PSG a point away from title at Lille
By I. Holyman
Paris Saint-Germain need to avoid defeat at LOSC Lille on Sunday to secure the Ligue 1 Conforama title with seven games left, but midfielder Marco Verratti insists it has been anything but an easy ride.
LOSC Lille - Paris Saint-Germain
PSG had been expected to wrap up the club's eighth top-flight crown last weekend — equalling their record speedy title triumph of 2015/16 — but actually needed a late equaliser from Thilo Kehrer to avoid a first home loss of the season as they were held 2-2 by RC Strasbourg Alsace.
That was the first time they had dropped points at the Parc des Princes this season, but still left them 20 points clear of Lille at the top of the table, and just a step away from securing the crown that has seemed destined to be theirs since opening the season with 14 successive wins.
Verratti, however, insisted appearances can be deceptive.
"You have to win the league, and whether it comes early or on the last day of the season, it's the same. People think it's easy, but that's not the case. The club, the players, the fans know that," the Italy international explained.
WATCH: PSG held by Strasbourg
"We work hard, we play football, and if Paris Saint-Germain brought us here it's because we're good, because we're having a great season. If we win it's because we work hard and we're good, not because the others aren't as good."
Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani and Neymar Jr all missed the Strasbourg game through injury, but the latter did return to full training this week, and though the short Week 32 trip north will come too soon for the Brazil international, there is the prospect he could be match-fit come the Coupe de France final against Stade Rennais FC on 27 April.
Alves: 'Tuchel is so intelligent'
Though he might have failed to take Paris Saint-Germain into the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League and overseen the end of their Coupe de la Ligue domination, coach Thomas Tuchel has been praised for his work this season.
The ex-Mainz and Borussia Dortmund boss, who arrived in France last summer, has united his squad behind the club's common cause, winning over experienced heads such as Dani Alves.
"He's the best recruit the club has made since I came here, a lot better than me," said the Brazil international, who played under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona before moving to Juventus and then on to Paris in 2017.
"I've never had such an intelligent coach and one who is so ready to put himself at the service of the team. He studies games very well with an incredible staff. Sometimes things don't work, and that is a source of suffering, because there is a lot of expectation."
Lille thought they had taken a significant step to finishing second behind PSG and securing automatic UEFA Champions League group stage qualification when they broke the deadlock at Reims through Jose Fonte's header last weekend.
WATCH: Reims peg back Lille
But Rémi Oudin levelled for the hosts to leave Christophe Galtier's men with an uncomfortably small five-point lead over Olympique Lyonnais with seven matches remaining.
"There were a lot of incidents in the game that have left us frustrated and angry," admitted Galtier, who has engineered a tally of 61 points, 23 more than they collected in narrowly avoiding relegation in the 2017/18 campaign.
"We came here with the aim of winning against a very compact, well-organised side. They defended deep and didn't give us a lot of space. When we went forward, there were a lot of players in key positions, and Reims defended well. I don't get the impression we slackened off, there was just a reaction from Reims. The regret I have is that we conceded a goal from a throw-in."
Lille: Maignan - Celik, Fonte, Soumaoro (cap.), Koné - Mendes, Xeka - Pépé, Ikoné, Bamba - Rémy
PSG: Areola - Meunier, Silva (cap.), Kimpembe, Bernat - Alves, Paredes, Verratti, Draxler - Nkunku, Mbappé