Hazard stars as Lille thrashes Valenciennes 4-0

JEROME PUGMIRE AP Sports Writer Published:

PARIS (AP) -- Eden Hazard scored his 12th league goal of the season and set up two more from corners as defending champion Lille thrashed Valenciennes 4-0 on Sunday to strengthen its hold on third place in the French league.

Hazard, who is expected to play in the Premier League next season, was in fine form in a one-sided game that could have finished with an even heavier defeat for Valenciennes.

"The way we played was shameful. We didn't manage to put three passes together," Valenciennes captain David Ducourtioux said. "We were rubbish, that's all. You have to be honest."

Dimitri Payet gathered the ball in midfield and passed to Hazard, who let the ball run through his legs to Tulio De Melo.

The Brazilian forward did brilliantly to flick it back into Hazard's path, and Hazard controlled the ball with his left before pushing it onto his right and curling the ball under goalkeeper Nicolas Penneteau.

"I don't know if it's my best performance of the season, although the statistics would say so," Hazard said. "But tonight it was all about teamwork. There are so many mobile players in the team, like Dimitri and Joe (Cole)."

Lille is seven points behind second-place Montpellier and nine adrift of French leader Paris Saint-Germain, but has a three-point cushion over fourth-place Toulouse with 10 rounds remaining.

Hazard refused to write off Lille's chances of retaining its title.

"We will give everything," he said. "We still have to go to Paris and Montpellier. It's about whoever plays the best in the last few games."

Florent Balmont could have made it 2-0 but his shot was kicked away by Penneteau, and De Melo poked his shot wide after running onto a looping pass over the defense as Lille totally dominated the first half.

Lille made it 2-0 in the 57th when 18-year-old left back Lucas Digne's cross, destined for De Melo, was turned into his own net by defender Benjamin Angoua.

Aurelien Chedjou headed in his fifth goal of the season from Hazard's corner in the 69th, and De Melo nodded in from another identical corner from Hazard with seven minutes to go.

"We've dropped a lot of points in recent weeks, and we really needed to win tonight," De Melo said.

Toulouse earlier beat Rennes 1-0 with an own goal from defender Romain Danze to climb to fourth place, while Sochaux moved off the bottom of the table after beating fellow strugglers Nice 2-0.

Toulouse scored just before the break when striker Emmanuel Riviere's shot hit Danze's leg and looped over stranded goalkeeper Benoit Costil. Rennes striker Jires Kembo-Ekoko missed two good chances to equalize for the home side and Toulouse held on for the win.

"You dream about third place, but we're not going to think about it," Toulouse captain Daniel Congre said after his team's third straight away win. "We just have to keep going the way we are without putting ourselves under pressure."

Rennes is in seventh place, two points behind Saint-Etienne and Lyon.

"You can't fall behind against this kind of team. Our teamwork wasn't there and we lost the midfield battle," Rennes coach Frederic Antonetti said. "They were stronger than us. Toulouse deserved to win."

Striker Edouard Butin gave Sochaux the lead on the stroke of halftime, and midfielder Marvin Martin scored midway through the second half as Sochaux leapfrogged over Auxerre.

Auxerre, which sacked manager Laurent Fournier on Sunday morning, is now in last place. Former Lens coach Jean-Guy Wallemme was chosen to replace Fournier.

On Saturday, PSG scraped a 2-2 draw away to Caen, but still moved two points clear at the top of the standings after second-place Montpellier lost 1-0 at Nancy.

Rennes could have taken fourth place with a win.

Winger Jonathan Pitroipa caused most of the problems for Toulouse's defense in a better second half. He twice set up Kembo-Ekoko, but the striker poked his first effort wide and goalkeeper Ali Ahamada smothered his next effort.

As Rennes pushed forward, Kembo-Ekoko missed another chance, and Toulouse almost added a second through midfielder Etienne Didot.

Sochaux, winning for the second straight match since former coach Mehmed Bazdarevic was sacked, took the lead with a well-worked goal.

Vincent Nogueira's cross to the near post was turned in by Butin before goalkeeper David Ospina could react.

Martin made it 2-0 in the 68th with his first goal since August.