Zlatan Ibrahimovic was at his enigmatic best as champions Paris Saint-Germain continued their inexorable march towards retaining the Ligue 1 title with a 3-0 win at Bastia on Saturday.
The big Swedish forward scored the opening goal and then set up Ezequiel Lavezzi for the second with an outrageous back-flick.
He also teed up the diminutive Argentine for the killer third two minutes from time with a headed flick-on.
The result briefly sent PSG 11 points clear of their only remaining potential title rivals Monaco, who then brought the gap back to eight points with a 2-1 home win over lowly Sochaux later on Saturday.
This was the fifth straight win for Laurent Blanc’s PSG team since a 1-1 draw at Monaco in the league in early February and the team have racked up 16 goals in that period.
“Our aim is to win matches, if that allows us to stretch out the gap we’d be delighted,” said Blanc.
“There is one team hanging on, Monaco, and if they win they’ll come back to eight points (behind).
“That’s a lot but they’re also having a good campaign. We have to take heed, everyone can go through a sticky patch.”
Deprived of record-signing Edinson Cavani, held over in Uruguay for personal reasons, they even could afford the luxury of keeping center-back Thiago Silva on the bench throughout the game ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League last 16 second leg tie with Bayer Leverkusen.
Although that tie looks to be nothing more than a formality having already won the away leg 4-0.
“Winning matches is always the best preparation,” said Blanc looking forward to the Leverkusen clash.
“This week was a little complicated to prepare the trip (to Bastia) with internationals all over the place.
“But we can be sure that whatever team we pick, mentally they will be ready.”
Ibrahimovic opened the scoring on six minutes after a bright opening from the visitors in Corsica.
Brazilian Lucas Moura made the most of the start Cavani’s absence afforded him to cross from the right for Ibrahimovic to leap high above his marker and use the strength to direct a bullet header into the top corner despite stretching for the ball.
On 19 minutes he turned provider with the kind of genius only Ibrahimovic, in this league, is capable of, picking out Lavezzi with a back-heeled, volleyed pass despite looking the other way.
The Argentine outpaced the defense and nonchalantly prodded the ball past goalkeeper Jean-Louis Leca.
And Lavezzi was the beneficiary once again from Ibrahimovic’s instinctive vision, although center-back Sebastien Squillaci was partly to blame for failing to cut out the Swede’s flick-on, while Leca’s ill-advised rush from his line also helped make the Argentine’s job easier.
Former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov opened his Monaco account following his January transfer window move to the Principality after just six minutes as he slotted home at the back post from Layvin Kurzawa’s cross.
And it was the Bulgarian who won the penalty from which Colombian James Rodriguez doubled Monaco’s advantage on 55 minutes.
Edouard Butin headed home a consolation seven minutes from time for Sochaux, for whom Jordan Ayew was shown a red card for a wild lunge late on.
Monaco coach Claudio Ranieri continued to insist his side are no match for the champions.
“I see you (the press) saying that we’re another PSG but that’s not true. For us, it’s very difficult to win (matches),” he said.
Corsicans Ajaccio remain bottom after a 2-2 draw at Nantes and are now 15 points from safety following Evian’s 1-0 win at Guingamp.
Toulouse moved into the top half after three goals in the final 15 minutes gave them a come-from-behind 3-2 win at home to Reims.
On Friday night, Marseille’s hopes of snatching the third and final Champions League qualifying berth were dented by a 1-0 defeat at home to Cote d’Azur rivals Nice.