Week 18 review: Nice 'Autumn Champions' as Monaco, PSG stumble
By S. Willis
OGC Nice's 2-1 win over Dijon - coupled with closest rival Monaco's shock 3-1 undoing at home to Lyon - guaranteed the Aiglons of going into the break in top spot while champions PSG, 2-1 losers in Guingamp, trail by seven points.
After bowing out of the Coupe de la Ligue in mid-week, Ligue 1 leaders OGC Nice got right back to business on Sunday afternoon, a Mario Balotelli brace (32', pen., 50') clinching a 2-1 win over Dijon that, by the end of the weekend's fixtures, would leave Les Aiglons four points clear and assured of going into the winter break in top spot - as 'Autumn Champions'.
Favre: 'We're safe!'
"The victory wasn't undeserved, but was difficult to obtain," admitted Nice boss Lucien Favre, whose side have claimed 13 wins and suffered just one loss so far this season. "We've got 43 points and that's good as it means we're safe from relegation, as Guy Roux would say. We must already turn our minds to the game against Bordeaux [on Wednesday] as that will come around quickly."
While there a light-hearted and festive atmosphere at Nice's Christmas-themed home game, things were much more serious in Monaco's Stade Louis II, where Olympique Lyonnais struck a huge blow in their bid to catch the top three by trumping ten-man Monaco 3-1 in an at-times ill-tempered affair.
Benjamin Mendy saw red for lashing out at Corentin Tolisso (38') and, although Monaco brought all their attacking nous to bear as they looked to get back into the match, Lyon proved too strong and too sharp and scored a decisive, well-earned victory.
"I'm very proud of the lads," declared OL boss Bruno Genesio, who side have scored ten goals and conceded just one in a winning run of three league outings. "This win is not a great upset, but a great performance. It showed that, when we're all playing at the same level, we can do great things. But we need to stay humble and keep working.
PSG 'slump' continues
The shock result left Lyon - who have a match in hand pending a decision on their abandoned fixture in Metz - just five points shy of third-placed Paris, whose 2-1 defeat in Guingamp fuelled talks of crisis at the capital club. Edinson Cavani's 17th of the season (80') kept him atop the scoring chart but it wasn't enough to trump strikes from Yannis Salibur (66') and Nill De Pauw (70') as Unai Emery's men fell to a fourth defeat of the campaign.
PSG are now winless in three matches - their worst string of results in two years - but Emery kept a cool head despite the mounting pressure: "It was a difficult game; they have good players. Right now, we're going through some difficult moments, but there are 38 games in the league. We want to finish first, and I think that the team will improve its position, I'm even sure of it. I spoke to the CEO and Chairman before the game and after it in the dressing room. He is with us. It's difficult for everyone, but it's football. Now we have to work to get our confidence back. Our first opportunity is Wednesday [at home to bottom club FC Lorient]."
OM steam on
Meanwhile, PSG's arch-rivals Olympique de Marseille built on their momentum with a 2-0 win over a resurgent Lille side, goals from senior figures Bafétimbi Gomis and Florian Thauvin clinching a third-straight league win that leaves Rudi Garcia's in sixth - a season high for the south-coast giants.
"We scored two beautiful goals, looked confident, and played fluent football. The team made the fans happy and we've won three in a row, which was the objective. The boat is on the right course now and we're on bluer waters."
Montpellier run riot
Bordeaux showed some of their best football of the season to knock Nice out of the Coupe de la Ligue 3-0 on Wednesday, but Jocelyn Gourvennec's men had no answers for Frédéric Hantz's Montpellier, who ran out 4-0 winners at home to a Girondins side who had to make do without Jérémy Ménez - who saw red for dissent - as of the 38th minute.
Stade Rennais were out to bounce back from a 7-0 Coupe de la Ligue hammering at the hands of Monaco in mid-week - a match that coach Christian Gourcuff vowed he would never watch again - but couldn't find an answer for a Bastia side who made it two wins in a row - for the first time this season - to move into 12th.
SM Caen gave a glimpse of their best as they beat ten-man Metz 3-0 at home on Sunday afternoon after the match was postponed from Saturday evening due to heavy fog. Patrice Garande's men climb to 16th, two points clear of the drop, just behind Angers, who fell 2-0 at home to 19th-placed Nantes.
Canaris keep Lorient down
The win puts Sergio Conceicão's side a point clear of bottom club Lorient, who were doubtless hoping to pry themselves from the bottom of the table as they dominated Saint-Etienne 2-1. ASSE 'keeper Jessy Moulin, in for the injured Stéphane Ruffier, who missed his first Ligue 1 match with Saint-Etienne since joining from Monaco five years, fluffed his lines, earning a red card for clattering into Benjamin Moukandjo in the tenth minute.
Les Verts slip to ninth place, a point behind Toulouse who, still struggling to find their early-season verve, were held 1-1 at home by Pablo Correa's Nancy, who have lost just once in their last seven in all competitions to climb to 14th after being in the drop zone as recently as Week 14.