PARIS: Suspended Neymar watched from the stands as Edinson Cavani’s brace inspired Paris Saint-Germain to a 3-0 win over Nice on Friday (Saturday in Manila) to send Unai Emery’s side seven points clear in Ligue 1.
Cavani’s first half double, both assists provided by Angel Di Maria, earned unbeaten PSG their ninth league win of the season.
It pushed them up to 29 points, seven clear of defending champions Monaco who face Bordeaux on Saturday.
And it was the ideal warm-up ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Anderlecht when they can secure a place in the Champions League last 16.
The win also served to erase the memory of last week’s draining 2-2 draw with hated rivals Marseille.
Neymar was absent for only the second time since his world record signing, the Brazilian copping a one-match ban after being sent off in that stormy visit to the south coast.
“All matches are different. Against Marseille, it was more complicated because the pitch was different and there were many things we could have done better,” said Cavani.
“Tonight, we got the goal as early as possible in the first half and that allowed us to play more relaxed and close out the game.”
Di Maria filled Neymar’s expensive shoes on only his second start since August.
Emery introduced centre back Presnel Kimpembe for Marquinhos with Spanish left-back Yuri Berchiche replacing Layvin Kurzawa.
Rightback Dani Alves returned but veteran midfielder Thiago Motta was absent because of a knee complaint
Mario Balotelli was a welcome starter for the visitors after missing last week’s 2-1 loss to Strasbourg with a calf knock.
Nice coach Lucien Favre was forced into an unscripted last minute change when keeper Yoan Cardinale suffered an injury in warm-up with Walter Benitez summoned off the bench.
The Argentine stand-in keeper was quickly put to work by PSG as Di Maria fired in an inch perfect free kick from the left with the match barely three minutes old.
Cavani dived low to head past Benitez by the near post to bring a smile to the face of Neymar and to secure a place in his club’s history with their 2,500th league goal.
Balotelli tested PSG keeper Alphonse Areola with a long-range effort down at the other end but that proved a rare respite for Benitez.
On 31 minutes Cavani claimed his 99th Ligue 1 goal when the Uruguayan ran onto Di Maria’s neat flick to round the on-rushing Benitez and slide the ball into an empty net.
Benitez then had to act sharply to deny Di Maria getting his first goal of the campaign off an assist from Kylian Mbappe.
The second half was only seven minutes old when a defensive blunder by Nice led to Cavani heading into the box with Alves getting a touch before the ball was helped on its way past Benitez by Nice captain Dante.
Mbappe then showed why he will become the world’s second most expensive player when his loan deal is completed at the end of the season, the teenager sprinting round a cluster of Nice defenders before firing into the side netting.
As PSG reflected on a job well done Nice were left contemplating their fourth league loss on the bounce to keep them hovering above the relegation zone.