PARIS (AP) — Even though Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been hindered by a sore back and could do with a rest, coach Laurent Blanc will not sit him for the Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.
PSG holds a huge 4-0 lead heading into the second leg of the last 16 and it seems to be the perfect time to give the Sweden striker a night off, but Ibrahimovic is in the form of his life and Blanc won't even ask him if he prefers to sit out for a game.
"We'll have to protect him a bit, but Zlatan always wants to play. His back is much better," Blanc said Tuesday. "I know what his answer will be if I ask him if he wants to start the game."
The 32-year-old Ibrahimovic has 38 goals in all competitions this season and is showing no signs of slowing down. Despite his advancing years, he still looks fresh and has started 27 of PSG's 28 league games, scoring 23 goals. He has added a further 10 goals in the Champions League — two of those against Leverkusen in the first leg.
Ibrahimovic is scoring spectacular goals with uncommon ease and also setting them up in his own extroverted style, such as his assist for winger Ezequiel Lavezzi last weekend.
As an innocuous-looking ball bounced high near the center circle, normally there would be no danger, but Ibrahimovic showed incredible dexterity to twist his leg up to near shoulder height and volley the ball with his heel into Lavezzi's path.
Blanc was asked to compare Ibrahimovic's incredible technical prowess to that of former midfielder Zinedine Zidane, who was Blanc's teammate on the France team which won the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship two years later.
"They can do things very few players could. Zinedine had a unique way of moving the ball which meant that he was always in control of it, whatever part of the foot he used, while Zlatan is more acrobatic," Blanc said. "You like to see them playing this way, especially when they're efficient. It's all well and good someone doing something spectacular, but if it's just for the sake of it then it serves little purpose. What's good for a coach is when you see something spectacular and efficient."
However, with a tough game coming up against Saint-Etienne on Sunday, Blanc is likely to take Ibrahimovic off during the second half against Leverkusen.
That also gives Blanc the option of taking Edinson Cavani off the right wing and giving the Uruguay forward some playing time in his preferred center forward's role.