PSG charge rolls on with Rennes victory

Champions Paris Saint-Germain's relentless pursuit of a second straight French title continued with a 3-1 win at Rennes on Saturday.

PSG charge rolls on with Rennes victory
Photo: Damien Meyer/AFP

Brazilian-born Italy midfielder Thiago Motta cracked home a long-range strike on 19 minutes before Zlatan Ibrahimovic slotted home a penalty seven minutes into the second period.

Romain Alessandrini pulled a goal back for the Breton hosts midway through the second half but Edinson Cavani's injury time low strike sealed the points.

The victory kept PSG two points clear of second-placed Monaco, who won 2-0 at Guingamp later on Saturday.

But with just 11 points dropped in 18 matches this season, PSG appear well on their way to maintaining their grip on the Ligue 1 crown.

If there was any doubt about the Parisians' current morale after two defeats in their last three matches, they were dispelled in a controlled performance.

PSG's 2-0 loss at Evian two weeks ago ended a 36-match unbeaten run but their midweek reverse at Benfica in the Champions League came with several stars rested and after the French champions had already secured top spot in their group.

In between those two setbacks they had thumped lowly Sochaux 5-0.

"We lost two away matches because I think we lacked the ingredients needed for such high-level matches," said PSG coach Laurent Blanc.

"Tonight, apart from the victory, the overall performance really pleased me. The players rediscovered their spirit."

It was a game punctuated by some fine goals, most of all the opening one.

Motta was fully 25 yards out when he shifted the ball onto his favoured left foot and hit a powerful effort that curled around goalkeeper Benoit Costil.

The second came as Blaise Matuidi made a surging run into the box following a one-two, only to be sent crashing to the ground by a sliding challenge from Cedric Houtondji.

Ibrahimovic calmly rolled the spot-kick home straight down the middle for his 14th goal of the season, keeping him top of the scoring charts.

Rennes's hopes were revived when Alessandrini cracked home a free-kick from as far out as Motta's goal, but PSG goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu should have done better with a strike that seemed to go straight through him.

The final nail in the home coffin came in time added on as Cavani robbed the ball in his own half and sprinted up the field to take Matuidi's pass from a swift counter before shooting home from outside the area.

Monaco, without injured record signing Radamel Falcao for the fourth game in a row, won for the fifth successive match.

It was all but over at half-time as Anthony Martial shot high into the net from James Rodriguez's pass after just four minutes.

And three minutes from time a Rodriguez corner was headed home by Layvin Kurzawa.

Monaco forward Valere Germain said the important thing was to move 12 points clear of fourth place.

"This win has allowed us to extend the gap on fourth place. Our aim is (to qualify for) the Champions League," he said.

"As for the title, we'll see in April whether we'll be able to worry PSG."

In other games, Nice, who narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Champions League last season, finally ended a seven-match losing streak with a 1-0 success at home to rock bottom Sochaux.

Nantes's hopes of closing in on the Champions League places suffered a blow with a 2-1 defeat at home to Toulouse, which leaves them seven points off third-placed Lille, who have a game in hand.

On Friday, 2012 champions Montpellier's dismal season continued as a 1-0 defeat at home to Saint-Etienne left them still one place above the relegation zone.

Montpellier have not won in nine matches since early October and have only two wins all season.

They fired coach Jean Fernandez in early December, replacing him with Rolland Courbis.

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OPINION: Mbappé’s title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project

After being the star of France's 2018 World Cup triumph, Kylian Mbappé has been the standout player for Paris Saint-Germain in a Ligue 1 title-winning campaign that has been slightly marred by the manner in which they limped over the line.

OPINION: Mbappé's title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project
Photos AFP

PSG finally wrapped up the title on Sunday after second-placed Lille failed to beat Toulouse, having not won any of their previous three games when the opportunity to confirm a sixth French crown in seven seasons was there.

The Qatari-owned club can still make it a domestic double, with the French Cup final to come against Rennes next weekend, yet this will not be remembered as a vintage year.

While Neymar once again went missing due to injury at the crucial point, Edinson Cavani has struggled with fitness too, and coach Thomas Tuchel has regularly lashed out at the lack of depth in his squad.

The 5-1 capitulation at Lille a week ago was the worst league result for PSG since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011, and the first time they had let in five in a league game since 2000.

A record-breaking 14-match winning run with which they started the season now seems like a long time ago, the latest Champions League failure clouding Tuchel's first campaign in charge.

Mbappé, at least, has been a constant, revelling in his status as a World Cup winner and hardly ever being rested. He only turned 20 in December, but has now won three Ligue 1 titles in a row.

Mbappé has 36 goals in 40 games this season, with 30 in the league. And, frighteningly, his team-mate Daniel Alves told RMC recently that “he doesn't realise how good he is, he can go much further”.

He is also not used to losing, and may have upset some of his teammates with his assessment of last week's defeat at Lille. “We played like beginners,” he said.

Hollow ring

To be fair, they have usually been exceptional domestically. However, the problem is that as long as they keep failing in the Champions League, domestic success for a club backed by a Gulf state will continue to ring hollow.

The title has effectively been in the bag for some time, but their season has been winding down ever since their exit against Manchester United in the last 16.

That, combined with being knocked out in the League Cup quarter-finals, means Tuchel in his first season has actually done worse than Unai Emery, his unloved predecessor.

Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel has actually done worse than his predecessor, Unai Emery
However, according to sports daily L'Equipe, Tuchel has agreed to extend his contract to 2021. Thoughts have already turned to the future, with new signings needed at the Parc des Princes.

The costly Neymar experiment cannot be said to have succeeded until he stays fit for the games that matter, and there will always be speculation about his future.

“We have a contract, we're not even halfway through that contract,” Neymar's father pointed out to RMC Sport.

Time for a clear-out? 

Mbappé is the one man they really cannot afford to lose, but is it time for a clear-out elsewhere?

Some of the excitement of the early part of the decade has gone, replaced with a staleness. The days of Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani and Marco Verratti are maybe ending.

Youri Djorkaeff, a World Cup winner for France and a PSG star in the 1990s, offers a frank assessment, suggesting real change is needed higher up.

“If you're not great in every compartment, from the bus driver to the girls who clean the shirts, you will go nowhere,” he told Ligue 1 Podcast, 'Le Beau Jeu'.

“Paris Saint-Germain, after many years without success, have to rebuild everything, restart from scratch, because the foundations are not good. You cannot expect to one day win the Champions League without these foundations.”

The Qatar project needs a breath of fresh air, and all eyes will be on president Nasser al-Khelaifi and sporting director Antero Henrique.

UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules remain a problem, though, with PSG said to have a hole of around 100 million euros and the need to present a balanced budget by the end of June. The next few months will be interesting.

By Andy Scott/AFP