Coming into week 12, league leaders Nice found themselves six points ahead of their vastly more moneyed fellow championship suitors. A surprising 1-0 loss to minute minnows Caen and comprehensive romps by Paris Saint-Germain (4-0 over Stade Rennais) and Monaco (6-0 over Nancy) meant that it was not a very good weekend for Nice. While questions abound over Nice’s true quality, Ligue 1’s top dogs are coming for them alarmingly fast. In the very last game of the weekend, PSG, for their part, won in such an unusual match, it was as if they weren’t satisfied with their riches, but rather insisted on attending to the dark arts of voodoo that money just can’t buy.
To start, one must acknowledge Own Goal’s great gameweek, having netted four goals across France. Own Goal’s lone strike in this match was PSG’s first, occurring in the 31st minute. Edinson Cavani rushed toward a deliberately placed in-swinging corner kick, meeting it with his head and sending in a tightly-angled ball knocked off the crossbar, off the flailing goalkeeper’s falling body, and finally off of the unwitting near-post defender Gélson Fernandes’ own hand. While it won’t show up in the stats, Cavani deserves some credit for creating his own luck. Barely off target, his shot turned into a dangerous ball for which Rennes may not have been able to do anything else other than let physics proceed with its embarrassing, but necessary climax.
As if the first half were a dedicated comedy special, PSG would double down on their humorous humbling of their bumbling opponents. In the 42nd minute, an innocent punt from the goalie would start a hilarious chain reaction leading to an incommensurately beautiful goal. Benoît Costil’s low, driven kick towards the sideline was parried with a heavy foot from Ángel Di María. Fortunately for Rennes, the ball bounced harmlessly to composed defender Joris Gnagnon. Unfortunately for Rennes, Gnagnon passed the ball to fellow defender Pedro Mendes. Mendes confidently played a ball back to Costil, only to find Cavani standing directly in the ball’s path. With a heavy touch, the ball rolled back a few feet toward the center spot. A couple strides, a turn of the hips, and a whip of the foot later, and Cavani struck a low-hanging lob from about 27 yards out just barely over the caught-out keeper’s outstretched hand.
Though Rennes would allow two more goals in the second half, they were of the much more clinical variety. Granted, when Adrien Rabiot took his long range shot in the 67th minute, Rennes had granted him a vast amount of space to do it. Yet, Rabiot’s pacey strike expertly knuckled around the once again bad luck Pedro Mendes, making a very tough save for the keeper who could only parry it into the side net for a goal.
Up 3-0 and not content to stay put, PSG had a breakaway in the 79th minute. The end result was a neatly made pass from Hatem Ben Arfa to a distinctly unmarked Marco Verratti whose unfortunate would-be defender was taken out of the picture by a Maxwell run. Verratti did not seem to strike the ball on its way down nor on its way up. As such, it cannot be called a volley or half-valley. Rather, Verratti struck the ball the instant it hit the ground and its kinetic energy was at a maximum. With the full kinetic energy of the ball combined with the kinetic energy of Verratti’s swinging right foot, the ball rifled into the back of the net, a rare treat for the little Italian.
At the final whistle, the game concluded 4-0 and PSG rose to 26 points, three points behind Nice in the overall table. PSG sit tied with Monaco on points, but are in third place in deference to Monaco’s very high goal differential. As a side note, with a resounding 6-0 thumping over Nancy, Monaco have now collected domestic wins of 6-0, 6-1, 7-0, 3-0, 4-1, 3-1 (over PSG), and 1-0 (over Rennes). Ridiculous!
Not to be overlooked, however, is Rennes. Despite their loss to PSG, they sit in fifth place. For a middling team, Rennes have so far beaten all the teams they should have beaten and have lost to all the teams they should have lost to. In a soccer-verse where bad results are consistently causally linked to loosely-screwed managers, head-scratching tactics, or poor man management, Rennes and manager Christian Gourcuff’s consistency is extremely refreshing.