Paris Saint-Germain broke Valenciennes’ hearts on Valentine’s Day with a 3-0 win at the Parc des Princes. The victory moves the French champions a provisional eight points clear of title rivals AS Monaco at the top of the pile, while deepening VAFC’s woes toward the bottom of it.
Goals from Ezequiel Lavezzi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as well as an own goal from Gary Kagelmacher, decided the game in the hosts’ favour.
7 - This is Paris SG's seventh win by 3+ goals in Ligue 1 this season, the most ahead Monaco (3 wins). Margin.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) February 14, 2014
The Parisians made a host of alterations to the team, as is their custom in games prior to UEFA Champions League encounters, but it did not upset the league leaders who secured a straightforward win.
Laurent Blanc was happy with his side’s domination of possession being reflected in the final result, something that has not happened too often lately.
However, he also revealed post-match that there is still some room for improvement from PSG before choosing to single out Yohan Cabaye for praise on his first start for the capital club:
That's the way we wanted the match to go but you still have to go out and perform. The second and third goals allowed us to take off some key players and give them a rest ahead of the Champions League game against Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday.
The dress rehearsal involved winning the game and the players put Leverkusen to one side and did the job.
We had chances that we didn't take and we could have been more clinical in front of goal, although scoring three goals and not conceding isn't bad.
I'm pleased with all the team and Yohan Cabaye is starting to adapt and fit into the mould.
The pressure is now on title rivals Monaco, who travel to Corsica to face SC Bastia on Saturday, while PSG can focus firmly on Tuesday's clash in Germany.
Here are six things we learned from PSG 3-0 Valenciennes.
Handed a start while Edinson Cavani is absent and Lucas Moura was being rested for next week’s UEFA Champions League last 16 first-leg clash with Bayer Leverkusen, Lavezzi shone for PSG.
It was an impressive performance from the Argentine, considering the tragic death of his uncle Jorge who was brutally murdered in Argentina earlier in the week, and it was El Pocho who scored the opening goal.
4 - Ezequiel Lavezzi has scored four league goals this season, more than over the whole of last season (3). Pocho.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) February 14, 2014
Despite an energetic, involved showing, though, Lavezzi still wastes too many chances to expect a more regular place in the starting XI. The 28-year-old spurned an excellent opportunity just minutes after opening the scoring, one that was arguably easier than the one he netted as well as a number of others.
In order to re-establish his hold over the third position in the PSG front three, the former SSC Napoli man needs to produce these sorts of performances with greater consistency.
Although Valenciennes arrived at the Parc des Princes in relatively good form compared to when the two sides last met, the Ligue 1 strugglers were facing an uphill task from the word go by opting for a rough 3-5-2 formation.
The early injury to Israeli international Maor Melikson did not help, but Ariel Jacobs’ side can hardly have expected to take anything from the game prior to the match.
Instead, VAFC need to prioritise the games that are winnable for them and come against the sides in and around them in Le Championnat.
They have been doing a good job of it lately, beating inconsistent SC Bastia and lower mid-table side OGC Nice since the beginning of 2014, but need to continue it if they are to complete an impressive recovery under Jacobs.
Home form will be key for the northerners, with any points from away games against the likes of PSG a bonus.
Making his first start for PSG since his arrival late in the January transfer window, Cabaye slotted into the champions’ midfield seamlessly alongside Thiago Motta and Javier Pastore.
The French international was unspectacular in his performance but proved that he is certainly not below the high standard that has been set by Motta, international teammate Matuidi and Verratti so far this season.
Cabaye was deployed in Verratti’s regular position on the right of the two central midfielders deployed ahead of Motta’s deep-lying role and took to the position with relative ease.
It was a difficult game to impress in, but the 28-year-old did so still by providing his first assist in PSG colours. Cabaye’s bouncing goal-bound effort was turned in by Ibrahimovic for the hosts’ second of the game.
It might sound simple and obvious, but Valenciennes need to cut out the self-inflicted errors that have percolated many of their performances so far this season.
The goals that Jacobs’ side concede have regularly stemmed from their own mistakes, but they also chip in themselves to help their opponents’ cause.
Kagelmacher had the misfortune to score VAFC’s third own goal of the season, the most of any other side in Ligue 1.
3 - Valenciennes have conceded the most own goals in Ligue 1 this season, alongside Reims. Clumsy.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) February 14, 2014
If the northerners are to stand any chance of staying up, then they need to cut out these silly errors, particularly in more winnable games.
Valenciennes have been their own worst enemies at times this season, and Kagelmacher's gaffe could have been even more embarrassing had he not managed to clear in unorthodox style in the first half when the most comical of own goals had looked likely from Ibrahimovic's flicked effort.
Although there were other PSG players deserving of praise rather than criticism for their performances, such as Lucas Digne, the 3-0 win over Valenciennes has perhaps signalled the end for Jeremy Menez at the Parc des Princes.
Given the chance to start in the league for the first time since the defeat at Evian Thonon Gaillard in early December, the French international failed to take the precious opportunity.
Booed by his own fans once again, the 26-year-old’s days in the French capital appear to be numbered after an error-strewn performance that featured misplaced passes and a number of poor decisions.
Between now and the end of the season, Menez is unlikely to get too many chances to start again. When one does come, it will more than likely be out of necessity rather than choice for Coach Blanc.
Since the start of 2014, PSG have been producing some rather inefficient performances. Results might not have suffered overall in that time, but the nature of those performances has suffered a notable decline.
A regular feature of those underwhelming performances is a lull in play, normally after the champions have scored an opening goal. It is at these moments that Valenciennes and other Ligue 1 opponents need to take advantage.
Early goals are a common occurrence in the capital outfit’s games, but they are often a mixed blessing.
Just recently, against AS Monaco in Ligue 1 and FC Nantes in the Coupe de la Ligue last week, PSG switched off after an early goal and then conceded a late equaliser. Against FCN it did not eventually matter, but against Les Monegasques, it cost Blanc’s side three points.
Valenciennes failed to take advantage of one of those lulls in play and lost control immediately in the second half.
PSG’s future opponents should take note.