Lavezzi quietly reasserts his claims to start
Since the start of this season, one of the most problematic areas in Laurent Blanc's Paris Saint-Germain starting XI has been the third attacking position alongside the imperious Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the more understated Edinson Cavani. Ezequiel Lavezzi has been given his chance to cement a regular starting role on the left of a three-pronged attack, while Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Menez also have been given opportunities.
All of them failed to adequately grasp those chances and make the wide left position their own.
Now, after an excellent few weeks on the pitch for Lavezzi, it appears that Blanc may well have the missing piece to the jigsaw puzzle that has been PSG's strongest starting XI. El Pocho scored and created a goal against Valenciennes and won a penalty for PSG's crucial second goal in the 4-0 Champions League romp away at Bayer Leverkusen, before winning another spot kick and netting an important second against Toulouse in last weekend's 4-2 win.
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The Argentine is now finally starting to live up to the expectations at PSG following a successful five-year spell with Italian side Napoli.
Three league goals since start of 2014 -- as many as he managed in the whole of last term -- have taken him to five for the season in what is now his most prolific campaign in the French capital. He also found the net in the 5-1 cakewalk at Stade Brestois in the Coupe de France. After struggling over the first half of the season, the 28-year-old who arrived in Paris for approximately €26.5 million appears to have finally embraced his role with the French champions.
What makes it all the more impressive is that this rich vein of form comes at a time of major personal strife for Lavezzi.
Earlier this month the Albiceleste international's uncle Jorge was found murdered in gruesome circumstances after a robbery went awry in Lavezzi's home city of Villa Gobernador Galvez in Rosario. Lavezzi, shaken by the news of the death of someone whom it is said he enjoyed a very close relationship with, showed great mental strength and chose to play on instead of leaving France for some time to mourn.
Blanc recognised Lavezzi's commitment to the cause and his desire to turn around some floundering personal form at the Parc des Princes, so he opted to start him in the absence of fellow ex-Napoli man Cavani at home to Valenciennes a fortnight ago. He was not disappointed. Lavezzi put in arguably his best performance of the season so far, scoring the opener and forcing Gary Kagelmacher's own goal in a 3-1 win for the French champions.
The confidence boost it has given El Pocho has been remarkable.
Lavezzi has been like a new player in the past few matches, back to his harrying, whirling dervish-like best and adding graft to Ibrahimovic's guile. It was that industry and commendable work ethic that found him in the right place at the right time against both Leverkusen and Toulouse to win crucial penalties, while against TFC and Brest he showed his lesser-seen clinical side with two brilliantly well-taken early strikes.
In competition with Moura, Pastore and Menez for the left-sided berth, despite Cavani having played there regularly for the Uruguayan national team, Blanc's criticism of Lavezzi's closest rival Lucas is that he "needs to score more goals." However, the Selecao star has three goals and seven assists so far this season, compared with the Argentine's five strikes but no goals laid on, so perhaps the criticism of Lavezzi, conversely, should be that he does not provide enough chances.
The former Napoli man does have that ability, as demonstrated by his three assists in an injury-hit debut campaign in the French capital, but he is yet to provide his first goal for any teammate in the league this season. He has provided three in the Champions League, but goals in Europe have hardly been difficult to come by for PSG of late with Ibrahimovic in stellar form as the competition's most prolific striker. It is what Lavezzi, Moura, Pastore and Menez do domestically that matters more than on the continent at this moment.
So, if goals are the main factor in deciding who gets to play alongside Ibrahimovic and Cavani on a regular basis, then Lavezzi is the winner.
Despite Lucas' unselfish attitude, El Pocho is showing the clinical qualities than Blanc wants from his third attacker and is thus considered more of a key player. But like his stamina when on the pitch, Lavezzi is susceptible to burning out. The challenge between now and the end of the season will be remaining consistent enough to ensure that he continues to be one of Blanc's first-choice players as PSG challenge for a first-ever domestic double, with further European success still a possibility.