Tue | Aug 21, 2018

PSG in front, others battling for second

Published:Saturday | December 23, 2017 | 12:00 AM
PSG's Kylian Mbappe reacts after scoring a goal during the French League One match between Paris Saint Germain and Caen on December 20.

PARIS (AP):

With their formidable attacking might, Paris Saint-Germain(PSG) have killed any sense of suspense in the French league halfway through the season. Apart from a freak loss to promoted Strasbourg this month, the super-rich star-studded team has been nearly flawless, amassing 50 points in 19 games to open up a nine-point gap over defending champions Monaco heading into the winter break.

Unable to stop Monaco's march to the title last season, PSG have spent big and the investment has proved to be highly efficient, immediately. In less than six months, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe the world's two most expensive players have gelled well with the rest of Unai Emery's squad.

Early tensions between the Brazil striker and Edinson Cavani have quickly vanished, and the attacking trio of Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar has been too much of a challenge for most of the French league's defenders: PSG have scored 89 goals in 27 games in all competitions so far, failing to score only once.

After selling many important players, including Mbappe, Monaco have abandoned any hopes of defending their title. With coach Leonardo Jardim still in the process of rebuilding the side that reached the Champions League semifinals last season, Monaco do not play the same brand of free-flowing football as last season.

But Jardim's players have shown enough character to recover from four league losses and an early elimination from Europe's top competition. With PSG in a class of their own, the main interest in the second-half of the season will be the fight for the other Champions League places between Monaco, Lyon and Marseille.

 

TITLE RACE

 

Despite PSG's dominance, it has been an exciting first half of the season with clubs averaging 2.64 goals per game as the tight battle for the runner-up spot shaped up.

Behind Cavani, the league's top scorer with 19 goals, Monaco forward Radamel Falcao and Lyon pair Mariano Diaz and Nabil Fekir have greatly contributed to the quality of play in a league often criticised for the lack of spectacular entertainment.

Cavani has been averaging more than a goal per game to move one goal behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic's all-time scoring record for PSG, with 155 goals in 224 games, while Falcao has been essential in keeping Monaco in the mix with 15 goals already.

Diaz has been one of the revelations of the season after joining Lyon from Real Madrid as a replacement for Alexandre Lacazette. Diaz left Madrid to get more playing time after Zinedine Zidane recommended him to Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas. The move has proved to be another astute transfer for Aulas, with Diaz scoring 13 goals, as many as the resurgent Fekir.

 

PICK OF THE PLAYERS

 

Neymar and Cavani have had the most consistent impact.

Cavani, who has been thriving since Ibrahimovic left PSG, has scored 53 goals this year, as many as Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

The Uruguay striker has rightly been criticised for his struggles in front of goal in the past, but his brilliant and ruthless performances this year, combined with his work ethic, have helped him gain a new leadership status.

Neymar's impact in his first months at PSG has also been massive. The Brazilian has not only delivered 11 goals and nine assists, he has also been an inspiration to his new teammates with his effortless technical ease, dazzling runs and dribbles, making them believe they can win the Champions League.