Things are going so well for Mauro Icardi at Paris Saint-Germain that he's already thinking about staying next season.
Some contrast from last year, when he was embroiled in a dispute with Inter Milan so bitter he even sued the club.
The Italian team loaned Icardi to PSG this season, but few observers would have expected him to succeed to the extent he has with 17 goals in 19 games so far. Only France striker Kylian Mbappé has scored more than him.
PSG has the option to make the loan deal permanent and Icardi, playing his part in a rampant attack which has scored 29 goals in the past six matches, appears to welcome a long-term move.
“It’s a great time for me and for the team. I feel very good in Paris,“ said the 26-year-old Argentine, who scored his first PSG hat trick in Wednesday's 6-1 League Cup win over Saint-Etienne. “There are five months left before the end of the championship. When everything’s over we can sit around a table and discuss it. If I can stay here I’d be very happy.“
Icardi's finishing is so ruthless he has scored with 71 percent of his shots so far, and although all of his goals have been from inside the penalty area is he is far more than a goal-hanger.
His exceptional movement off the ball and excellent first touch make him an easy player to both pass to and feed off for PSG's other stellar forwards: Neymar, Mbappé and Ángel Di María.
By picking his four forwards together in recent games, PSG coach Thomas Tuchel appeared to risk making his side top-heavy in attack and thus unbalanced elsewhere. But it is working seamlessly, albeit against modest teams.
Against Saint-Etienne, Di Maria picked out Neymar with an astute pass over the defense. Icardi has developed a strong on-field understanding with Mbappé, who is also building an excellent one with Neymar.
The options appear multiple, although it remains to be seen how PSG's sparkling new-look attack will fare against tougher sides in the Champions League.
“I’m convinced the four forwards enjoy playing together. There’s an obvious understanding between Mauro and Kylian,“ Tuchel said. “They are finding each other in the right positions.“
In the match against Saint-Etienne, Icardi took two minutes to score with an angled finish from the right of the area into the left corner. He also set up a goal for Mbappé — who had created two of his — with a moment of sublime, Mbappé-like agility.
Taking down a high ball with a deft touch on his right foot, Icardi instantly squared it across the goal with his left, without breaking stride or losing momentum.
In that match, Icardi touched the ball five times in the area, and four goals were scored.
He is a goal magnet, and even though Icardi's hat trick was his first in nearly two years — since a quadruple against Sampdoria in March 2018 — the gap had more to do with what happened at Inter than a loss of ability.
Matters became so morose between Icardi and Inter that at the end of August he sued the club for discrimination, claiming 1.5 million euros (US$1.7 million) in damages and requesting to be allowed back into the first-team fold. Icardi said he was dropped from team advertising campaigns and photo shoots, was forced to train separately from other players, and removed from the WhatsApp group providing training schedules.
Months of tension between Inter and Icardi, who netted 124 goals overall in five seasons, began last January and saw him stripped of the captaincy.
It bred a lack of trust between the three-time European Cup winner and the former fan favorite. He said he had a knee injury, which the club disputed, and several weeks of exile ensued before he returned for the league's final weeks.
Now Icardi's got as many goals as he did in 37 games last season, and is poised to reach the 20-goal mark with back-to-back matches against Monaco on Sunday and Wednesday.
The fact that Monaco has one of the league's worst defenses will be welcome news to Icardi.
by JEROME PUGMIRE, Associated Press Sports Writer