PARIS: A superb Neymar free-kick helped Paris Saint-Germain to a 3-0 win at troubled Lille on Saturday as the Ligue 1 leaders began a decisive month as they mean to go on.
The world’s most expensive player netted the second goal at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy after Yuri Berchiche had opened the scoring just prior to half-time.
Giovani Lo Celso’s delightful chip secured the victory late on, with PSG now 11 points clear of Marseille at the top of the table.
PSG have won 12 of their last 13 games in all competitions, including four in a row since a 2-1 defeat at Lyon last month.
Their season-defining Champions League last-16 tie against Real Madrid is fast approaching, with the first leg to come in the Spanish capital on February 14.
“The best preparation for the match in Madrid is to be competitive in every match and work on the things that we can improve,” said PSG coach Unai Emery.
He will hope to have the likes of Adrien Rabiot, Julian Draxler and Thiago Motta back fit for that game, while Kylian Mbappe will almost certainly start at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The teenage France forward was absent on Saturday due to suspension after being sent off in the 3-2 League Cup semi-final win at Rennes in midweek.
“A lot of things can still happen. I cannot say today who is going to play in Madrid, that is impossible. I just hope the best is still to come,” added Emery, whose team have a French Cup tie at Sochaux to come on Tuesday.
– Debuchy debut goal –
In Mbappe’s absence, Angel Di Maria again started alongside Neymar and Edinson Cavani in attack, but the Uruguayan was unable to add to his club record tally of 157 goals.
Spaniard Berchiche was handed a start ahead of Layvin Kurzawa at left-back and he broke the deadlock right on half-time, drilling home after a poor attempted clearance by Junior Alonso fell to him.
Lille are a club with serious off-field worries, concerns about their finances leading to them being handed a transfer embargo that prevented them from adding to their squad in January.
Sports daily L’Equipe even reported on Saturday that the club had been told they face being relegated at the end of the season if their financial situation does not hugely improve, regardless of their final league position.
Christophe Galtier’s side had looked set to go into the break on level terms before Berchiche struck, and they were upset that Cavani was not flagged offside in the build-up to that goal.
Just 13 minutes remained when Neymar effectively ended the game as a contest, finding the top-left corner with a free-kick from right on the edge of the area.
It was the Brazilian’s 18th goal in 17 Ligue 1 appearances, with seven of those coming in his last three outings.
Lo Celso arguably topped Neymar’s effort with his chip over Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan, as the young Argentine again stood in well for the veteran Motta. The assist had come from new signing Lassana Diarra, on as a substitute for his league debut.
Marseille claimed an extraordinary 6-3 win over bottom club Metz on Friday, with Florian Thauvin scoring a hat-trick.
Fourth-placed Monaco host Lyon, who are third, in a key game in the battle for Champions League places on Sunday.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Mathieu Debuchy scored on his debut for Saint-Etienne in their 2-0 win at Amiens.
France right-back Debuchy signed a deal until the end of the season in midweek after being allowed to leave Arsenal. He was also involved in the build-up to Remy Cabella’s goal that sealed the win.
Bordeaux made it two wins out of two under new coach Gustavo Poyet, beating Strasbourg 2-0 away. – APP