Zlatan Ibrahimovic was at his enigmatic best as champions Paris Saint-Germain continued their inexorable march toward retaining the Ligue 1 title with a 3-0 win at SC Bastia on Saturday.
The towering Swedish forward scored the opening goal before setting up Ezequiel Lavezzi for the second with an outrageous back-flick and then teeing up the diminutive Argentine for the killer third two minutes from time with a headed flick-on.
The result briefly sent PSG 11 points clear of their only remaining potential title rivals AS Monaco, who then brought the gap back to eight points with a 2-1 home win over lowly Sochaux-Montbeliard later on Saturday.
This was the fifth straight win for Laurent Blanc’s PSG since drawing Monaco 1-1 in the league early last month and the team have racked up 16 goals over that period.
“Our aim is to win matches, if that allows us to stretch out the gap, we’d be delighted,” Blanc said.
“There is one team hanging on, Monaco, and if they win they’ll come back to eight points [behind]. That’s a lot, but they’re also having a good campaign. We have to take heed, everyone can go through a sticky patch,” he said.
Deprived of record-signing Edinson Cavani after he was held over in Uruguay for personal reasons, the capital club could still afford the luxury of keeping center-back Thiago Silva on the bench throughout the game ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 second-leg tie with Bayer 04 Leverkusen, a tie that looks to be a formality since PSG already won the away leg 4-0.
“Winning matches is always the best preparation,” Blanc said. “This week was a little complicated to prepare the trip [to Bastia] with internationals all over the place, but we can be sure that whatever team we pick, mentally they will be ready.”
Ibrahimovic opened the scoring on six minutes after a bright opening from the visitors in Corsica.
Brazilian Lucas Moura made the most of the start Cavani’s absence afforded him to cross from the right for Ibrahimovic to leap high above his marker and use the strength to direct a bullet header into the top corner despite stretching for the ball.
On 19 minutes, Ibrahimovic turned provider with the kind of genius campaign, picking out Lavezzi with a back-heeled, volleyed pass while looking the other way.
The Argentine outpaced the defense and nonchalantly prodded the ball past goalkeeper Jean-Louis Leca before again being the beneficiary of Ibrahimovic’s instinctive vision.
In Monaco, former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov opened his club account following his January transfer to the principality club after just six minutes when he slotted home Layvin Kurzawa’s cross.
The Bulgarian then won a penalty from which Colombian James Rodriguez doubled Monaco’s advantage on 55 minutes.
Edouard Butin headed home a consolation seven minutes from time for Sochaux, for whom Jordan Ayew was shown a red card for a wild lunge late on.
Despite the win, Monaco coach Claudio Ranieri continued to insist his side are no match for PSG.
“I see you [the press] saying that we’re another PSG, but that’s not true. For us, it’s very difficult to win [matches],” he said.
In other Ligue 1 play, Corsican side AC Ajaccio remain bottom after a 2-2 draw at Nantes and are now 15 points from safety following Evian Thonon Gaillard’s 1-0 win at En Avant de Guingamp.
Meanwhile, Toulouse moved into the top half in the tables after three goals in the final 15 minutes gave them a come-from-behind 3-2 win at home to Stade de Reims and Valenciennes were 2-1 winners over Stade Rennais.