Team performance carries PSG past Rennes

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty ImagsThiago Motta, right, was at his best in PSG's win at Rennes.

Paris Saint-Germain's 3-1 win over Stade Rennes on Saturday maintained their two-point lead over second-placed AS Monaco as the defending champions moved a step closer to being crowned winter champions for the second consecutive season. PSG led the way at the end of 2012, too, and Thiago Motta, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani's goals at the Stade de la Route de Lorient all but guarantee that Laurent Blanc's men will top the table over Christmas, even if they draw at home to Lille OSC next weekend.

- Match report: Rennes 1-3 PSG

Italian international Motta set the side from the capital on their way to a commanding 3-1 win in Brittany with a sublime driven effort from the edge of the area, before an Ibrahimovic penalty early in the second half doubled their advantage. Romain Alessandrini's thunderous free-kick halved the deficit midway through the second period, but Cavani put the finishing touches on an excellent counter-attack to secure the points for PSG at the death.

The 3-1 victory sees the Parisians bounce back from their midweek Champions League defeat at Benfica, and it is also their second consecutive Ligue 1 triumph after that shock 2-0 loss at Evian. Blanc's heavy rotation proved to be the right decision as he fielded a much-changed and revitalised XI from their European encounter, although a late injury to Maxwell forced him to start with Lucas Digne instead of the Brazilian.

Despite the relatively comfortable-looking scoreline, it took a team effort to overcome Philippe Montanier's Breton side. Motta becoming the 11th different player to score for PSG in Le Championnat this season illustrates how the team have moved away from individual over-reliance this term. The scoreline could arguably have been greater though, and Salvatore Sirigu will feel disappointed that he did not handle Alessandrini's effort better.

Motta should enjoy the limelight afforded to him by Ibrahimovic and Cavani following the victory, though; it is fully deserved. The Swede and his Uruguayan strike partner have electrified French football since being paired together at the start of the campaign, but the 31-year-old Motta has been instrumental to PSG's early success under Blanc. The tenacious midfielder has become a cornerstone of the current team and, although goal-scoring is not his forte, his strike brings attention to his major influence over the side. Motta also completed 116 passes against Rennes, a new Ligue 1 record this term.

Equally as impressive on the day was compatriot Marco Verratti who has also excelled in PSG's midfield this season. The diminutive midfielder played a key role in two of the champions' three goals in northwestern France; teeing up Blaise Matuidi in the build-up to the penalty with a sensational flick before playing in Cavani on the counter-attack for the third. The Azzurri star did display some hesitation, allowing Rennes in on goal in the second half with a sloppy pass, plus he also picked up his fifth yellow card of the season. However, despite those minor points, he is getting better and more confident with each passing game.

Another positive is that Ibrahimovic and Cavani overtake Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema as Europe's most prolific strike partnership so far this season. The PSG duo's pair of strikes against Rennes move them up to 26 goals collectively, while Ronaldo and Benzema boast 25 in La Liga. It is an ominous warning for any potential Champions League last 16 opponents ahead of Monday's draw. Ibrahimovic has 12 goals in his last nine games, while Cavani has eight from his last eight and their understanding is blossoming as they become more familiar with each other's games.

Overall, a highly satisfying victory over an opponent who PSG have traditionally struggled to beat away from home. The side from the capital also won the same fixture by a two-goal margin last year, but before that they had not won at the Stade de la Route de Lorient since 2002. Blanc's rotation may have resulted in a surprise defeat at Evian and a more predicable loss to Benfica in Portugal, but Le President's side are in good domestic form heading into an important final week of 2013.

Next on the calendar for PSG are defending winners AS Saint-Etienne at home in the Coupe de la Ligue on Wednesday. But before that, the small matter of the draw for the Champions League last 16 takes place on Monday with Blanc and his side ready to test themselves against some of Europe's best.

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