Monaco's Colombian forward Radamel Falcao (2nd R) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between Monaco (ASM) and Nice (OGCN) on February 4, 2017 at Louis II Stadium in Monaco.<br />VALERY HACHE / AFP
Radamel Falcao scored a second-half brace as Monaco defeated Nice 3-0 on Saturday to carve open a three-point lead ahead of their Cote d’Azur rivals at the top of Ligue 1.
Valere Germain headed in the opening goal on 47 minutes at the Stade Louis II before Falcao turned in Monaco’s second with an hour gone. The Colombian stroked home a third for the hosts nine minutes from time as Monaco avenged a 4-0 thrashing from the reverse fixture in September.
Leonardo Jardim’s side moved three points clear of Nice after dealing the visitors just their second loss of the season. Reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain are six adrift ahead of their trip to Dijon later.
Monaco boss Jardim recalled a host of internationals rested for Wednesday’s 5-4 extra-time win over third-tier Chambly in the last 32 of the French Cup, with Falcao, Bernardo Silva and Danijel Subasic all returning to the line-up.
Nice had conceded a league-low 15 goals before arriving in Monaco and goalkeeper Yoan Cardinale was well protected in a quiet first half, turning behind a firm strike from Germain in a rare chance of note.
But Monaco, who are averaging a European-leading three goals a game this term, punished Nice for slack defending with just two minutes gone in the second half.
Germain was left unmarked as Benjamin Mendy whipped in a teasing cross from the left and the Frenchman planted a header beyond a Cardinale for his eighth goal of the campaign.
Monaco doubled their lead in similar circumstances. The ball was again worked out to Mendy on the left flank, this time the full-back crossed low for Falcao to steer into the roof of the net.
Nice’s top scorer Alassane Plea missed a huge opportunity to cut the deficit when he failed to properly connect with Jean-Michael Seri’s delivery into the area.
Falcao killed the contest by slotting into the far corner from Thomas Lemar’s cut-back to move onto 14 goals, behind only Edinson Cavani (21) and Alexandre Lacazette (18) in Ligue 1 this season.
Valentin Eysseric struck the post late on, while goalkeeper Danijel Subasic pulled off a sharp stop to keep out a header from Plea as Nice’s run of nine matches without defeat came to an end.
On Friday, Metz made it an unhappy return to Ligue 1 for Dimitri Payet as Marseille slumped to a 1-0 loss in the northeast.