Why Javier Pastore's form has flickered out after a bright start at PSG
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Thursday is Ligue 1 day, and here's French Football Weekly 's Andrew Gibney with his take on events across the Channel.
No matter how much money a team has to spend, €42 million brings with it extra baggage. The pressure to perform is immediate, it’s not only the fans who demand performances but the people writing the extravagant cheques will also want a return on their investment.
Javier Pastore didn’t ask for Nasser Al-Khelaïfi to make him the seventh highest transfer of all time. PSG did buy another eight players during the window, spending another €47m to leave the playing squad looking nothing like the team that finished last season with a score draw against St-Etienne.
Anticipation gripped the French capital. Could Leonardo, Antoine Kombouare and Javier Pastore lead PSG to their second Le Championnat title? Could Pastore combine with new signings Kevin Gameiro, Jeremy Menez and Blaise Matuidi and help bring through the talents of Mamadou Sakho and Clement Chantome? Or, would the vast number of changes prove too much for Kombouare to deal with?
Once “El Flaco” returned from playing in the Copa America with Argentina, the playmaker was given a few weeks to rest and recuperate before making his Ligue 1 debut.
Spared the blushes from the home defeat to FC Lorient and the following draw against Rennes, the home fans got their first glimpse of their star signing in a 32-minute cameo during the 2-1 win over Valenciennes.
Pastore had also played his part in PSG’s 6-0 win over Luxembourg side Differdange in the Europa League qualifying round. A nice and calculated start from the former Palermo man had the Parisians excited about what their new signing had to offer.
If PSG fans were excited by their new signing, what was to follow in the south of France would put them on the edge of their seats and start a wonderful run of games for both Pastore and the new look side from the capital.
Down by a goal it was Pastore's excellent passing that set up both Gameiro and Mevlut Erding to complete a fantastic comeback. Struggling to beat Brest in the Parc des Princes it was up to the Argentine to produce a beautiful piece of individual brilliance as he shaped to shoot and dinked the ball exquisitely past Steeve Elana in the visitor's net.
Away at Evian it was Pastore again who came to his side's rescue. Two goals down, he picked the ball up outside the box and jinked past three players before finishing off asuperbg solo run that helped PSG comeback to pick up a point. Things were looking rosy and bright for Leonardo and Kombouare, people had even stopped talking about the coach’s position at the club. QSI’s project was ticking along quite nicely.
Goals against Montpellier and Lyon followed and to the media it seemed that PSG had the title wrapped up before the winter break. Then something strange happened, although they continued to win, Pastore’s performances began to dip. Against Dijon, the home side struggled towards a 2-0 win where Pastore was mostly a passenger. The same happened in the draw at Bordeaux and their first defeat of the season against Nancy.
No longer was Pastore directing the PSG traffic, moves began to flow more through Nene and Menez while the Argentine's drifts wide went unanswered; the conductor had become a passenger. Without the ball at his feet Pastore looked lost, bereft of ideas on how to get himself into the games.
When Pastore was at his best it had been the Brazilian Nene who had looked out of sorts, before October’s player of the month became the driving force behind the wins against Caen and Dijon as Pastore seemed to disappear.
Players often make excuses for their bad form and Pastore is no different. At the start of November the midfielder confessed he was not used to playing three games a week and that the rigours of Ligue 1 and the Europa League were taking its toll on him.
"The truth is, in my previous clubs I was not used to playing every three days," said Pastore.
"I am not affected by critics. That is part of the game. You have to be able to step back and not pay too much attention to them."
Unlike some excuses made by players there is some weight to Pastore’s claims. Between September and November Pastore featured in 21 games for PSG. A year ago in the same period of time Pastore only played 12 games for Palermo who, like PSG, were also playing in the Europa League.
Since the month break between the Coppa Italia final and the start of the Copa America, Pastore has now played in 29 games in four months. It seems PSG’s star man is already struggling with mid-season fatigue and, with six games to go before the winter break, if Kombouare manages to keep his job he will hope that any sort of rest will bring Pastore back to his best.
There is no nice way to say it, the rest can’t come soon enough for PSG and Pastore. The Argentine’s performance against Marseille in Le Classique was woeful at best.
Only 48% of his passes found their target and he very rarely touched the ball during his 59 minutes on the field. It is clear to anyone who has watched PSG this season that the Pastore who hung his head when he was replaced by Mathieu Bodmer is not the €42 million player that Leonardo plucked from Serie A as one of football’s brightest prospects.
Around the Parisian bars and neighbouring café’s the only hope is that their star shines brightly in the Parc des Princes sooner rather than later.