Week 24 review: Rivals falter as PSG roll on
By S. Willis
Paris Saint-Germain opened up a six-point lead with yet another win as Lyon and Marseille continued to stumble. Meanwhile in-form Saint-Etienne continued their impressive charge up the table to fourth, with Rennes in hot pursuit.
Paris Saint-Germain are looking more the title favourites than ever following a weekend that saw Carlo Ancelotti's men extend their lead to six points - and their unbeaten league run to nine matches - with a 3-1 win over Bastia on Friday night.
Although it took them until the second half to make the break, Jérémy Ménez's goal (56') was quickly followed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic's 21st of the season, from the penalty spot, with in-form Argentine Ezequiel Lavezzi restoring the two-goal lead (89') after Wahbi Khazri had pulled one back for the hosts with a powerful free-kick (83').
With sole black spot on the result the fact that Salvatore Sirigu's club clean-sheet record without conceding a goal was brought to an end at eight matches, coach Carlo Ancelotti was decidedly upbeat.
Bring on the Champions League
"We've won and taken the three points, that was our objective. They're three important points for our position in the table and to prepare for the next game," he explained as the club get set to put their European ambitions to the test in Valencia on Tuesday night. "We can go into our Champions League game with confidence. It's good preparation, because the players were able to recover and we have time to prepare for the game physically and mentally."
For the second week in a row, Paris' Friday-night victory piled the pressure on OL and OM, and once again the capital club's nearest rivals failed to get the results they needed to keep the leaders in check.
Garde: 'Back to the drawing board'
After losing out 3-1 in Ajaccio last week, Lyon's troubles continued as a resurgent Lille side repeated that scoreline - this time at the Stade de Gerland - with Lisandro Lopez's 57th-minute penalty the only consolation for coach Rémi Garde, who admitted his side could well be undoing their good work from the first half of the season.
"We're in danger," he said after the loss, in which his side sorely missed central defenders Dejan Lovren (suspended) and Bakary Koné (AFCON). "The fact that we conceded that many goals is a sign of our current troubles, collective problem. We need to go back to the drawing board."
So too Marseille missed out on crucial points with their 1-1 draw in Evian, although André-Pierre Gignac's wonderful strike did rescue a point for Elie Baup's men - who had Kassim Abdallah and Jordan Ayew sent off - to take them a point closer to second-placed OL.
Sainté on the rise
Baup was undeterred by the result, however, hoping that his side can build on the positives shown, and they will certainly need to if they are to fend off Saint-Etienne, whose merciless 4-1 win over champions Montpellier in driving snow saw them slide into fourth place.
Les Verts have been in stunning form of late - seven wins in an unbeaten run of eight matches in 2013 - and didn't show any signs of slowing down as top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged his 11th of the season and January arrivals Yohan Mollo (Nancy) and Mathieu Bodmer (PSG) also struck to make Rémy Cabella's lone goal for Montpellier (49') scant consolation.
Jockeying for position
Hot on Sainté's heels in fifth sit Rennes - Les Verts' opponents in the Coupe de la Ligue final - who stretched their unbeaten run to four matches with a 2-0 win over Toulouse thanks to top-scorer Romain Alessandrini's tenth of the season and a strike from Mevlut Erding.
The in-form pair sit locked on 40 points, just three behind OM, but behind them the table is jam-packed, with just six points separating sixth placed Nice - who drew 1-1 with Lorient - from 11th-placed Valenciennes, who got back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over struggling Brest, who are just one point clear of the drop zone.
Ajaccio followed up their shock win over OL with another victory, defender Ricardo Faty clinching a 1-0 win that sent tough-to-beat Bordeaux from fourth to seventh, while Stade de Reims bagged a first win since Week 8, 1-0 over wooden-spoon contenders Nancy, to climb out of the drop zone on goal difference.
Troyes 0-0 draw with Sochaux did little for either side, leaving them both in the bottom three.
>> Week 24 match reports