The prospect of a genuine title race in the closing months of the Ligue 1 season looks very slim after a weekend in which Paris Saint-Germain steamrollered their opponents while Monaco toiled and Lille lost again.
It was only a few weeks ago that Lille went to the Parc des Princes and put in an exceptional performance to hold the defending champions to a 2-2 draw. That result meant just four points separated the top three over the winter break but now, less than a month later, PSG are five points clear of Monaco and ten ahead of Lille.
Laurent Blanc’s side have started 2014 with four straight wins and the manner of their 5-0 demolition of Nantes at the Parc des Princes simply emphasised their superiority over French football. “Without Pity” read the cover Monday’s edition of sports daily L’Equipe, and with good reason.
In a performance marked by a brace from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG completed an astonishing 837 passes, the most by any side in Ligue 1 since such statistics were introduced. Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti all put together more than 100 passes, and together they completed more than the entire Nantes team.
The capital club have reached 50 points after 21 games, something that only the great Lyon side of the last decade had done before. And their record in scoring 51 goals at this stage is the best performance since Saint-Etienne in 1969-70. When asked if the current PSG side were the strongest he had ever seen in France, Nantes coach Michel Der Zakarian replied: “Without doubt.”
Sochaux are the only other team to lose so heavily to PSG this season, but while they lie in the relegation zone, Nantes are sixth. If that raises questions about the overall level of Ligue 1, PSG can only beat what is put in front of them. The same applies to Monaco, but Claudio Ranieri’s team have been making harder work of their wins.
Their 2-0 victory at Toulouse was their first win in three in the league and the principality club’s first victory at Le Stadium since David Trézéguet netted twice in a 3-1 triumph in November 1997. However, there was a striking difference between the nature of their success and that of PSG.
Ranieri’s side were outplayed in the first half and Toulouse enjoyed more of the possession over 90 minutes. The hosts also squandered four glorious chances to score before the interval. Instead, Layvin Kurzawa converted one of the visitors’ rare attempts on goal in the first half before Argentine teenager Lucas Ocampos finally clinched the win with two minutes left.
Ocampos had replaced Radamel Falcao midway through the second half after the Colombian again found the going tough. It was not for the want of trying - he had three efforts cleared off the line - but he has now scored just three times in his last 11 games.
Meanwhile, João Moutinho was left on the bench despite Monaco’s struggles to control the midfield. Ranieri had acknowledged last week that his team are playing some way short of their potential just now.
"It is as if the players have all been watching the television, but not the same programme,” he said, admitting that they are not as well-oiled a machine as the one side above them in the table.
Monaco have actually won six of their last eight games but, as Jérome Touboul in L'Equipe put it: "While they suffer for their victories, Paris continue to stack them up with assurance and with sparkle."
At least they are winning. The same cannot be said of Lille, who have suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time this season after following a 2-1 home loss to Reims with a 2-0 reverse at Saint-Etienne.
A team that doesn't score many goals needs its defence to perform at its very best, but goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama - after going more than 1,000 minutes without conceding - has now let in eight goals in five games. "We need to sort out our problems pretty quickly," admitted René Girard, the Lille coach.
Lille are now looking back the way - they remain in a Champions League qualifying berth but are just three points ahead of Les Verts. Above them, the focus will soon turn to the meeting of Monaco and PSG at the Stade Louis II on February 9.
A Monaco win would open things up again, but right now the title-holders have no reason to fear a trip to the principality.
Andrew Scott | Follow on Twitter