PARIS — Lille OSC are top of Ligue 1 by three points after a deserved 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain at Parc des Princes in a match that saw both sides finish with 10 men on Saturday. Jonathan David scored the only goal of the game for Christophe Galtier’s men after 20 minutes and Mauricio Pochettino’s side had no answer to their visitors’ solitary strike as Neymar and Tiago Djalo were both dismissed late on for second bookings in a clash that carried on down the tunnel.
LOSC are now three points clear of PSG with seven games remaining in what is now a four-horse race for the Championnat title with AS Monaco and Olympique Lyonnais also concerned. Les Dogues and ASM will both meet OL in what could be the deciding clashes for the 2020-21 season but Lille’s win in Paris also has the potential to be the moment that the tide turned against the defending champions for good.
Although PSG have arguably the easiest run-in of the title contenders, they are three points adrift of their conquerors and have now lost to LOSC, Monaco and Lyon at home without even managing to score a single goal. Extending Les Parisiens’ current form outside of the title race, they have lost three consecutive home fixtures in Ligue 1 for the first time since 2007 and eight times in total — double the tally of rivals Lyon.
PSG could have survived the poor home results against Lille, Monaco, Lyon and bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille and still finished top but defeats to struggling FC Lorient and FC Nantes have contributed equally to their downfall under both Pochettino and Thomas Tuchel this campaign. While the French giants can still raise their game against the likes of Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League, they are increasingly unable to do the same domestically — with disappointing results against both teams of continental quality like Monaco home and away, Lille and Lyon at Parc des Princes and lesser lights. It is possible the club could survive indifferent form against either the best of Ligue 1, or the rest, but not both.
Perhaps most worrying for PSG is their fragility. Marco Verratti’s importance is emphasized whenever he is absent, superstar Neymar has been reduced to brawling against the likes of SM Caen (in the Coupe de France) and Lille while Kylian Mbappe only occasionally turns up. Pochettino can say that he is “not worried because there is still a month of competition” all he wants, but the reality is that it now might not be enough to regain control of this title race once more and for good.
That is not the extent of it either as midfield is not the only position with depth issues, as was illustrated by Thilo Kehrer’s wretched outing at right-back with Alessandro Florenzi withdrawn as a precaution due to a late explosion of positive COVID-19 cases on both sides. The pandemic can account for the occasional result, such as the early season losses to RC Lens and Marseille, but not all eight and the pitiful scenes as Neymar and Djalo clashed towards the end on Saturday betrays a team that do not have the mental strength to deal with these tough situations.
Take nothing away from Lille as they fully deserved the three points and could have won by more if Keylor Navas had not been so alert between the sticks for the hosts and Presnel Kimpembe not made a superb last-ditch tackle to deny Renato Sanches. Galtier’s team are exactly that: a united group that works for each other and does not rely on individual brilliance to win the bulk of its matches as PSG do with both Neymar and Mbappe falling well short of the sort of strength former talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic used to show.
The Sweden international relished his role as the Parisiens’ main man and opponents despised him as much for his strength of character as his ability and consistency in delivering when his team needed him to and there is none of that in this current incarnation. Neymar’s petulance will deprive Pochettino’s men of their technical leader for some tricky upcoming clashes with the possibility of the ban being extended because of the scenes after he and Djalo left the pitch while COVID-19 and injuries continue to make life complicated for the Argentine.
All of this while PSG are trying to tie Neymar and Mbappe down past their contract expirations in 2022 while neither of them delivers with the regularity required to justify further investment. The Brazil international is struggling to break even in terms of games played and missed through injury and suspension since arriving back in 2017 while the Frenchman has a very small handful of what could be considered seminal performances, such as his hat-trick away at Barca earlier this year, and has started to struggle at international level of late with this summer’s Euros approaching.
If PSG can beat RC Starasbourg Alsace, AS Saint-Etienne, FC Metz, RC Lens, Stade Rennais, Stade de Reims and Stade Brestois 29 between now and the end of this term, they may well finish as champions. However, there is a very good chance that they drop points somewhere along the line, especially with four of those clashes away from home and at least a two-legged Champions League bout with Bayern Munich and Coupe de France duty thrown in for good measure.
Following Lille’s win in Paris, the Ligue 1 title really is LOSC, Monaco or Lyon’s to lose now as those are the three of four title contenders who still need to play each other with OL in the prime position of facing both consecutively in a few weeks’ time. PSG, if they go on to lose Le Championnat to a rival, will only have themselves to blame if the UCL and Coupe de France end up being their only chances of silverware as they have not been good enough too many times in the decisive encounters this season.