Week 26 review: PSG let Monaco off the hook
By S. Willis
Paris Saint-Germain let slip a golden opportunity to make up ground on leaders Monaco as they were held to a 0-0 draw at the Parc on Sunday following Monaco's 1-1 draw in Bastia on Friday. Meanwhile, Nice drew back into title contention with victory
Riding the wave of euphoria that followed their historic 4-0 demolition of FC Barcelona in mid-week, Paris Saint-Germain headed into their clash with Toulouse in bullish mood - and duly bossed possession - but were frustrated by a staunch defensive performance from the visitors and let slip a golden opportunity to cut Monaco's lead atop the Ligue 1 table to just one point.
Emery: 'We must carry on'
Despite excellent performances from midfielders Adrien Rabiot and Marco Verratti, Paris couldn’t find a way to convert their dominance onto the scoreboard as the TFC's teenage 'keeper Alban Lafont managed a second successive clean sheet against the four-time reigning champs.
"We deserved to win but we couldn't overcome their defence. We need to work on how to open up packed defences. We lacked a bit of everything tonight," conceded PSG boss Unai Emery, who had opted to rest two-goal Champions League hero Angel Di Maria. "Today we needed a bit more energy and hunger. We made some changes because we have to manage our squad. We missed a chance today but we must carry on. I have confidence in the team."
Doubtless a sigh of relief was heard in Monaco as the final whistle blew at the Parc; Leonardo Jardim's normally free-scoring side had struggled to break down a feisty Bastia defence in Corsica on Friday and went behind to a Sadio Diallo strike (19') before Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva bagged an extremely welcome equaliser (52') to clinch a share of the points.
"We weren't up to scratch," said the straight-shooting Jardim, who now has a crunch round of 16 Champions League tie against Manchester City on Tuesday to prepare for. "We played more like our usual selves in the second half. Bastia played higher up the pitch and were more aggressive than us and that made all the difference. It is a disappointment. Ligue 1 matches are not training games, it is a very important competition for us."
While it had seemed over recent weeks that the title race was becoming a two-horse affair, Nice capitalised fully on the other results and drew level with Paris on 56 points after Wylan Cyprien clinched a 1-0 win away to bottom club Lorient with a fine angled shot (15'). It was no easy match for the Côte d'Azur side, whose star striker Mario Balotelli earned his third red card of the season (68'), but coach Lucien Favre hailed his side's rock-hard mentality.
"We could have lost to Lorient when we played them at home and it does us good to win here," said the Swiss, who evidently has plenty of respect for the league's bottom-placed club. "It was well-deserved, because at 11 against 10, we needed to hold onto the result. We dug deep and it was very hard. We chose to defend against a team that's very good in attack, one of the best attacking sides in Ligue 1."
Meanwhile Saint-Etienne, hammered 3-0 by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Europa league on Thursday, continued to do it tough as a 2-1 defeat away to a resurgent Montpellier side saw them lose ground in the push to lead the fight for the European places. Les Verts opened the scoring through in-form forward Kévin Monnet-Paquet (12') but, after going a man down early in the second half and with Montpellier finding some cutting edge, the three points slipped through their fingers.
"Jorginho's red card didn't help us, but we didn't lose just because of that. After a good opening 20 minutes we went out like a light," said coach Christophe Galtier, whose opposite number Jean-Louis Gasset has inspire La Paillade to three wins from four matches since taking the reins in early February. "We didn't play like we had to in order to win. I thought we had done the hard part in opening the scoring. I'm upset because the European race is tightening. The players will have to do better."
Indeed, both of Sainté's nearest rivals hit three-pointers at the weekend, with Lyon following up on their 4-1 Europa League win over AZ Alkmaar with a 4-2 victory over Dijon to regain a four-point advantage in fourth, while Marseille produced an accomplished second-half display - including an absolute screamer from Florian Thauvin (64') - to get the better of Rennes and draw level with ASSE on 39 points.
The win was an extremely welcome one for Marseille boss Rudi Garcia as his first Classique - against Paris Saint-Germain at the Stade Vélodrome on Sunday - looms: "It proves that life without Bafé [injured star striker Bafétimbi Gomis] is possible, in a different style. We've still got eight days before we play PSG. One thing is for sure and that is that our fans are ready."
So too Bordeaux continued their push for Europe, condemning ten-man EA Guingamp to a third league defeat in four matches, 3-0 at the Matmut Atlantique, as François Kamano starred with a goal (13') and an assist for Gaëtan Laborde (71').
Les Dogues hope for better days
LOSC, under new boss Franck Passi, broke their two-match losing streak 1-0 in Caen as Anwar El Ghazi bagged his first goal for the club since signing from Ajax in January (69'). However, it was no easy match for the northerners, who had defender Adama Soumaoro sent off (63'), but Les Dogues managed to hold out to celebrate the announcement that ex-OM boss Marcelo Bielsa will take the coaching reins in the summer with a win.
Angers SCO continued their push into the mid-table positions by trumping Nancy 1-0 and Nantes were denied an away win in Metz after giant Malian striker Cheick Diabaté made it 1-1 from the spot with his fourth in five matches since return to France on loan from Turkish side Osmanlispor in the winter transfer window.