Edinson Cavani scored twice as Paris Saint-Germain moved within one point of Ligue 1 leaders Nice with a hard-fought 2-0 win at Nantes.
Cavani finished a well-worked team move involving Julian Draxler and Lucas Moura in the 21st minute of Saturday’s encounter to open the scoring at the Stade de la Beaujoire.
And the Uruguay striker made it 20 league goals for the campaign, the first time he has achieved such a feat for PSG, with a superb direct free-kick in the second half.
Unai Emery’s men were not always at their best against a stubborn Nantes side – who had won their previous four league games without conceding – and Emiliano Sala should have punished a Thomas Meunier error in the eighth minute.
But PSG, who also saw Marco Verratti the victim of bizarre first-half yellow card, did enough to rack up a third straight league win and move level on points with second-place Monaco – who can go top by beating Lorient on Sunday – ahead of a crunch clash between the two at Parc des Princes next weekend.
20 – @ECavaniOfficial has scored 20 goals in Ligue 1 2016/17, already his record in a whole season. Trigger.
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) January 21, 2017
PSG almost gifted Nantes an early lead when Meunier’s poor clearance was charged down by Amine Harit and landed at the feet of Sala, who wastefully shot into the side-netting.
The visitors created little against Nantes’ high-press game in the opening exchanges until they went in front with a fine flowing move.
Draxler sprayed the ball right to Lucas and his first-time low centre was expertly side-footed home by Cavani.
There was a moment of confusion shortly after the half-hour mark when Verratti was seemingly booked for getting on his hands and knees to head the ball back to goalkeeper Kevin Trapp rather than attempt a pass with his feet.
And Nantes wanted further sanction against Verratti for a challenge on Valentin Rongier that resulted in a free-kick, although replays suggested he got a foot on the ball.
Nantes started the second half with similar verve as they did in the first and Sala failed to react quickly enough to a cross into the area.
Half-time substitute Felipe Pardo then combined brilliantly with Yacine Bammou before seeing a low drive deflected wide for a corner.
Verratti’s interesting outing continued when he was accidentally struck in the face by a Thiago Motta clearance, before Meunier’s improvised flicked header from Lucas’ whipped free-kick hit the crossbar.
But the game was put beyond doubt in the 65th minute when Cavani bent a brilliant 25-yard free-kick well beyond the reach of Maxime Dupe and into the top left-hand corner – taking his tally to six goals in seven appearances against Nantes.
Adrien Rabiot twice went close to making it 3-0 in the closing stages, first shooting straight at Dupe before lashing a thunderous 20-yard effort off the crossbar – with Angel Di Maria failing to get enough power on his header from the follow up – but PSG had done more than enough to rack up a 13th straight win over Nantes in all competitions.