Situated at the summit of the Ligue 1 standings and on course for a record-breaking 11th title if victorious in their four remaining matches this season, Paris Saint-Germain came into Saturday evening’s game with AC Ajaccio knowing that if they avoided defeat, it would confirm AC Ajaccio’s relegation to the second-tier of French football.
Winless in their last nine matches, although only ending up on the losing end once from their previous four expeditions to the Parc des Princes, Ajaccio welcomed back joint-top goalscorer Mounaïm El Idrissy after the French forward missed the goalless home draw with Toulouse through suspension. Meanwhile, PSG manager Christophe Galtier restored Lionel Messi to Les Parisiens’ starting XI following his internal break and subsequent apology on social media after an unsanctioned visit to Saudi Arabia, as speculation over the 2022 FIFA World Cup winners’ future away from the Parc des Princes continues to intensify.
PSG: Donnarumma; Marquinhos, Ramos, Pereira; Hakimi, Verratti, Ruiz, Bernat; Ekitiké, Mbappé, Messi
AJA: Sollacaro, Youssouf, Vidal, Avinel, Diallo; Mangani, Marchetti, Spadanuda, Barreto, Coutadeur; El Idrissy
As per expectations, defending Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain laid down an authoritative reign in the final third throughout the opening fifteen minutes as visiting goalkeeper François-Joseph Sollacaro was forced to remain on his toes in the Ajaccio goal.
Unsurprisingly, PSG’s unprecedented pressure finally paid dividends halfway through the first half, as the majority inside of the Parc des Princes rose to their feet to celebrate Fabián Ruiz’s opener in the 22nd minute. The Spanish midfield maestro inconspicuously darted into the penalty area before clinically firing a sublimely-struck strike past the onrushing figure of Sollacaro.
Topping the charts for the most victories throughout the 2022/23 campaign (25), Galtier’s side survived a brief intervention from the footballing gods upstairs – after it appeared to the naked eye that Kylian Mbappé might have controlled the ball with his hand in the build-up before Achraf Hakimi tapped home the rebound into an empty net to double Les Parisiens’ advantage in the 33rd minute. However, Ajaccio’s brief hope of a much-needed reprieve was short-lived, as referee Pierre Gaillouste consulted his on-field monitor before turning back towards the centre circle to signal the goal would indeed stand.
With their Ligue 1 status hanging by a thread, Ajaccio spurned a glorious opportunity to halve the deficit on the stroke of half time – as frustratingly for manager Olivier Pantaloni, none of his attacking assets could get on their boot on the end of an enticing delivery into the penalty area.
With less than two minutes gone in the second half, Mbappé rubber-stamped Ajaccio’s relegation to the second-tier of French football, as the flamboyant forward unleashed a close-strike strike that somehow crept under the body of Sollacaro, to move one goal clear of Olympique Lyonnais’ Alexandre Lacazette at the top of the Ligue 1 top-goalscoring charts.
Not content with one goal accreditation on the scoresheet, Mbappé doubled his tally for the evening seven minutes later to move further clear of Lacazette, with an exquisite jaw-dropping volley that left a beleaguered-looking Sollacaro with no chance of producing a save. With all three points in the bag, Galtier introduced a hat-trick of substitutions for the final twenty minutes as goalscorer Ruiz, one of three players to make away, left the field to a standing ovation from the Parc des Princes faithful.
To further compound the visitors’ misery, PSG added a fifth in the 73rd minute as Marquinhos’ effort deflected off the boot of Mohamed Youssouf on its way past his own goalkeeper to subsequently credit the Ajaccio defender with an unfortunate own goal. With no further damage to the scoreline, two red cards would be added to the end–of–game statistics, as initially Hakimi was shown another red card – after only just returning from suspension for today’s match – for his involvement in a mass 20-man brawl before the eagle-eye of VAR recommended referee Gaillouste upgrade Thomas Mangani’s initial yellow card to a red for his part in the melee.
A comprehensively one-sided victory moves Paris Saint-Germain back to being six points clear of their nearest title challengers RC Lens, as Galtier’s side now will now have over a week to prepare for the journey to the Stade de l’Abbé-Deschamps to face off relegation-threatened AJ Auxerre – knowing a victory, and a slip up from second-placed Lens, would secure back-to-back league titles for the first time since 2018/19 – 2019/2020. However, in contrasting circumstances, Ajaccio’s brief stay in Ligue 1 will go down as a far from enjoyable one, as we now know two of the four sides – Angers SCO being the other – who will fall through the Ligue 1 relegation trapdoor this season.