Paris Saint-Germain missed out on the chance to wrap up Ligue 1 after being thrashed 5-1 by second-placed Lille.
Lille were the only side mathematically capable of catching PSG in the title race, sitting 20 points behind their opponents going into Sunday’s game.
PSG only needed a draw to retain the title with Lille having just six games remaining, but got off to the worst possible start when Thomas Meunier diverted a Xeka header into his own goal.
It would last a matter of minutes, however, with Juan Bernat equalising after good play by Kylian Mbappe.
Lille retook the lead shortly after half-time with Nicolas Pepe exposing a gap in PSG’s defence and Jonathan Bamba extended it 25 minutes from time.
The win was confirmed five minutes later was Gabriel headed in a fourth for the home side but there was still time for a fifth from Jose Fonte to add insult to injury.
But what did we learn?
1. PSG’s defensive problems continue
It was meant to be a cruise for PSG to the Ligue 1 title. A point would be enough. But Thomas Meunier’s own goal saw his side get off to the worst possible start, and it could have been avoided.
The own goal came from good wide play from Lille with Jonathan Ikone putting the cross into the box. Xeka’s downward header towards goal was poor though, and Meunier only needed clean contact on the ball to clear from the lurking Loic Remy.
But Meunier stuck a leg out, wrong-footing Alphonse Areola who had followed the ball’s flight in anticipation, and rolling into the back of the net.
And that would not be all with PSG being forced into two defensive changes due to injury with both Meunier and Thiago Silva unable to last longer than 25 minutes.
The reshuffle in defence brought confusion which Lille looked to exploit, and they did to perfection. With 10 minutes to go until half-time, Nicolas Pepe raced in on goal and was brought down by Juan Bernat.
Though the contact was minimal and Pepe’s fall slightly overdramatic, with Bernat as the last man there was no other option for the referee but to show the Spaniard a straight red card.
A consultation with VAR did not change the decision and PSG had to fight for the title with 10 men – a battle they lost quite convincingly.
2. Nicolas Pepe shows his worth
While most eyes in France have been on the exploits of Kylian Mbappe this season, there is another fully deserving of his plaudits.
A key part of Lille’s impressive turnaround this season has been the performances of Ivory Coast forward Nicolas Pepe.
This never works. 🤦
Make that 11 assists for Nicolas Pépé. https://t.co/kRsIPGSsn9
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 14, 2019
The 23-year-old was unplayable on Sunday, using his pace and dribbling skills to get at the PSG defence with much success.
It was he who brought the red card for Juan Bernat, finding space in between the centre-backs and driving at goal, moving in front of the Spaniard to tempt him into a tackle. And that’s exactly what happened with Bernat pulling back on Pepe, giving the referee little choice in showing a red card.
Another break through the defence came shortly after half-time for Pepe, and this time it brought a goal, with the Ivorian calmly finishing under Areola.
It brought up his 19th goal of the season in Ligue 1, with only Mbappe managing more, a fine reason as to why the likes of Arsenal have been linked with a move for Pepe.
But that would not be all, with Pepe sending in two beautiful crosses for Gabriel and Fonte to head in Lille’s fourth and fifth – taking his league assist tally to 11 for the season.
And with Lille chairman Gerard Lopez pretty much confirming Pepe will leave the club at the end of the season, at least the French side will get an even better price for him.
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3. Mbappe not enough to drag PSG to title
Neymar may consider himself one of the best in Ligue 1, but there is simply no one better than Kylian Mbappe who enjoyed a good game against Lille.
It started inside five minutes when Mbappe had burst through to tap in Thomas Meunier’s cross-cum-shot, though the 20-year-old was rightly ruled offside.
When PSG went behind, it was Mbappe who picked his team-mates up, combining good fortune with simply brilliant skill. The Frenchman got the luck of the bounce when running into an opponent, but preceded to flick the ball over an on-rushing defender before putting in a delightful cross into Bernat at the far post for the equaliser.
The assist brought Mbappe’s Ligue 1 goal involvement to 34 for the season, with only Lionel Messi (45) managing more across Europe’s top five leagues.
But this was not enough for Mbappe to drag his team to the league title with the PSG defence letting the French magician down.
4. Thomas Tuchel has a lot of work to do in the summer
PSG will win Ligue 1 this season and will probably do so within the next few days as they face Nantes on Wednesday. But this should not cover the extensive problems Thomas Tuchel has.
The German’s appointment was meant to revolutionise PSG, turning them from Ligue 1 bullies to Champions League contenders but it has been more of the same.
Against Lille, PSG lacked the composure of a truly great football team. Yes, they were unfortunate to lose the defensive rock that is Thiago Silva due to injury, but a team of PSG’s calibre should not have been affected so much by a minor change.
Worse teams have pulled through when losing their captain and PSG just needed a draw to wrap up the title, but the injury proved to be a catalyst for the league leaders to implode.
The defensive line were poor throughout and beaten easily by Lille’s pace in attack and offered little support going forward for Kylian Mbappe – who tried his best to drag his side over the line. And as the game slipped away from PSG, their stars lost their heads, with rash tackles flying in across the pitch.
While Tuchel could not be held responsible for his team’s implosion on the pitch, it is up to him to sort out the problems and start again in the summer. Whether that’s a change in personnel or system is up to him, but something needs to be done.
5. Ligue 1’s remaining teams need to step up
The game between Lille and PSG was wonderful to watch, full of excitement with pretty much everything happening.
There was a red card, an own goal, disallowed goals, three defensive injuries, Kylian Mbappe – a game worthy of the top two sides in a league.
Lille are the first team to score 4+ goals against PSG in any competition since Barcelona scored six in the Champions League in March 2017.
The first time in Ligue 1 since January 2015 (vs. Bastia). 🤯 pic.twitter.com/dReBdR7DcQ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 14, 2019
But the fact PSG remain 17 points clear of their rivals despite the heavy defeat, and remain a point away from the title sums up Ligue 1’s problems.
Such is the financial strength of PSG, no one can get close. Last season’s runners-up Monaco are currently 16th and by no means safe from relegation. Meanwhile Lille are second having scraped safety last season by a point.
And though this highlights just how fickle football can be, it’s only the 19 other teams in Ligue 1 facing these ups and downs. While this is all going on, PSG are cruising to a sixth league title in seven years despite dealing with injury problems across the season.
While Ligue 1 is by no means the ‘farmers’ league’ some fans condescendingly deem it to be, the opposition for PSG just simply isn’t there.