Week 23 review: Monaco pull clear, PSG leapfrog Nice
By S. Willis
AS Monaco's Radamel Falcao-powered 3-0 win over direct rivals OGC Nice sent the principality club three points clear in top spot, while PSG's 3-1 win in Dijon saw them take second place from the Aiglons on Goal difference.
Monaco's title credentials have been on display in the new year, with the 1-1 draw a the Parc des Princes in Week 22 leading onto an impressive display that shut out erstwhile leaders OGC Nice 3-0 - thanks to goals from Valère Germain and 14-goal club top scorer Falcao - and sent Leonardo Jardim's men three points clear in top spot.
Jardim: 'This team can get even better'
"We are doing well but there's still a long way to go. Our three-point advantage is nothing. The players cannot get distracted," tempered the Portuguese, whose reputation as a defence-minded coach is a thing of the past, his side currently on par with the mighty FC Barcelona with a century of strikes in all competition this season. "I am the same person as the one who arrived in 2014, but with some better players and some who, after two years, have raised their level. I think this team can get even better. When I was asked about Falcao earlier this season, I said I was sure he could make a difference this year. I'm very happy to be working with a striker of this quality."
Favre keeps cool
The defeat came just after Nice had toppled EA Guingamp in Week 22 to claim a first win in all competitions in 2017, but coach Lucien Favre refused to be drawn into any talk of a crisis at the club who led the league for the bulk of the first half of the season.
"We tried to play well but conceded a perfectly avoidable goal. We forgot our defensive duties at times. Monaco ran a lot and pressed a lot," admitted the Swiss tactician, whose side take on in-form Saint-Etienne at home on Wednesday night. "We are disappointed but we mustn't make a meal of our defeat. Now we're going to focus on the next game. We need to react."
Late surge takes PSG second
Meanwhile Paris Saint-Germain went into their Saturday evening clash a few hours after the Côte d'Azur derby knowing that a win in Dijon would take them above Nice on goal difference. Unai Emery's men duly obliged, although it wasn't until the second half that the South American trio of Lucas, Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani - who is now on 22 league goals this season - all struck to clinch the 3-1 victory.
"All matches away from home are difficult. We made mistakes in the first half that allowed them to come back at us," said the Spaniard, knowing that the slightest slip-up will be punished in their impending Champions League last-16 clash with Barcelona. "We have to maintain our level now. It was not a very pleasant experience for our fans watching us against Dijon. But it was a solid performance and this is what we need to compete at the top."
Sainté sink OL
Meanwhile the Rhône derby in Saint-Etienne played out on Sunday night with Les Verts taking revenge for the 2-0 loss at the Parc OL Week 8 by claiming their own victory by the same scoreline. It was Sainté's third-straight home win in the fixture, all the more appreciated as it came just days after the club's 3-0 Coupe de France elimination by Ligue 2 outfit Auxerre, and coach Christophe Galtier was thrilled.
"We got off to the right start for this kind of match. My players stepped up. I want to congratulate them and say to everyone that my lads really earnt this victory. It's a symbolic win," he declared, with his side now in fifth place and just a point behind their opponents on the night. "There was a lot of determination, with a powerful collective force. We have taken ten points from our last four matches. That's good."
OM blow cold in Metz
Marseille sit just behind Les Verts in sixth, but could have been level on points had they not followed up their Week 22 5-1 mauling of Montpellier with a 1-0 defeat away to promoted Metz. Former Lorient captain Yann Jouffre hit the only goal of the game seven minutes from time to lift Les Grenats out of the drop zone and into 17th place.
Mid-table sides Bordeaux and Rennes played out a 1-1 draw as fit-again Yoann Gourcuff (69') cancelled out Jérémy Ménez's opener, while Guingamp are now winless in four (three defeats) after rising star Yann Karamoh decided the thrilling match with a last-gasp strike (90'+3).
Lorient claimed a 1-0 win in Lille to put pressure on fellow relegation contenders Angers SCO, who were hammered 4-0 by a resurgent Toulouse side, and SC Bastia, who were bested 2-1 by Montpellier in La Paillade's first match under new boss Jean-Louis Gasset, who took over from the sacked Frédéric Hantz at the beginning of the week.
New Nantes boss Sergio Conceicao's impressive start at the club lost a bit more of its gloss as Les Canaris were bested by Nancy 2-0 at the Stade de la Beaujoire less than a month after suffering the same fate in the Coupe de la Ligue quarters. Nantes slip to 14th while early-season relegation contenders Nancy climb to a season-high 11th place.