Week 13 in Ligue 1 could turn out to be a major turning point in both the title race and the battle to be crowned France’s top goalscorer. Paris Saint-Germain capitalised on AS Monaco’s 1-1 draw with Evian Thonon Gaillard on Friday by beating OGC Nice 3-1 on Saturday to move five points clear temporarily.
That five was whittled down to four by Lille OSC, who drew 0-0 at En Avant Guingamp later on Saturday, but the gap between PSG and Monaco has become relatively large in a short space of time as Les Monegasques falter.
Not even a goal from star man Radamel Falcao could help the principality outfit past a plucky Evian side that arguably deserved to upset their hosts. The Colombian took his goal well but was let down by his teammates and in particular a defence that is all of a sudden looking very creaky.
There were no such problems for PSG, though. In-form striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic smashed in a second hat-trick in as many weeks after his quadruple against RSC Anderlecht last month, but Edinson Cavani had to settle for the part of a virtual spectator.
Ibrahimovic’s treble lifts him up to eight Ligue 1 goals for the season, suddenly just one goal behind Falcao and Cavani as the race for goalscoring supremacy heats up.
It was another disappointing weekend for Falcao and Monaco, who followed up last week’s 2-0 defeat at Lille OSC with another underwhelming performance at home to Evian Thonon Gaillard.
The Colombian scored with a well-taken finish in the 1-1 draw, but aside from that, he did precious little and once again looked isolated.
El Tigre’s biggest problem so far this season has been a lack of service. Despite James Rodriguez’s excellent pass to create the goal, he was once again frustrated against the Savoyard side. Falcao needs his compatriot Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho to be putting chances on a plate for him if he is to be truly effective in this Monaco side.
Too often the team is dependent on utilising the wide men Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Lucas Ocampos, which means that the strikers see less of the ball because of their direct approach.
Ferreira Carrasco and Ocampos are top Ligue 1 talents but are hardly conducive to Falcao’s success. They are better running with the ball and stretching teams, with the 27-year-old snapping up any loose chances inside the box.
Since his arrival in France, the South American’s reputation as a penalty-box predator has been confirmed. Until the team jells a bit more, he will have to expand his influence on games to outside of the penalty box. When given the chance, Falcao is ruthless, as he demonstrated against Evian, but it was his only clear chance of the match.
After a run of relatively quiet form in the last few weeks since his virtuoso performance against Anderlecht in Belgium, Ibrahimovic was somewhat due another breakout. It happened against Nice when PSG desperately needed a win to take maximum advantage of Monaco’s slip-up.
Despite the three goals, there was only limited progress made by Ibrahimovic and Cavani regarding their partnership. The Swede did play a delightful ball over the top for El Matador, only for the Uruguayan to be dragged down by Nice’s stand-in goalkeeper, Luca Veronese, before taking the spot-kick himself.
Other than that thought, there was limited progress.
Ibrahimovic’s understanding with right-back Gregory van der Wiel, on the other hand, appears to be thriving. The Dutchman provided another assist for the towering striker, and it is the third time this season that it has happened.
The 25-year-old has created three further goals for the PSG talisman in the Champions League this season, and their rapport seems to be growing stronger with every match.
After a slow start to a season that many thought would see Ibrahimovic take a backseat with the arrival of Cavani, the 32-year-old has exploded back into life and has reaffirmed his status as PSG’s main man time and again.
For Cavani, it was a quieter afternoon and one of few chances. The Uruguayan did have the ball in the net in the first half and was unlucky to have been judged offside, but he otherwise struggled to get into the match.
The problem, if there is one, when Ibrahimovic is in this kind of form is that he is so dominating. It is almost as if it would be better if Cavani was off the pitch because it would enhance the Swede’s chances of scoring even more.
With such a quality player, and one who has already proven himself to be a good acquisition for PSG, El Matador is still vital on the pitch. Nine goals in his first nine starts excuses the 26-year-old a quiet performance, but it is not like there was much he could do.
When Ibrahimovic is in that sort of form, it is difficult to stop him once he builds up enough momentum.
There were signs that the relationship between the pair was improving; it was Ibra’s pass that set up the penalty after all. Cavani was brought down in the area by Veronese after controlling his teammate’s excellent pass.
However, it will take some more time. For now, rapport or not, the pair is working well whether or not the two play in the same team at the same time.
With the international break now upon us, Ligue 1 takes a two-week pause.
At present, Falcao and Cavani lead the way in the scoring charts with nine goals each, but Ibrahimovic is hot on their heels with eight of his own.
Cavani and Ibrahimovic will be involved in World Cup qualifiers this fortnight, while Falcao is on friendly duty with Colombia.
Once they return though, PSG travel to face Reims while Monaco face a tough trip to FC Nantes.