Paris clinch title hat-trick
By I. Holyman
Paris Saint-Germain were crowned Ligue 1 champions for the third season in a row thanks to their 2-1 victory at Montpellier Hérault SC on Saturday.
Montpellier Hérault SC 1 - 2 Paris Saint-Germain
Though without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the suspended Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta at the Stade de la Mosson et du Mondial '98, there was little doubt Laurent Blanc's men would get a result that would render second-placed Olympique Lyonnais' scoreline at home to Girondins de Bordeaux anecdotal.
Blaise Matuidi (17') and Ezequiel Lavezzi (26') gave the visitors a deserved ideal start, and though Anthony Mounier's fluke goal (40') provoked a few nerves, Paris held out comfortably enough to add a fifth top-flight crown to their club's trophy cabinet.
Paris knew a point would be enough for them to join Lyon, AS Saint-Etienne and Olympique de Marseille as the Ligue 1 clubs to register a successive trio of titles. Their start indicated a desire to ensure they would reach that milestone with a club record-equalling eighth straight top-flight win.
Barely a minute on the clock, Lavezzi almost latched onto a David Luiz ball in behind the home back four while the Argentina international should have scored just a couple of minutes later when Maxwell's measured cross found him inside the six-yard box - Lavezzi's miscued header saw a golden opportunity slip wide of the far post.
Usually so reliable, Montpellier captain Vitorino Hilton presented Edinson Cavani with another gilt-edged chance in a nervy start by the hosts - Cavani, who had scored eight times in his previous five league games, looked surprisingly short of confidence though as he dithered in front of Jonathan Ligali before firing over.
Had the Ligue 1 record signing merely slipped the ball to the unmarked Matuidi, the midfielder would surely have scored. Adrien Rabiot did find the former AS Saint-Etienne man inside the box with a wonderful through ball a handful of minutes later, and Matuidi bent a sidefooted shot beyond Ligali to deservedly break the deadlock.
Despite the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic through suspension and - in Montpellier - injury for many of their recent games, the visitors' front line had been firing spectacularly, including last weekend's 6-0 trouncing of En Avant Guingamp. They bared their teeth again before the half-hour mark to double their lead - Cavani missed his kick when attempting to connect with Serge Aurier's low cross, Lavezzi did not, sending a crisp drive beyond Ligali.
The young goalkeeper was again preferred to Geoffrey Jourden in goal with Montpellier's first-choice custodian left out once more after publicly criticising his team-mates. Ligali was recently tipped to have a bright future by coach Rolland Courbis, and he backed up his boss' words with a brilliant instinctive full-length dive to palm a close-range Cavani shot to safety.
Paris were utterly dominant, but the game - and potentially the title - was back in the balance five minutes before the break. There is little doubt Mounier was looking to cross from a position wide on the right, but that will be of little consolation to Paris goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, who - having anticipated the centre - could not leap high enough to prevent the ball swirling over him and into the far corner of the net.
The goal and the break seemed to halt Paris' momentum, and the prodigious rhythm they had imposed on the hosts in the first period evaporated. With Javier Pastore, who had orchestrated the visitors' first-half dominance, less influential, Montpellier seized the intiative.
Lucas Barrios' low cross was almost turned goalwards by half-time substitute Kévin Bérigaud, who replaced the injured Mounier, but the former Évian-Thonon-Gaillard FC forward could not make sufficient contact. Montpellier then had a number of promising situations in and around the Paris penalty area, but could not turn any of them into clear-cut chances, nevermind goals, and gradually, the visitors reasserted themselves.
Lucas, a second-half substitute for Lavezzi, should even had added a third that would have sent Paris cruising through to the final whistle and the title, but the Brazil international shot wide from the edge of the box after being perfectly teed up by Maxwell. Pastore then struck the woodwork in added time before the Parisian celebrations were able to start in earnest.