Week 25 review: Mbappé, PSG pull further clear
By S. Willis
A stunning strike from Ligue 1 Conforama top scorer Kylian Mbappé put PSG 12 points clear atop the table; Nîmes' Téji Savanier bagged a Goal of the Season contender; and Mario Balotelli struck again to help OM to fourth...
Ligue 1 Conforama leaders PSG may be without injured superstars Neymar and Edinson Cavani, but it seems that the third element of their renowned attacking trio - a certain Kylian Mbappé - is perfectly capable of stepping up to the plate during their absence.
After scoring to clinch the 2-0 UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg win in Manchester on Tuesday, the 20-year-old was at it again in Saint-Etienne, bagging his 19th of the season to secure a 20th win of the campaign for Thomas Tuchel's side.
"He shows his quality every day in training, he has this hunger to score, score, score. It's his quality. He is a special player," said a delighted PSG boss Thomas Tuchel, who was echoed by Gasset. "We lost the match to an other-worldly goal, scored by a 20-year-old who will soon be the best player in the world, if he continues like this for the next two, three years."
Meanwhile the man of the hour - who just became the first player in 45 years to score 19 goals in his first 18 games of a Ligue 1 Conforama campaign and who is behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of combined goals and assists in Europe's top five leagues (19 goals plus six assists) - put his stunning strike down to perseverance and instinct.
"I had an earlier effort and I skied it into the stands. But when we persevere, it pays off," explained the World Cup winner. "Dani Alves gave me a good pass. I played it on instinct and put it in the top corner."
Meanwhile Nîmes' Téji Savanier put his Goal of the Season contender - at least in part - to the keen analysis done by Les Crocodiles' coaching staff in the lead-up to the 2-0 win over strugglers Dijon.
"[Jordan] Ferri won the ball and passed it to my feet. I took a touch and looked to see if the 'keepers was off his line, as we had seen him do in our video sessions," said the 27-year-old, who now has three goals and seven assists in his first campaign in France's top flight. "I decided to try my luck and it went in."
Nîmes climb into tenth place, just two points off the European places, while Dijon - for whom it was a third-straight league defeat - remain perched in 18th, in line for a relegation play-off against Domino's Ligue 2's third-placed side.
Super Mario impact
In stark contrast, Olympique de Marseille made it three wins in a row with a 2-0 triumph at home to Amiens, ostensibly putting their recent slump behind them as goals from Florian Thauvin and Mario Balotelli - his third in four matches since a winter move from Nice - got the job done.
"Mario Balotelli changes a lot of things," explained OM boss Rudi Garcia, who many thought was lucky not to be ousted after his side picked up just one win in 12 outings in all competitions on either side of the winer break. "Yes, the goal was a goal of a world-class forward, but above all he accelerates our game with his one-touch play. It's difficult to win three games in a row and we mustn't stop there, we need to win a fourth."
LOSC falter, Lyon capitalise
Second-placed LOSC, who now trail leaders PSG - who still have two matches in hand - by 12 points, failed to win in the league for the first time since Week 19, Montpellier managing to keep the brilliant Nicolas Pépé quiet and clinch a 0-0 draw at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Sunday.
The draw saw third-placed Lyon cut their deficit behind LOSC - and direct UEFA Champions League group stage qualification - to just four points. Martin Terrier and Nabil Fekir scored superb goals to beat bottom club Guingamp 2-0 as their UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg clash at home to the mighty FC Barcelona - a match Fekir will miss through suspension - looms on Tuesday.
Rennes slump, Martins powers Monaco revival
After letting their lead slip to draw 3-3 at home to Real Betis in a draining first leg of their UEFA Europa League last 32 tie on Thursday, Stade Rennais FC slumped to a 2-0 defeat to form side Stade de Reims, who are now unbeaten in seven league outings.
Monaco continued their revival under returned coach Leonardo Jardim, Gelson Martins - a revelatory winter loan signing from Atlético Madrid - hitting his second in three matches for a 1-0 win over FC Nantes. The principality club, now undefeated in three (two wins) climb to 16th, two points clear of the drop, while Nantes sit tight in 14th.
Bragging rights for Bordeaux
Bordeaux claimed local bragging rights in the Garonne derby against Toulouse, veteran Jimmy Briand - the most prolific currently active French scorer in Ligue 1 Conforama - hitting his 90th top-flight goal to clinch a 2-1 win at the MATMUT Atlantique.
Angers continued their push up the table with a 3-0 beating of Nice, while Strasbourg dipped to ninth after drawing 0-0 in Caen - a third match in a row without victory for Thierry Laurey's side, who sat as high as fifth in Week 22.