Week 24 review: Monaco stun OL in race for second
By S. Willis
Ten-man Monaco's breath-taking fight-back to beat Lyon 3-2 struck a blow in the race for second place, but Marseille's mauling of Metz saw them come out of the weekend on top, 11 points behind a PSG who cruised to victory in Lille.
Monaco's valiant performance had everything to suggest that only a fool would count Leonardo Jardim's reigning Ligue 1 champions out this season. Despite going two goals down - and losing Keita Baldé to a red card (44') in the first half as well as Danijel Subasic and Radamel Falcao to injury - the principality club lifted their game and ran out shock winners as Rony Lopes lashed home with just minutes to go (88').
Jardim: 'No miracle'
"This was one of our best performances in terms of the players' collective attitude. We deserved this win! I'm very proud of my players and I'm happy for all of them," said Jardim, who side was knocked out of the Coupe de France by Lyon just under a fortnight ago. "Lyon respect us. They know that Monaco are the reigning champions of France. This was no miracle."
For Lyon, it was a second loss on the bounce and club president Jean-Michel Aulas wondered whether the side that beat PSG in Week 22 weren't perhaps allowing complacency to creep in as their round of 16 Coupe de France clash away to in-form Montpellier looms on Wednesday.
"It's very disappointing. Everything was in our favor for us to win. I'm the first to cheer on the players, but tonight they need to ask themselves: Have we been overconfident?" said the Champions League-obsessed club owner, whose side are now three points adrift of second-placed Marseille. "We must put aside these two defeats against Bordeaux and Monaco to get back into a positive streak."
Thauvin on fire as OM take second
A positive streak is exactly what Marseille are currently experiencing. Rudi Garcia's side had drawn just once in an unbeaten run of seven in all competitions heading into the visit of FC Metz to the Vélodrome on Friday night, and they rolled on with a stylish 6-3 win, thanks in no small part to red-hot Florian Thauvin's second-ever Ligue 1 Conforama hat-trick.
"If we win everything 6-3 until the end of the season, I'll be happy, and a victory like that will help me send a message to my players," said the OM boss, judicious in his praise of the hat-trick hero, who complemented his goal-fest with a second-best in the league tenth assist of the campaign. "Flo [Thauvin] continues to make a difference. I want him to keep working, to make a big contribution. He's a humble boy, but praise weakens men and I don't want him to be weakened."
It was a blow for Metz, who have found form in 2018 and were looking to pry themselves from the foot of the table, but Frédéric Hantz's side still have to bridge a seven-point deficit to leapfrog 18th-placed LOSC, who came unstuck at home to runaway leaders PSG on Saturday afternoon.
PSG look the goods for Real test
Christophe Galtier's side were coming off a rare win, over Strasbourg in Week 23, but they were brought back down to earth as Paris' stars strutted their stuff, doing everything to suggest that they are ready for the UEFA Champions League trip to face Zinedine Zidane's Merengues.
"The best preparation for the match against Real Madrid is to be competitive in every match. We have passed the test here in Lille," said PSG boss Unai Emery, whose side travel to Ligue 2's Sochaux in the Coupe de France's round of 16 on Tuesday night, while superstar Neymar Jr, now on 18 goals (11 assists), was evidently focused on league matters. "It was very important to win here. We have done that, and that allows us to maintain our lead over the second-placed team. Giovani [Lo Celso] and I scored two nice goals, but I think his was nicer."
Caen clinch thriller
Claudio Ranieri's Nantes had their hopes of cutting the 11-point gap behind fourth-placed Lyon dashed by a spirited fight-back from SM Caen, who had veteran defender Damien Da Silva's double to thank for the 3-2 win - their first at home in two months.
OGC Nice slipped to seventh following a 1-0 set-back at home to Toulouse, Max-Alain Gradel's stunning curler taking Mickaël Debève's side from 19th to 15th with a second win in a row, leap-frogging an Angers side who fell victim to Isaac Mbenza's razor-sharp winner in a 2-1 defeat in the south-west.
Debuchy makes instant impact
Bordeaux maintained their perfect record under new boss Gus Poyet, building on the win over Lyon by cruising past Strasbourg 2-0 in the east of France, while Saint-Etienne's revival also continued, newly signed France international Mathieu Debuchy scoring on debut in a 2-0 win in Amiens that took Les Verts to 12th place.
Meanwhile Guingamp completed the league double over Brittany rivals Rennes, recent signing from QPR Yeni Ngbakoto's screamer clinching a 1-0 win at Roazhon Park on Sunday. The round's tenth fixture - Dijon's trip to ESTAC Troyes - was postponed until February 20 due to flooding at the Stade de l'Aube.