A moment of magic from Kylian Mbappe gave Paris Saint-Germain a hard-fought 1-0 win at Saint-Etienne in Ligue 1.
The reigning champions and runaway leaders bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Lyon at the start of the month by beating Bordeaux 1-0 last weekend, however, Thomas Tuchel's team were short of their best once more at Stade Geoffroy Guichard.
Mbappe dazzled in the 2-0 Champions League win over Manchester United on Tuesday but found the going tougher in a line-up without the considerable talents of Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Marco Verratti and Thomas Meunier.
Yet he settled matters with aplomb in the 73rd minute, swivelling to guide Dani Alves's lofted pass into the top corner on the volley to score his 19th league goal of the season.
It was the act of a player a class apart from the rest – much like PSG, who are 12 points ahead of Lille at the summit with two games in hand.
The same combination that undid United in midweek were to the fore again, with Angel Di Maria storming forward on the break in the 20th minute to play in Mbappe, whose shot was beaten away at the near post by Stephane Ruffier.
Mbappe felt the effects of a robust challenge from Romain Hamouma, who had a shot blocked by PSG captain Thiago Silva late in the first half after Thilo Kehrer's misjudged headed clearance.
Ruffier smothered a shot from Julian Draxler at close quarters in the 55th minute, Di Maria and Mbappe having combined on the end of Marquinhos' excellent raking pass.
Juan Bernat's replacement Colin Dagba was quickly into the action with a last-ditch challenge to deny Saint-Etienne wing-back Gabriel Silva, with Kevin Monnet-Paquet going close from the resulting 63rd-minute corner.
Di Maria should have done better when he skewed wide two minutes later, leaving Mbappe to majestically show him how it was done.
He showed a more pragmatic side as he joined substitute Layvin Kurzawa in being booked for kicking the ball away in stoppage time - PSG closing out a result that denied Saint-Etienne a move into the top four.
What does it mean? Any team in the world would miss Neymar
PSG's wonderfully composed win over Manchester United won deserved plaudits but this grasping and increasingly forced performance underlined that victory at Old Trafford came despite the absence of their star forward and not because of it.
Cavani's return will also be welcomed as centre-forward duties weighed a little heavily on the mercurial Mbappe until he produced another picturebook moment in a career already stuffed with them.
Masterful from Marquinhos
The Brazil international's shackling of Paul Pobga at Old Trafford underlined how swiftly he has developed from emergency midfield option to a dependable holding player in his own right. Marquinhos was back in his natural centre-back role here, unfurling a wonderful range of passing and appearing the coolest under pressure as the hosts launched their second-half forays. A Rolls Royce of a player.
Close shave for Bernat
The willingness of PSG's players to undertake unfamiliar roles and operate with flexible tactics has been a symbol of their development under Tuchel. Bernat started sharply enough on the left of a midfield three but was found wanting when a rare opening fell his way in the box. After his booking for fouling Mathieu Debuchy early in the second half, a 56th-minute challenge on Timothee Kolodziejczak was, at best, ill-advised and Tuchel had seen enough.
PSG tackle their rescheduled Ligue 1 home game against Montpellier on Wednesday – the first of three games in the space of six days at the Parc des Princes. Saint-Etienne travel to Dijon on Friday.
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