PSG fall behind in title race
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN suffered a Champions League hangover as a 2-0 home defeat against Kylian Mbappe’s old side Monaco on Sunday damaged their Ligue 1 title hopes after Lille earlier reclaimed top spot.
Sofiane Diop and Guillermo Maripan scored to give Monaco the points as they stretched their unbeaten run to 11 games and moved to within two points of their opponents, who sit in third place.
While Monaco remain in contention for a return to the Champions League, PSG find themselves a point behind Lyon in second and four points adrift of Lille, who retook top spot earlier on Sunday with a 4-1 win at Lorient.
It was a disappointing night for PSG as they failed to pick up where they left off in midweek, when they destroyed Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, Mbappe scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 win.
“We were not at the level we need to be at to win, and as coach I take responsibility for that,” said coach Mauricio Pochettino, who left Marco Verratti on the bench at kick-off in the only change from the Barcelona game.
“We spoke about the importance of maintaining our concentration levels, but we can’t exactly replicate our performance from one evening to the next.” There is now a genuine chance that PSG will miss out on the Ligue 1 title for the first time since Mbappe’s Monaco pipped them in 2017.
Almost exactly five years to the day after he scored his first Ligue 1 goal as a 17-year-old for the principality side, Mbappe was kept quiet by the Monaco defence, while Neymar watched from the stands as he continues to recover from injury.
Monaco had already beaten the Parisians at home in November and they went in front here in the sixth minute when Ruben Aguilar knocked down Kevin Volland’s cross for Diop to head in.
The home side failed to muster a shot on target in the first half and continued to lack inspiration after the break, as Monaco doubled their lead in the 51st minute.
Chilean defender Maripan dispossessed Ander Herrera inside the box and coolly slotted into the corner for what was already his fifth goal in 2021.
Mbappe had scored seven times in seven previous games against his old club since joining PSG in 2017, but he could not add to that tally as Monaco became the first team to beat PSG twice in the same Ligue 1 season since Nancy in 2011/12.
They are the third team to beat PSG at the Parc des Princes in Ligue 1 this season, after Marseille and Lyon.
“We said we must delete Kylian Mbappe because he is a great striker, keep the ball away from his side, and I think we showed another side to our team because we didn’t concede a lot of chances,” said Monaco coach Niko Kovac, as he played down his club’s chances of finishing in the top three and returning to the Champions League.
“At the moment it is too early because we are not yet on the same level as Lille, Lyon and PSG,” he said.
OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER is not giving up hope that Manchester United can challenge Manchester City for the Premier League title, despite the scintillating form of the league leaders.
City have soared 10 points clear of their local rivals thanks to an 18-game winning streak in all competitions.
United’s own inconsistent form has helped open up the gap, but the Red Devils beat Newcastle 3-1 on Sunday to win for just the second time in six league games.
“We’ve got to be there just in case,” said Solskjaer. “Every time we get three points we’ve done our job and that’s what we’ve got to do and see what other teams do.”
Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were again on target on a night United needed their star men to paper over the cracks of another unconvincing performance.
Solskjaer made five changes to the side that impressively thrashed Real Sociedad 4-0 in the
Europa League on Thursday and was lucky not to be punished for a disjointed start from the hosts.
“We had to find a way to win it in the second-half. The first-half wasn’t up to the standard that we wanted,” added Solskjaer.
“Maybe because of Newcastle, maybe because of what we did in the week. We asked them to go again after a high-intensity game and it took us to half time to get our legs and energy.”
A run of two wins in 14 games has left Newcastle just three points clear of the drop zone, but Steve Bruce remains confident his side will survive.
“Fulham have had a good week and won a couple of games, which at the bottom end of the table is big, but there are a few of us: Brighton, Burnley and maybe Crystal Palace looking over their shoulders,” said Bruce.
“My message to the supporters is that I’m convinced we’ll be ok.”
Poor goalkeeping cost Bruce’s men the opening goal on the half hour mark as Rashford wriggled free inside the area, but his shot should have been kept out by Karl Darlow.
United’s sloppy defending from set-pieces was punished six minutes later, though, when Saint-Maximin swept the ball into the top corner after Harry Maguire only half-cleared a cross into the box.
After a blistering start to his United career last season, Dan James has struggled for game time, but the Welshman has now scored in his last three appearances as he blasted past Darlow from close range just before the hour mark.
More good footwork from Rashford then drew Joe Willock into an ill-advised challenge inside the box and the on-loan Arsenal midfielder conceded a penalty.
Darlow had saved the only spot-kick Fernandes has missed as a United player when the sides met earlier in the season.
But he was wrong-footed this time as the Portuguese playmaker coolly converted to give United the two-goal cushion they craved. —