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Edinson Cavani whets the appetite Europe's big clubs as PSG remains favorite for French title

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PARIS — Two months ago, Edinson Cavani was just the outcast at Paris Saint-Germain.

Absent for the club's midseason training camp in Morocco following a string of poor performances, the Uruguayan was fined by the club and banned from the team for three games.

Cavani's future in the French capital looked bleak. PSG coach Laurent Blanc slammed his decision to return late from holidays, saying there would be no complacency for a player with a huge price tag of 64 million euros ($77 million) having proved mainly ineffective since the start of the season, with just seven league goals in 18 matches.

Frustrated by his tense relationship with Blanc and his position on the field, forced to play a supporting role behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic most of the time, Cavani felt downhearted.

Twelve matches later, he is leading PSG's quest for a historic quadruple as the team remains in contention in the two domestic cups and in the Champions League. In the league, PSG trails leader Lyon by only one point ahead of Saturday's home match against Lens.

In third place, three points further back, Marseille travels to Caen while Lyon is at Montpellier.

Cavani, a former Napoli striker, earned PSG a 1-1 draw with Chelsea when he scored the equalizer in the first leg of the last 16 in the Champions League. On Wednesday, he slotted home his 18th goal of the season in all competitions to seal PSG's progression to the semifinals of the French Cup in a 2-0 win over Monaco, when the absence of the suspended Ibrahimovic was hardly noticed.

After opening the door for his exit with the poor management of January's crisis, PSG might now find itself struggling to convince him to stay, with several big clubs, including Arsenal, reportedly interested in buying him.

L'Equipe newspaper reported this week that Cavani held talks with Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone to discuss his transfer to Spain.

In the meantime, Blanc can enjoy a rare serene moment after months of criticism against the lack of imagination of his side. PSG is now unbeaten in 13 matches and the French media was unanimous in hailing Wednesday's win over Monaco as a display of collective force.

"The way we are playing is improving," Blanc said. "We created a lot of chances against a team which has a reputation for being strong defensively. We scored two goals and could have had one or two more. That shows that we still have work to do in that area.

"But the biggest satisfaction for me is that, since January, we have played every three days and have been better than every team we have played against."

PHOTO: PSG's David Luiz, center challenges for the ball with Monaco's Bernardo Silva, left, and Monaco's Fabinho, during the French League One soccer match between Monaco and Paris Saint Germain, in Monaco stadium, Sunday, March 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
PSG's David Luiz, center challenges for the ball with Monaco's Bernardo Silva, left, and Monaco's Fabinho, during the French League One soccer match between Monaco and Paris Saint Germain, in Monaco stadium, Sunday, March 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

Here are some other things to know about this weekend's matches:


VERSATILE LUIZ

It took several months to David Luiz to recover from Brazil's 7-1 shock loss to Germany at the last World Cup, but it was worth the wait for PSG.

Luiz, who arguably played the worst game of his career against the Germans in the World Cup semifinals, has been in excellent form recently at the heart of the Parisian defense. Luiz, one of the most used players by Laurent Blanc this season, is also providing his coach with alternative options in midfield when regular starters are unavailable.

Against his former club Chelsea in the Champions League, then at Monaco last weekend in the league, Luiz played in front of the defense and had no problems neutralizing the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa.

Luiz returned to the defense and scored the opener in the 2-0 win over Monaco.

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WHAT FUTURE FOR LACAZETTE?

The main man behind Lyon's resurgence might well leave the club during the offseason.

Alexandre Lacazette, the league's top striker this season with 21 goals in 24 matches, has hinted at his departure in an interview with the seven-time champions' TV channel ahead of Sunday's match at Montpellier.

The France international, whose stunning performances have triggered interest abroad, said Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas could hardly refuse his transfer if big money is brought to the table.

"For my future with France, staying at Lyon could be important, but there are opportunities that one can't miss," Lacazette said. "And sometimes there are wishes from the president, too. Even with the Euro looming, I will be forced to leave the club if the president asks me to do so."

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