Week 20 review: Cesc steps up, PSG and Pépé roll on
Spain star Cesc Fabregas impressed on debut for AS Monaco as the strugglers mixed it 1-1 with Marseille; PSG remain 13 points clear after downing Amiens, while Pépé-powered LOSC ploughed past Caen.
There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for embattled AS Monaco boss Thierry Henry, and it contains the silhouette of Cesc Fabregas, who was rushed into the starting line-up to make the short trip to Marseille after his Friday-evening move from EPL giants Chelsea.
Poise and vision
The Spanish World Cup winner, partnered with promising Belgian Youri Tielemans in the centre of midfield, brought Monaco the poise and vision they have been lacking and coach Thierry Henry was duly impressed after his side rebounded from an early Maxime Lopez screamer as Aleksandr Golovin and Benjamin Henrichs combined to set up Tielemans for the leveller.
"Cesc Fabregas got better as the minutes ticked by," said the Monaco boss, whose side remain in 19th place, four points shy of safety. "He managed to take the match in his grasp and read between the lines. We could have finished certains moves off better, but we're on the right track."
Despite failing to win for an eighth consecutive match in all competitions - including a Coupe de France elimination at the hands of fourth-division Andrézieux - OM boss Rudi Garcia was happy with his side's spirit - despite a frosty welcome from the home fans.
"The hostile reaction from the crowd didn't help, obviously. What counts is how the players responded out on the pitch, the solidarity that they showed even after the match," he explained. "The players' going to see the fans as a group was a nice image."
Cavani on point as PSG bounce back
Despite having two matches in hand over second-placed LOSC, PSG remain 13 points clear atop the Ligue 1 Conforama table following their 3-0 victory in Amiens on Saturday. A scoreless first half gave way to a goal-rich second, with Edinson Cavani - in the absence of a rested Neymar - striking from the spot before setting up Kylian Mbappé for a league-high 14th of the season. Marquinhos added a third late on.
"We needed the win," said coach Thomas Tuchel, whose side had been eliminated from the Coupe de la Ligue by Guingamp in mid-week - their first domestic cup defeat in five years. "Today we played with a lot of quality. We started very strongly. Amiens might have defended deep but the challenge for us was to find solutions. We were better today than against Guingamp. It was a good effort from the team, a good performance, and I am satisfied."
Pépé pulls the strings
LOSC may be one of the few teams to have played all 20 of their fixtures so far this season, but Christophe Galtier's men have been making the most of it - thanks notably to the irrepressible Nicolas Pépé, the driving force behind their win away to Caen on Friday night. After scoring the first, the 23-year-old Ivorian set up goals for Rafael Leao and substitue Luiz Araujo that left Zeki Celik's red card (85') and Casimir Ninga's consolation strike mere footnotes - but Galtier was keen to underline his side's collective quality.
"Our team is more than just Nicolas Pépé," he tempered - even though, with 13 goals (second in the league) and seven assists (first in the league), he is the competition's most decisive player and in front of the likes of Eden Hazard and Cristiano Ronaldo. "I was happy to see three forward score tonight. If Nicolas is able to express himself out there, it's because there is also a huge amount of work being done by his teammates."
Rivals OL, Sainté on level pegging
The win saw LOSC pull four points clear of Olympique Lyonnais - who have a match in hand over Les Dogues - after Bruno Genesio's men were held to a 1-1 draw in Reims. Pablo Chavarria put the Champagne side ahead but Bertrand Traoré capped a sublime team move for the leveller.
OL's arch-rivals Saint-Etienne pulled level on 33 points thanks to a 1-0 win away to bottom club Guingamp. Although the Brittany side were coming off their 2-1 Coupe de la Ligue BKT elimination of five-time reigning champions PSG, Wahbi Khazri's free-kick - which took the Tunisian international to the first double-figure goal tally of his career - was enough to decide the encounter.
Kombouaré makes unbeaten Dijon start
Meanwhile, Guingamp's former coach Antoine Kombouaré was presiding over his first league match since taking the reins at Dijon, and it was a happy occasion as the 18th-placed Burgundy club broke a two-match league skid with a 1-1 draw at home to podium-chasing Montpellier.
Strasbourg, Rennes, Nice take points
In-form Strasbourg made it four wins in a row in all competitions, building on their shock elimination of OL to reach the Coupe de la Ligue BKT semis in mid-week with a 2-1 win in Toulouse that took them sixth, while Julien Stéphan's resurgent Rennes trumped FC Nantes 1-0 at the Stade de la Beaujoire. Defender Damien Da Silva - who scored when Rennes knocked Les Canaris out fo the Coupe de la Ligue BKT a month ago - hit the only goal of the game.
OGC Nice - with Mario Balotelli left out of the squad entirely - broke a six-match winless run in all competitions as Allan Saint-Maximin's spot-kick clinched a 1-0 win over Bordeaux at the Allianz Riviera. Due to security concerns, Angers SCO's visit to Nîmes Olympique was postponed until Tuesday, 23 January at 19:00 CET.