PARIS (AP) — Amine Gouiri scored with a Panenka penalty kick and delivered an assist Sunday for Nice to beat Metz 2-0 and return to second place in the French league behind runaway leader Paris Saint-Germain, which welcomed back Lionel Messi as it routed Reims 4-0.
PSG got off to a slow start at the Parc des Princes Stadium but ended up in control with goals from Marco Verratti, Sergio Ramos and Danilo Pereira after Reims crumbled and collapsed in the second half.
PSG has an 11-point lead over Nice, which extended its winning run to five league matches.
Messi, recovered from a COVID-19 infection, played his first game of the year after coming on as a substitute in the second half in Paris.
Apart from a couple of chances from Pereira and Kylian Mbappe, who was fit again after suffering from a minor muscle problem, the hosts were largely frustrated throughout the first half by a Reims side that played well but lacked efficiency to convert its chances.
PSG finally took the lead just before the interval after a shot from Mauro Icardi was blocked and the ball bounced into Verratti’s path. The Italy midfielder did not think twice and unleashed a left-footed effort into the back of the net.
Mauricio Pochettino’s players took complete control in the second half.
Ramos made it 2-0, scoring from the rebound from close range after Reims cleared a header on the line. It was Ramos’s first league goal for PSG.
Verratti then thought he had completed a rare double in the 66th from a corner kick quickly taken by Mbappe. Angel Di Maria crossed the ball inside the box for Verratti, whose shot took a double deflection and finished in the top corner. It was unclear whether the goal will be finally awarded to Verratti as the league first said it was an own-goal from Wout Faes.
Pereira added more luster to the win with 15 minutes left from Mbappe’s assist.
PSG players wore special commemorative shirts with their names written in Mandarin to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
In Metz, the 21-year-old Gouiri started the match in place of striker Andy Delort — who was ruled out shortly before kickoff due to illness — and delivered an outstanding performance.
Metz goalkeeper Marc-Aurele Caillard kept the hosts afloat in the first half as Gouiri tested him several times. The French forward finally found a breakthrough in the 58th minute with a clever lofted ball over the defense for Khephren Thuram, who broke the deadlock from close range.
Gouiri, a France U21 international, thought he had doubled Nice’s lead in the 76th but his effort from Evann Guessand’s assist was ruled out for offside.
Nice was awarded a soft penalty with five minutes left after slight contact between Guessand and Vincent Pajot. Gouiri tried the audacious chipped kick and beat Caillard for his 10th goal this season, although the goalkeeper got a hand to the ball but could not stop it from crossing the line.
Gouiri joined Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe as the only players under the age of 23 to have scored at least 10 goals and registered 5 or more assists in one of Europe’s top five leagues this season.
Nice has a two-point lead over third-place Marseille, which won 2-0 at Lens on Saturday and has a match in hand.
Metz dropped to 18th.
MAVIDIDI LEADS MONTPELLIER
Striker Stephy Mavididi scored twice, including a last-gasp winner, to earn Montpellier a hard-fought 3-2 win against Monaco.
Following two straight losses in 2022, the win lifted Montpellier to sixth place, one point above Monaco.
Montpellier led 2-0 after 31 minutes with goals from Elye Wahi and Mavididi but could not hold onto its advantage. After Wissam Ben Yedder reduced the deficit, the visitors pressed hard throughout the second half and were rewarded with Vanderson’s equalizer in the 81st minute.
Then came Mavididi’s beauty, one minute into added time, at the conclusion of a move ignited by Nicolas Cozza. The defender surged near the midfield line to retrieve the ball and then slalomed through Monaco players toward the goal. Cozza released his pass inside the box and Mavididi unleashed an instant strike into the top corner.
HWANG’S HAT TRICK
Struggling Bordeaux ended a three-game losing streak by winning 4-3 in a dramatic contest against in-form Strasbourg.
Hwang Ui-jo scored a hat trick for Bordeaux.
The hosts led 3-0 before Kevin Gameiro scored twice. Hwang made it 4-2 in the last minute and Majeed Waris scored seven minutes into added time.
“Hwang had a perfect game, he bailed us out on several occasions,” Bordeaux coach Vladimir Petkovic said.
Bordeaux left the relegation zone while Strasbourg remained in fourth place.
Angers beat Troyes 2-1, Clermont came from behind to down Rennes 2-1 and Nantes defeated Lorient 4-2.