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Ligue 1: PSG return to comfort zone, thrash Strasbourg

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PARIS (AP) After falling short in the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain returned to its French league comfort zone and beat Strasbourg 5-2 on Saturday.

Edinson Cavani netted twice, and Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria, and Neymar also scored to ensure PSG stayed 12 points clear of second-place Monaco at the top.

But not without a fright.

Strasbourg took the lead in the sixth minute and pulled back to 3-2 as PSG continued to show alarming signs of weakness at the back. Strasbourg had a late goal incorrectly ruled out for offside after PSG’s defense was again easily breached, although it was already 5-2 by then.

PSG lost at Real Madrid 3-1 on Wednesday in the first leg of the last 16. The way PSG capitulated by giving away two late goals heaped pressure on coach Unai Emery over his team selection.

“The atmosphere was a bit tense. That’s normal,” Cavani said. “We have to look forward now. We played well today, although at times we could have been better.”

Emery was booed by sections of the home crowd when his name was announced over the loudspeaker before the game. Later, Cavani stopped short of giving Emery his personal backing when asked if the under-fire coach has the full support of the players.

“We’re a team and big teams stick together in the important moments,” Cavani said. “That’s the only way you can win.”

Strasbourg beat PSG at home in December, and stunned the crowd at Parc des Princes by taking the lead when midfielder Jean-Eudes Aholou was left completely unmarked near the penalty spot.

PSG hit back hard and was 3-1 up after 23 minutes thanks to Draxler, Di Maria and Neymar’s 19th in 19 league games.

Stephane Bahoken scored against PSG for the second time this season after a quick counterattack. Strasbourg poured forward but the hope didn’t last for long.

Cavani gave PSG some breathing space with an assured finish in the 72nd, clipping the ball over goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja, then lobbed him for his league-leading 23rd goal.

“It was important to win after Wednesday’s match. We have to get our fans ready for the games to come against Marseille (next weekend) and Real Madrid,” Emery said. “We have to show we can maintain this level of play against better sides, with all due respect to Strasbourg.”

To celebrate Chinese New Year, PSG players’ names were written in Mandarin on the back of their shirts and a Chinese dragon paraded around the pitch. PSG says it has 1.3 million Chinese followers.

In order to better serve the soccer market in Asia, the league match between Nice and PSG on March 18 has been moved forward to 1 p.m. local time (1200 GMT).


Marseille players will also have their names in Mandarin for Sunday’s home game against Bordeaux at Stade Velodrome. Marseille recently launched an account on Chinese social media site Weibo.

Striker Giovanni Sio’s second-half equalizer gave Montpellier the point it needed to take fifth place after drawing with Guingamp 1-1.

Two goals from newly signed striker Diafra Sakho gave Rennes a 2-2 draw at Caen, which missed two penalties.

Saint-Etienne won at Angers 1-0, Troyes beat last-place Metz 1-0, and Amiens drew with Toulouse 0-0 in another relegation scrap.

In Sunday’s other games, fourth-place Lyon goes to Lille, and Nice hosts Nantes.

French league investigates alleged racist abuse of Balotelli

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has opened an investigation after Nice striker Mario Balotelli complained about racist abuse from fans.

According to a statement on the league’s website, the investigation’s conclusions will be delivered March 15.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho denies Paul Pogba will exit Man United ]

Nice said that Balotelli was shown a yellow card for complaining about the racist abuse he received on Feb. 10 from Dijon supporters, but game referee Nicolas Rainville said he did not hear insults or shouts coming from the stand.

Nice said the Italian forward, who was booked in the 74th minute of a 3-2 away defeat, was cautioned after remonstrating with fans about the abuse.

In January 2017, Balotelli – the son of Ghanaian immigrants to Italy – spoke out against Bastia fans he said made monkey noises during a match. The French league subsequently opened an investigation and Bastia was given a suspended one-point deduction. The Corsican club was also forced to close part of its stadium for three games.

Video: Guingamp stuns Rennes after Ngbakoto’s incredible last-gasp strike

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When Guingamp acquired Yeni Ngbakoto during the winter transfer they hoped they would get an immediate return on the CR Congo international.

The 26-year-old joined the French side a month ago from English Championship outfit Queen’s Park Rangers, and he’s already paying dividends.

[ MORE: Klopp rips officials for PK decisions that benefitted Spurs ]

On Sunday, Ngbakoto scored his first Ligue 1 goal for Guingamp, and the stunning strike couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

In the last minute of second-half stoppage time, the midfielder ran onto a long ball before unleashing a powerful effort into the far corner (below), which saw the visitors go ninth in France’s top flight.

Lille could be relegated from Ligue 1 due to financial concerns

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Saturday’s brutal home defeat to Paris Saint-Germain was the least of Lille’s problems, as the club faces relegation.

Although Christophe Galtier’s side isn’t currently in Ligue 1’s bottom three, Lille could be in some serious hot water, as reports out of France suggest that the club could be relegated due to financial incompetency.

[ MORE: Alexis Sanchez scores first Man United goal in victory ]

L’Equipe is reporting that the club’s serious debt could leave Lille in Ligue 2 next season if things don’t improve on the club’s financial front in the near future.

The French outlet suggests that the club was in desperate need of selling some of its players during the January transfer window to make room in its financial space, however, Lille did not proceed to do so.

Meanwhile, the team’s current standing in Ligue 1 hasn’t done Lille any favors in terms of where they’ll be playing in 2018/19.

Lille sits in 17th place at the moment on 25 points, just one point above the relegation zone.

Cavani becomes PSG’s leading scorer in rout of Montpellier

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Move on over Zlatan, there’s a new sheriff in Paris.

Edinson Cavani became Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time leading goalscorer on Saturday as the Parisians topped Montpellier, 4-0, at the Parc des Princes.

[ MORE: Mix Diskerud joins Manchester City in shocking free transfer ]

The Uruguayan international scored inside the opening 11 minutes (below) to bring his goal total for the French giants up to 157 in his career, moving one clear of Ibrahimovic.

Meanwhile, a brace from Neymar and Angel di Maria’s finish brought the PSG lead up to 4-0 by the end of the match.

The win moves PSG 11 points clear of second-place side Lyon in Ligue 1.