PARIS— Edinson Cavani made the most of a rare start in his favored center forward position, scoring his 15th league goal of the season as French leader Paris Saint-Germain coasted to a 3-0 win over Reims to move provisionally 16 points clear of second-placed Monaco.
Cavani has been unhappy playing in a position wide on the right this season, but with Zlatan Ibrahimovic facing several weeks out after tearing the back of his right thigh in the midweek Champions League win against Chelsea, he will now get several games as striker.
In the 43rd minute, Cavani timed his run well to meet right back Gregory Van der Wiel’s cross and poke the ball past goalkeeper Kossi Agassa for his 22nd goal of the season in all competitions. The Uruguay forward had not scored in his previous five games.
“All we did was defend, and that’s not enough,” Reims defender Anthony Weber said. “PSG are much better than us and there’s nothing you can say about it.”
PSG’s other two goals were own goals from Aissa Mandi in the second half.
The first in the 48th was not his fault as he scrambled to stop Brazilian winger Lucas’ header from going over the line following a well-weighted cross from left back Lucas Digne to the back post.
Mandi was to blame for the second, however, showing the instincts of a center forward — except at the wrong end — to unintentionally plant a cross from PSG winger Ezequiel Lavezzi into the top corner of the net in the 89th.
Monaco can reduce PSG’s lead to 13 points if beats Nantes at home on Sunday. But after that there will be only six matches remaining and PSG is almost certain to retain its league title.
With Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Chelsea in mind, PSG coach Laurent Blanc made eight changes to his lineup from the team that beat Chelsea 3-1 on Wednesday night, with Yohan Cabaye and Adrien Rabiot coming into midfield, and Jeremy Menez given a rare start on the right wing.
“It’s ideal preparation for what’s to come. The coach rested players because we have important games,” Rabiot said. “We now need to look ahead to Chelsea’s game, which we know will be very hard. But you can’t do better than 3-0 at home.
“We know that Chelsea don’t lose much at home and it will be a great game. We know they’re capable of winning 2-0 at their place,” Rabiot added. “They have quality but we know that we have as well. It’s a big objective for us.”
Later Saturday, it’s: Bastia vs. Sochaux; Bordeaux vs. Rennes; Guingamp vs. Montpellier; Lorient vs. Evian; and Toulouse vs. third-placed Lille.
On Friday, Ghana winger Andre Ayew scored a hat trick as Marseille beat last-placed Ajaccio 3-1 to move provisionally level with Lyon in fifth place ahead of Lyon’s trip to Valenciennes on Sunday.
In Sunday’s other match, fourth-placed Saint-Etienne hosts Nice.
The PSG vs Reims Ligue 1 match is set for Saturday, April 5.
Kick-off time is 5:00 p.m. CET (11:00 a.m. ET) at Parc des Princes.
The game will be broadcast on Canal+ France in France.
The game will also air on TV5 Monde USA in the United States.
Live stream is available on beIN Sports Play.
Here are two AP columns on PSG.
Argentine midfielder Javier Pastore silenced some of his critics with a stunning last goal in PSG’s 3-1 win over Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday.
“He seemed surprised when I waved at him to come off the bench,” PSG coach Laurent Blanc said. “He’s a talented player, we know it. It’s a matter of making him feel confident to exploit that talent.”
Pastore has been much criticized since he joined from Palermo in the summer of 2011 for 42 million euros, a transfer record in the French league at that time.
He made a good impression in his first season at PSG, scoring 13 goals in 33 league matches. But his production nosedived afterward with four goals in 34 league games last season and only one goal in 22 league games in this campaign.
CHELSEA ON PSG’S MIND
Blanc will likely rest some of his stars against Reims to have a fresh team for the second leg at Stamford Bridge next Tuesday.
PSG is the only team still undefeated at home in the league. The obvious danger for the Parisian club would be to show complacency against a Reims side as it looks ahead to the crucial trip to London.
PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and midfielder Marco Verratti are doubtful after picking up injuries on Wednesday.
“He will probably be out for a while,” Blanc said about Ibrahimovic. “I hope he’ll be back as soon as possible because we need him, of course.”