Ibrahimovic’s departure paved the way for Cavani to excel at PSG and now he’s proven how good he really is

Whether it’s memories of missed chances in the Champions League against Chelsea, or GIFs of fluffed efforts from scoring positions doing the rounds on Twitter, Edinson Cavani appears to have become a figure of ridicule among sections of football fans.

But with an incredible 34 goals in 32 games for Paris Saint-Germain so far this season, and fresh off the back of helping tear Barcelona apart with his intelligent movement and ruthless finishing in the Champions League on Tuesday night, it’s time for Cavani to be taken seriously.

Sure, he occasionally finds the corner flag when it would be easier to score, but all strikers make their share of horror-show gaffes, and the Uruguayan hitman is much more reliable in front of goal than he gets credit for.

Against the Spanish champions, Cavani was electric; his off the ball runs opened up space for Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler; Barca’s centre-back pairing of Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti couldn’t contain the livewire in red and blue. 

The degree to which the Catalan defence was always one step behind the PSG star was encapsulated by the way Pique made a last-ditch sliding lunge in an attempt to prevent him from scoring in the 71st minute; it was too late, Cavani’s 10th goal in his last seven games had already arrowed beyond Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

It’s easy to forget just how prolific Cavani was in Serie A, where, after joining Palermo in 2006, he went on to earn a move to Napoli, initially on loan with the deal later being made permanent for a total of around €17million.

At the Stadio San Paolo, the Salto-born striker blossomed into one of the deadliest centre-forwards on the continent, netting a stunning 103 goals in three seasons. After helping the Partenopei qualify for the 2011-12 Champions league, he went on to prove his class in Europe’s premier club competition with goals against Manchester City and Chelsea.

By the summer of 2013, Cavani’s stock was at an all-time high, regarded as arguably the best No.9 on the planet with reported interest from Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid.

But it was Paris Saint-Germain, emboldened with new riches thanks to a 2011 takeover, who won the race to sign the former Danubio striker in a £55million deal.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic already at the club, Cavani was forced to settle for a secondary role within Les Parisiens’ forward line, often playing out wide to accommodate the larger-than-life Swede, who remained the focal point of the attack.

Considering the fact that he was playing out of position more often than not, Cavani’s return of 81 goals from 148 appearances in his first three seasons at the Parc des Princes is quite astonishing – especially as Ibrahimovic dominated the penalty- and free-kick-taking duties.

It was only after the former AC Milan and Barcelona superstar’s departure for Manchester United last summer that Cavani was finally afforded the chance to make the central striker’s berth his own.

Many felt that the French champions would struggle to fill the void left by Ibrahimovic’s exit; after all, the 35-year-old bagged a phenomenal 50 goals last term.

But, despite PSG’s struggles in Ligue 1 – they currently sit in second place, behind Leonardo Jardim’s thrilling Monaco side – Cavani has done his bit in ensuring that they do not rue the loss of their all-time highest scorer.

Indeed, Cavani is currently hitting the net at an average of 1.06 goals per game, bettering the Swede’s rate of 0.98 strikes per outing last term, meaning that the Uruguayan could yet eclipse the United man’s 50-goal mark by the end of the campaign.

Fluid and unpredictable movement, a clean and accurate striker of the ball from distance, the instinct to sniff out chances inside the penalty area and almost peerless in the air, few top class strikers are as well-rounded as Cavani.

Having turned 30 on the night of PSG’s demolition of Barcelona, the 89-cap Celeste star is reaching the peak of his powers.

One noticeable difference in Cavani’s approach this season which stands in contrast to recent campaigns is that, now playing centrally, he is less involved in his side’s build-up play. Last term, he was making an average of 24.8 passes per game in Ligue 1.

This season, he is making just 13 passes per game, as PSG’s attacking moves are now geared towards culminating in a chance for Cavani, rather than flowing through him and on to Ibrahimovic.

And the confidence that comes with being trusted to lead the line and carry the goal-scoring burden for his team is evident in Cavani’s displays and general demeanour. 

There is no doubt over who is manager Unai Emery’s best option to start up front, and the 6ft tall No.9 is carrying himself with a new level of self-belief. Where once a missed chance would weigh heavy on his shoulders, he now shrugs it off, safe in the knowledge that he’ll score the next one.

He may have missed the target in some high-profile games in the past, but that won’t define his career. Cavani is a striker of the highest calibre; underestimating him is risky business.