Pitchside Europe

Perfect response to crisis puts PSG back in pole position

PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti speaks to his players

Three teams are now locked on points at the top of the table in France, leaving open the possibility of a wide-open battle for the title in the New Year - but the comfortable Paris Saint-Germain triumph that everyone expected before the season began is now beginning to look the most likely outcome.

PSG have responded brilliantly to their dreadful run of form in November when they picked up just four points from five games and dropped to fourth in the table. They have hit back with three straight wins, nine goals scored and none conceded, with four-goal demolitions of Evian and Valenciennes being followed by Sunday's 1-0 defeat of Lyon at the Parc des Princes.

Suggestions just a couple of weeks ago that Paris coach Carlo Ancelotti could be set for the sack suddenly look a little silly now. However, it is worth reiterating that the reservations about and criticisms of Ancelotti remain valid.

Things have improved since he rearranged his team in a loose 4-4-2 formation against FC Porto for the Champions League victory that took PSG through as winners of their group. The return of Thiago Motta after injury has helped too.

None of that alters the fact that performances throughout much of his first year at the helm have often been poor, however, and it is only to be expected that the club's super-rich and ultra-ambitious owners have been keeping an eye on potential replacements for the Italian in the medium term, especially when the likes of Pep Guardiola are on the market.

They were far from flawless against Lyon, but still had enough to win the game, although things could well have turned out very differently had a Lisandro Lopez shot found the net rather than hitting the post with the score still goalless.

The goal that decided the game came right at the end of the first half with Blaise Matuidi heading home a Zlatan Ibrahimovic right-wing cross. Up until then, Lyon had probably been the better side. Their coach Remi Garde had set the visitors up with a three-man central defence and with Michel Bastos operating as a left wing-back, but the goal came with the Brazilian caught out of position after a counter-attack had broken down.

"We made too many bad decisions in the final 30 or 40 metres," admitted Garde, while Ancelotti was keen to emphasis the reaction of a squad that had often previously been lambasted as a disparate collection of individuals.

"Nobody would have thought that PSG could change so much in the space of 15 days," he said. "We were at the point where things were either going to break down or there was going to be a reaction. And there has been a reaction.

"The players deserve to be top of the table. I think that the current top three will fight it out to win the league."

PSG now lead both Lyon and Marseille on goal difference, before a five-point gap down to Lorient in fourth. The title of 'autumn champions' will be decided next weekend, although that is very much an 'anecdotal' one, as coaches and players alike continually remind us. After all, PSG were top at the halfway stage last season, and everyone knows what happened next.

It remains to be seen whether Ancelotti's prediction of a three-horse race will be an accurate one. There is still a feeling that PSG can improve considerably. If they do that, it is hard to see either Lyon or Marseille maintaining the pace.

It should not be forgotten that Lyon were missing Yoann Gourcuff, Clement Grenier, Alexandre Lacazette and Jimmy Briand in the capital. Even Ancelotti admitted that it was "a good time to play Lyon."

OL's grip on top spot was weakened by their failure to beat bottom side Nancy at home in midweek, and now they face a tough final game of the year at home to Claude Puel's Nice, who have gone eight league matches unbeaten. But, no matter what happens there, this has been a fine first half to the season for them.

Meanwhile, Marseille have been the definition of unpredictability in recent weeks, following up a 3-0 home capitulation against Lorient with a hard-earned win in Bastia.

On Saturday, they needed an inspirational goal from Andre-Pierre Gignac to beat nine-man Toulouse, but they are still there. They, however, must go to Paris and Lyon in the New Year.