Paris Saint-Germain cruised into the quarter-finals of the French Cup on Wednesday while striking a psychological blow in their pursuit of the Ligue 1 title, as they beat top-of-the-table Lille 3-0.
It was the perfect response from PSG after their shock weekend home loss to struggling Nantes, which was overshadowed by thefts at the homes of Angel Di Maria and Marquinhos during the match.
“We have had a difficult last few days, the players and their families,” said PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino.
“Nobody is prepared for this kind of situation. The players did a great job to stay focused, their state of mind was extraordinary. Angel and Marquinhos felt good to play.”
In the first of two meetings between the teams at the Parc des Princes either side of the international break, the difference was a series of mistakes by Lille at key moments.
“It’s always the same, against Paris it’s in the zones of truth that it counts,” said Lille midfielder Benjamin Andre.
When Di Maria swung a low cross into the near post after nine minutes, Lille defender Tiago Djalo took a wild swing. Goalkeeper Mike Maignan lunged at the deflected ball, only pawing it towards his own goal. Mauro Icardi just needed to gather his wits before rolling into the empty net.
Icardi limped off on 36 minutes to be replaced by Kylian Mbappe, who had started on the bench.
Four minutes later, Mbappe meandered along the edge of the Lille penalty area until Zeki Celik took the bait, stuck out a knee and brought the striker down.
After outraged Lille protests, Mbappe smacked the spot-kick into the roof of the net.
“Our first half was timid, I think we watched them play a bit too much,” said Lille coach Christophe Galtier, who made clear he thought the referee had also had a bad first half.
“They have the control, the experience, they have the ability to put everyone to sleep, and when I say everyone, I mean everyone.”
Lille had a chance when they won a penalty of their own with 13 minutes to play, after Jeremy Pied’s cross from the byline struck Layvin Kurzawa’s outstretched hand.
Again Lille wavered as Keylor Navas dived to save Yusuf Yazici’s tame penalty.
“Keylor is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, his level is incredible,” said Pochettino.
Three minutes into added time, Djalo, on the halfway line, misjudged a PSG clearance. Mbappe pounced, raced away from the Lille defender and drilled the third past Maignan.
“We didn’t play a cup game,” said Galtier. “In the cup, at the end you either qualify or you’re out. The score may seem harsh, but we can’t compete with Paris if we only play one half.”
PSG, the defending champions, trail Lille by three points in Ligue 1 and a return date is on the horizon. After PSG visit third-place Lyon on Sunday while Lille host struggling Nimes, the pair meet again at the Parc des Princes after the international break.
“On April 3, it will be another approach, another competition,” said Pochettino. “We have Lyon on Sunday and then in the two weeks after that, we’ll have to recharge our batteries after these first two months of madness.”