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Neymar suffered a potentially serious injury as Paris Saint-Germain worked on a 3-1 win over 10-man Saint-Etienne.
Looking for an answer after their defeat to Manchester City in midweek, not to mention speculation about Mauricio Pochettino’s future, PSG fell flat in large parts of Sunday’s match.
But Angel Di Maria and Marquinhos, who scored twice, came with the goods, with Lionel Messi assisting all three of his team’s goals in a victory that was only sealed late.
Di Maria and Marquinhos struck nets in the closing stages after the defender had previously canceled Denis Bouangas’ opener, with Timothee Kolodziejczak sent off for the struggling hosts before the break.
But PSG will now be worried about Neymar, who was taken off on a stretcher with an apparent ankle injury between the visitors’ late attacks.
Neymar got a goal rejected for offside before Kylian Mbappe wasted a great chance by drilling directly on home goalkeeper Etienne Green.
The guests paid for the miss in the 23rd minute. On his long-awaited PSG debut, Sergio Ramos’ hesitation allowed Kolodziejczak to connect with Wahbi Khazri’s cross. Gianluigi Donnarumma was only able to parry out as far as Bouanga, whose first-time finish was allowed to stand after a VAR check for offside.
Saint-Etienne had withdrawn on the eve of the break. Kolodziejczak threw himself into Mbappe about 30 yards from goal, where referee Jerome Brisard judged the tackle was worthy of a direct red. It immediately turned out to be expensive for Saint-Etienne – Marquinhos escaped his marker to head in from Messi’s free kick.
Green got up once again in the 69th minute to dismiss Neymar, with Messi drilling wide on the rebound, but the latter fed Di Maria to decisively curl up in a powerful effort with 11 minutes left.
Marquinhos headed in from Messi’s corner to put the result without a doubt, yet Neymar’s injury had ruined what was a difficult victory for the Ligue 1 leaders.
What does it mean? PSG clear, but far from convincing
The victory, at least temporarily, lifted PSG 14 points ahead at the top of Ligue 1. They already have 40 points from their 15 matches.
However, they were extremely wasteful and their overall game still leaves a lot to be desired. With such a quality at his disposal, Pochettino – who the club has insisted is not going anywhere – must start delivering more consistent performances.
It was far from a vintage show from Messi, but he still assisted each of PSG’s goals.
His set pieces for both Marquinhos’ header were on point, while he had the vision and weight of passes to find Di Maria for PSG’s crucial second goal.
This is just the third time Messi has assisted three goals in a league match in his career, after doing so against Getafe in 2012 and Real Betis in 2020.
No sign that Pochettino is fixing PSG’s leaky defense
Maybe once he’s up to speed, Ramos will be the man to patch up PSG’s backline, but as it stands, they still look vulnerable.
Donnarumma, put back on the team with Keylor Navas rested, hardly made his bid to become the guaranteed number one any services as he wasted the effort from Kolodziejczak for Bouanga’s opening match, but there was a significant lack of defensive organization throughout.
Despite PSG typically escaping with positive results, PSG have conceded the opening goal 11 times in Ligue 1 in 2021, their highest number in a calendar year since 2012 (also 11).
PSG will host high-flying Nice on Wednesday, the same evening that Saint-Etienne visit Brest.