Whoever said Ligue 1 was predictable?
With two rounds of matches remaining before the Christmas break, Paris Saint-Germain, dubbed the champions-elect before a ball had even been kicked this season, find themselves four points off the pace of surprise leaders Nice.
Sunday’s encounter against Lucien Favre’s side at the Parc des Princes was supposed to provide the platform from which PSG could cut the deficit, yet in the end it proved something of a damage limitation exercise as they secured a 2-2 draw having trailed by a couple at one stage.
The visitors, without Mario Balotelli in their starting XI, enhanced their credentials as France’s Leicester City in the first half.
Wylan Cyprien, who, like Riyad Mahrez at the King Power Stadium, has enjoyed a sharp rise in prominence since playing in Ligue 2, opened the scoring with a magnificent free kick. In stoppage time, Alassane Plea pounced on a defensive lapse to flick home.
At that stage, Nice were provisionally seven points clear of the defending champions in the table, but they could not maintain that level.
The early moments of the second half were always liable to be a decisive period in the match, and this was when PSG made their play. Dalbert Henrique had picked up a knock at the end of the opening period, and the decision to afford him minutes to test his fitness proved critical as he was exposed immediately, allowing Serge Aurier to cross for Edinson Cavani to score.
Worse followed for the guests quarter of an hour later. PSG were gaining momentum but rarely looked like scoring until a slack punch by goalkeeper Yoann Cardinale thumped against Ligue 1’s top scorer, who could scarcely miss from a yard out.
While the hosts held the upper hand, they lacked the attacking thrust to find a winner.
As was the case in the feeble 2-2 draw against Ludogorets on Tuesday that cost PSG top spot in Champions League Group A, their attacking midfielders offered little menace. Such was the ineptitude of Angel Di Maria on the wing, Thomas Meunier, a natural full-back, was deemed a more inviting attacking option in the closing stages.
But given the threat that PSG pose from the deep, wide areas, perhaps that should come as little surprise. Aurier and Layvin Kurzawa had provided much of the dynamism that was evident in the side. Indeed, the left-back nearly won the match in stoppage time with a cute header, only for Cardinale to atone for his earlier sin by clawing the ball away from the corner of his goal.
So come full-time, the damage was limited by PSG, but they had failed to eat into Nice’s advantage.
Perhaps more pertinently, though, Emery’s side have lost ground on in-form Monaco and showed only hints that they are capable of claiming yet another title.
With 2016 almost at an end, the balance of power in Ligue 1 has shifted from the capital to the Cote d’Azur. Emery has a job on his hands to change that.