Week 8 in Ligue 1 ended with AS Monaco pulling level with defending champions Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the table. Although ahead on goal difference, they were unable to re-establish their two-point lead.
PSG edged past Toulouse FC 2-0 at the Parc des Princes on Saturday, while Les Monegasques had to settle for a hard-earned point when they encountered stiff resistance against Stade de Reims on Sunday.
Laurent Blanc’s side look to have put their early season stumbles behind them—results-wise at least—with five wins in their last six Ligue 1 games.
One of their star duo of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani helped them to victory over a resolute TFC side, with El Matador stroking home a penalty to guide PSG to three points.
Le Championnat’s two other star turns, Ibrahimovic and Radamel Falcao, were left largely frustrated, and it is Cavani who is the only one to end the week with a goal to his name.
Here is a breakdown of how Ligue 1’s three biggest names fared individually.
Coming into Monaco’s clash with midtable Reims at the Stade Auguste Delaune, Falcao was on a run of seven goals from seven matches.
Strike partner Emmanuel Riviere had another six, and together, they form the most prolific strike partnership in France so far this season.
None of that was in evidence though as Falcao and the Frenchman struggled throughout the game against opposition intent on not being overawed by their illustrious visitors.
In all honesty, the Colombian barely got a sniff all night. In fact, what was so impressive about Reims' performance was that they rendered the 27-year-old obsolete for pretty much the full 90 minutes.
For only the second time all season, the South American drew a blank—the other being in a goalless home draw against Toulouse in Week 3.
El Tigre had one late chance where he used his hand to control the ball before firing home a disallowed goal.
Otherwise, he was unceremoniously dragged to the ground by Anthony Weber, who was lucky to only see yellow, on the sole occasion that he actually got away from his man in the vicinity of the penalty area.
This was no doubt Falcao’s quietest match in a Monaco shirt so far.
It was not Ibrahimovic’s best weekend either.
He started for PSG as captain and in the middle of a three-man attacking unit as Blanc opted to continue with a 4-3-3 formation.
The Swede preferred ahead of strike partner Cavani who dropped to the bench ahead of a big week of Champions League and domestic action.
But the towering striker cut a frustrated figure for the 69 minutes that he was on the field as Alain Casanova’s side sucked the imagination out of the game.
Ibra was forced to feed on scraps for the most part, dropping back into midfield to help his teammates probe for an opening.
However, Toulouse, including PSG’s on loan Clement Chantome, proved difficult to break down. In the end, both of the goals scored by Blanc’s side came from set pieces.
Ibrahimovic was involved in neither and did not get the chance to continue working on his relationship with Cavani either. The latter replaced him in a straight swap with 21 minutes remaining.
The talismanic striker’s afternoon ended in controversy with Aymen Abdennour and Abel Aguilar doing their best to get under his skin.
That was followed by an altercation with long-time foe Jonathan Zebina as he left the field in frustration, via Gregory Hangard of Football.fr, translated from French as a bilingual.
Blanc will be relieved that one of his star duo can find the net when the other is not on top form.
Given just 21 minutes to make an impact, Cavani quickly showed how much more of a direct threat he can be and worked hard to get involved.
Holding a slender 1-0 lead at the time, the Uruguayan’s industry created a number of openings, and PSG all of a sudden had chances as Toulouse failed to deal with his injection of energy.
Cavani’s goal came on 79 minutes, just eight after coming on, and it was a chance that he also manufactured.
Latching onto an excellent Adrien Rabiot pass, El Matador controlled before turning towards goal only to be brought down.
As contentious as the decision to award the spot-kick was, Cavani stepped up to take it himself and duly converted.
In a short space of time, the summer signing had provided the desired effect and Blanc’s change looked an inspired one.
To keep both Ibrahimovic and Cavani fit for next week’s clashes with Benfica in Europe and Olympique de Marseille in Le Classique, Blanc switched the two, like for like.
However, the change gave the impression that PSG are more functional with Cavani leading the attack than Ibrahimovic.
Blanc’s 4-3-3 was largely stifled again, and to get the best out of his two star men he needs to fit Ibrahimovic in behind Cavani.
But that needs to be done without losing the control that the current midfield setup provides so as to not expose a currently weak central defence in the absence of Thiago Silva and Alex.
Cavani will be happy to have proved a point coming off of the bench.
He gave the home side more of the direct goal threat that they occasionally lacked last season with just Ibrahimovic up front, which was once again evident Saturday.
Both Ibrahimovic and Cavani have a big week ahead with PSG.
The French champions welcome Benfica to Paris in the Champions League for their group C clash before travelling to face bitter rivals Marseille in Provence.
Falcao and Monaco have a quieter week on the horizon; they welcome AS Saint-Etienne to the Principality on Saturday.
The match presents the chance to pull clear of PSG and to put the pressure on Blanc’s side heading into Le Classique on Sunday.
After that, both sides enter a two-week break for the international fortnight.
Currently locked on 18 points apiece, neither team will want to concede ground.
A PSG victory in Marseille though could signal the definitive beginning of a two-horse title race that is looking a distinct probability already.