Paris Saint-Germain strengthened their grip on the Ligue 1 title after a routine victory at Troyes, despite Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe and Marco Verratti all rested by Unai Emery.
Troyes, who sit in 18th place amid a battle to secure their safety in France’s top flight, put in a good account of themselves but were inevitably dispatched by two goals after the interval.
Angel di Maria, who has been forced to share his starting berth on the flanks with Mbappe, proved to be a thorn in the relegation strugglers’ side and deservedly make the breakthrough just two minutes after the restart. The Argentine was played through on goal by Julian Draxler, another talent who has found game time hard to come by at the Parc des Princes, before coolly finishing past Erwin Zelazny. The opener appeared to inject the runaway leaders with further confidence, and dealt a devastating blow to Troyes’ slim hopes for a positive result.
The game progressed into its latter stages, and PSG continued to probe for a second, looking like they could seamlessly transition into another gear and find the back of the net with ease. The eventual deciding blow came from youngster Christian Nkunku.
The 20-year-old has flown through the ranks with the Parisians, after progressing through the youth setup in 2016 and joining the first-team fold. A professional debut against Shakhtar Donetsk introduced Nkunku to the European stage, as he replaced Lucas Moura, who would eventually be phased out of Emery’s plans for the future in place of the youngster. January 2017 saw Nkunku score his maiden goal for PSG in a routine 7-0 victory over Bastia in the Coupe de France, and the wide-man has shown his talent and maturity in infrequent appearances since then.
Against Troyes, Dani Alves chipped a delicate ball to the back post, where Nkunku controlled elegantly, created a yard for himself, and slotted across Zelazny. The finish demonstrated all the characteristics of a senior professional at the height of their game, akin to many of Cavani’s ruthless strikes this campaign. Despite the competition provided by Mbappe and di Maria, Nkunku is sure to come across more game time as the Ligue 1 season nears its conclusion, with PSG certainties to lift the trophy come May.
The well-drilled away performance is sure to please Emery, ahead of PSG’s make-or-break Round of 16 2nd leg clash with Real Madrid that is to be played on the day of writing. Los Blancos triumphed 3-1 in the first leg at the Bernabeu, and the Parisians task becomes even harder with the absence of Neymar. The Brazilian superstar was initially thought to be ruled out of action for a month after a serious foot injury, but now faces a race to be match-fit for this summer’s World Cup.
With the result at the Parc des Princes potentially defining how successful PSG’s season will be, the focus on Ligue 1 fixtures may not be at the forefront of Emery’s thinking – especially with strong rumours he was set to be replaced after the seemingly improbable exit to Barcelona last season.
The only certainty in Paris is that the domestic title is sewn up with several games to spare, once again proving that PSG are by far and away the dominating force in French football currently. But if they are unable to make significant progress on the European stage, the real wish of the club’s owners, then, ridiculously, this season could very well be labelled a disappointment.