Runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain shook off the absence of the suspended Neymar on Saturday to end their recent wobble with a 3-1 win over managerless Lille in Ligue 1.
Angel Di Maria nodded in a cross from Kylian Mbappe on 28 minutes at a chilly Parc des Princes, with Javier Pastore powering in a second just after half-time.
Anwar El Ghazi gave Lille, who suspended manager Marcelo Bielsa last month and replaced him with a team of four interim coaches, a glimmer of hope by pulling a goal back four minutes from time.
But with goalkeeper Mike Maignan up for a last-gasp corner, Mbappe burst free of the Lille backline after the ball was cleared upfield to dribble in a third as PSG ended a run of back-to-back defeats.
“We needed this win after the last two defeats to get our rhythm back and regain confidence,” PSG defender Presnel Kimpembe told Canal Plus. “We’ve done that today and we’re very pleased.
“Criticism in football is normal. Everyone is used to these kinds of things and it drew a reaction from us.”
The win kept kept Unai Emery’s team nine points clear of reigning champions Monaco — 3-2 winners at home to Troyes — at the top and ensured PSG will head into the new year in first place in France.
“There’s still a long way to go, and the most important thing will be after 38 matches,” added Kimpembe.
“I’m happy with the display,” said Emery, who remains unbeaten at home since taking over as PSG coach in June of last year. “We controlled the match better than in our last two league games, against Troyes and Strasbourg.”
Defeat snapped a two-match winning run for Lille and left them just two points clear of the relegation zone ahead of Saturday’s later games.
– Rock legend honoured –
France paid a “national homage” to late rock star Johnny Hallyday, known as the French Elvis, on Saturday with a procession down the Champs Elysees.
The French league is also honouring Hallyday, who died aged 74 on Wednesday after a battle with lung cancer, at grounds around the country this weekend, with some of his most famous songs played before kick-off in Paris.
PSG were looking to end their worst week of the season, after a 2-1 defeat at Strasbourg last weekend was followed by a 3-1 reverse away to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
It was the first time in three years that PSG had lost successive games, but the capital club set about righting the ship as Di Maria headed in an Mbappe cross — the flag staying down despite the Frenchman straying marginally offside.
PSG lost midfielder Adrien Rabiot to an apparent hamstring injury at the break, but Pastore doubled the hosts’ advantage by blasting past Maignan after Marco Verratti robbed Ibrahim Amadou of possession deep in Lille territory.
Mbappe nearly added a third when his low strike was awkwardly tipped onto the post by Maignan, but Lille received a lifeline when Giovani Lo Celso’s sliding challenge inadvertently set up substitute El Ghazi.
Edinson Cavani was denied a league-leading 18th goal of the campaign as Maignan plunged down low to his right to superbly deny the Uruguayan, but the Lille keeper was nowhere to be seen when Mbappe sealed victory in the closing seconds.
Guido Carrillo struck two late goals as Monaco recovered from 2-0 down at home to stun Troyes 3-2 after South Korea forward Suk Hyun-Jun netted twice for the visitors.
Monaco clawed a goal back when Thomas Lemar’s cross was diverted in his own net by Mathieu Deplagne before Argentine striker Carrillo’s heroics secured a vital three points.
Lyon can reclaim second from Monaco on Sunday when they travel to promoted Amiens, while Marseille could also draw level on points at home to struggling Saint-Etienne.- Agence France-Presse