavani was mercilessly jeered by skeptical fans who wanted him sold. They considered him unworthy of being Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s successor when the star striker left to join Manchester United after four goal-packed seasons full of spectacular skill and outrageous strikes.
Cavani silenced them with 49 goals in all competitions last season and now, after 17 in 16 matches so far, he needs only 10 to surpass Ibrahimovic’s PSG record of 156 goals.
That total would have seemed out of sight for Cavani during the tough times. But he has netted 66 in his last 66 games overall.
Cavani was regularly whistled at by sections of the PSG crowd, particularly after Ibrahimovic left. They were unhappy PSG had not signed a more illustrious name to replace him.
Although they still had Cavani, they preferred to point out his occasionally wasteful finishing rather than see the importance of his wider role within the team.
This was hugely unfair on a player who has always worked tirelessly since joining for a then-French record 64 million euros ($68 million) in the summer of 2013, one year after Ibrahimovic joined.
Neymar’s arrival from Barcelona for a world record 222 million euros ($260 million) this summer threatened to relegate Cavani to a secondary role once again.
But the opposite has happened.
Before the international break, Cavani scored two clinical goals in PSG’s 5-0 win away to Angers where — with Neymar rested — he started combining much more with Kylian Mbappe. PSG signed Mbappe from French champion Monaco in a deal worth 180 million euros ($216 million), making the 18-year-old forward the second most expensive transfer behind Neymar. Qatari-owned PSG has been placed under investigation by UEFA for potential breaches of Financial Fair Play rules over these signings.
Cavani’s performance against Angers revealed his new leadership status, barking orders at teammates and screaming for the ball. It’s a far cry from when he would often retreat quietly into his shell when Ibrahimovic was strutting around.
And the way Cavani’s shots were so cleanly struck on both goals against Angers is indicative of him playing at his best. Cavani is much more efficient when he hits the ball first time, because complications arise when trying to be elaborate or pondering what to do.
Because Cavani is not as technically gifted as some strikers, or as nimble, the ball either gets stuck in his feet or he sometimes shoots too hard to compensate. This has led to some embarrassing misses and triggered heavy barracking from fans comparing him unfavorably directly to Ibrahimovic.
Cavani was still wasteful at times last season — despite 49 goals — but he seems to have ironed out most flaws.
At the age of 30, Cavani is at his peak and could arguably break the 50-goal mark this term. Ibrahimovic hit 50 in his final season.
One blip could be Mbappe’s near-systematic desire to pass to Neymar, which means that Cavani sometimes gets missed out in attack.
Whilst that doesn’t matter so much in France, given how easily league leader PSG wins games, it could matter further down the line in the Champions League.
Whether Emery addresses that or not could prove crucial, for PSG will need Cavani at his lethal best in the latter stages of the European competition.