Week 14 Review: PSG lead as Ruffier sets Sainté record
PSG prepared for their trip to Real Madrid in the best possible way, beating Lille on Neymar's injury return; while Stéphane Ruffier brought up appearance number 303 in Saint-Etienne's draw with Montpellier.
Paris Saint-Germain got Week 14 underway on Friday night with a 2-0 win over LOSC, who had come into the weekend in fifth. Mauro Icardi and Angel Di Maria got the goals at the Parc des Princes on a day in which Neymar Jr.'s return from injury lasted for 65 minutes before he was replaced by Kylian Mbappé
PSG head to Real Madrid on Tuesday night knowing that victory would see them finish top of UEFA Champions League Group A eight points clear of the record European champions. With Neymar, Mbappé, Icardi and Di Maria all fit, coach Thomas Tuchel has suggested that he might play all four attackers in the Spanish capital.
"We had a lot of chances in the second half but we didn't control the game," the German tactician said of Friday's game. "Lille defended very aggressively but I didn't expect it to be easy. I have a lot of respect for Lille. We deserved to win and keep a clean sheet. We must keep improving.
Welcome selection headache
"I haven't yet decided who'll play against Madrid. I have a few nights to sleep on it. I wasn't expecting much from Neymar tonight. He's been out for six weeks. Icardi and Di Maria are essential. They're fit, play well together, and both of them stayed with us during the international break. They're huge difference-makers for us."
PSG's Classique rivals Olympique de Marseille are the capital club's nearest challengers after they beat Toulouse FC 2-0 on Sunday night. Argentina striker Dario Benedetto ended a four-game goalless drought bagging his sixth goal of the campaign before Nemanja Radonjic put OM's third consecutive league win beyond doubt.
Despite those attackers finding the target, coach André Villas-Boas reserved his highest praise for goalkeeper and captain Steve Mandanda, who had stopped Ibrahim Sangaré from making it 1-0 to Le Téfécé with a point-blank save minutes before Benedetto opened the scoring
"We deserved this win but I have to thank Steve Mandanda, who made a superb save in the 70th minute," said the Portuguese. "We had a good game overall. This win gives us a bit of a lead over the others, and we play Brest on Friday. I hope we can keep this up until Christmas. The next two games, against Brest and Angers, are crucial."
Angers SCO are the somewhat unlikely occupants of third place, Stéphane Moulin's side completing the podium after their 1-0 win over Nîmes Olympique at the Stade Raymond Kopa on Saturday, sealed thanks to Thomas Mangani's second-half strike.
Les Scoïstes have taken 19 of a possible 24 points from their eight home games this season, but Moulin has distanced himself from the idea that a first European campaign since the 1972/73 UEFA Cup could be his club's to enjoy come the end of the season.
"Our objective was simply to stay up towards the top of the table," he said. "It's a real pleasure to see the collective desire of the team, but that's nothing new. We must have that desire to stay up there. If we drop away little by little as people expect, it doesn't really matter, but the progression of our club depends on us being able to win games in which we're the favourites."
Girondins de Bordeaux are the best of the rest. Paulo Sousa's men found themselves trailing to AS Monaco from Islam Slimani's first-half opener, but Pablo - Les Girondins' only first-choice centre-back available with Laurent Koscielny injured and Mexer suspended - headed the hosts back onto level terms before Nicolas de Préville sealed the win from the penalty spot, with Slimani sent off for the handball - and then some dissent - for the handball that led to it.
Bordeaux are fourth, ahead of AS Saint-Etienne on goal-difference alone. Stéphane Ruffier celebrated his club-record 303rd Ligue 1 Conforama appearance for Les Verts by keeping a clean sheet against Montpellier Hérault SC. The 0-0 scoreline could so easily have been 1-0 to La Paillade had Ruffier not pulled off a stunning reaction save to keep out Gaëtan Laborde's late header
Place in history
The 33-year-old now has as many French top-flight appearances for the club as former fellow goalkeeper Ivan Curkovic, who helped ASSE to the 1976 European Cup final as part of the side which also contained club legend Michel Platini, and unsurprisingly drew praise from both coaches after the game.
"Stéphane Ruffier was great. It's not easy to be there at the right time. He kept us in the game. He's always good," said Sainté coach Claude Puel. "We could've finished it off in the second half but Stéphane Ruffier made a beautiful save. It's difficult to play Saint-Etienne but we have no regrets," concurred Puel's opposite number Michel Der Zakarian.
Elsewhere, Olympique Lyonnais beat OGC Nice 2-1. Jeff Reine-Adélaïde opened the scoring at the Groupama Stadium before Moussa Dembélé converted his league-leading 10th goal of the season from the penalty spot. Kasper Dolberg pulled one back but it wasn't enough for Patrick Vieira's side in a game which saw both sides end the encounter with 10 men.
Stade Brestois 29 and FC Nantes shared points and pride in their Brittany derby, meanwhile. Kalifa Coulibaly and Irvin Cardona exchanged goals in the north-west tip of France as the hosts denied Les Canaris what might have been a first win in five.
RC Strasbourg Alsace enjoyed the biggest winning margin of the weekend, Le Racing thumping Amiens SC 4-0 at the Stade de la Licorne to leave their hosts just two points above the relegation places.
Meanwhile, Frédéric Sammaritano came off the bench to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Stade Rennais FC, chipping in with a goal and an assist inside the final 20 minutes to cancel out Raphinha's opener, and FC Metz and Stade de Reims wrestled to a 1-1 draw at the Stade Saint-Symphorien.