Neymar climbed off his sick bed to help Paris Saint-Germain see out a 2-0 win at Marseille in the 100th Classique on Sunday.
Superstar forward Neymar was sent off in the reverse fixture and started from the bench after missing training this week with gastroenteritis, while Angel Di Maria departed early through injury at the Stade Velodrome, but Marseille could not capitalise.
First-half goals from Kylian Mbappe and Mauro Icardi instead secured a commanding position against Ligue 1’s crisis club, whose troubles are best illustrated by coach Andre Villas-Boas’ suspension after offering his resignation.
It meant Neymar could be introduced with little risk of a repeat of the home defeat early in the season and the world’s most expensive footballer duly provided a spark that pegged OM back – their frustration evident as Dimitri Payet was sent off – to secure victory and keep PSG within three points of leaders Lille.
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_inside) February 7, 2021
Neymar’s absence was not felt in a trademark PSG counter-attack after nine minutes when Mbappe skipped beyond Hiroki Sakai’s desperate lunge and slid a cool finish under Steve Mandanda.
Di Maria appeared to hurt himself in finding Mbappe and was promptly replaced, although Neymar remained among the substitutes and some slack play at the back ensured a fizzing Pape Gueye drive had to be tipped over.
PSG were ruthless at the other end and Icardi’s cute header earned a helpful touch from Alvaro Gonzalez as it looped over the static Mandanda, who might have conceded a third time before the break as Leandro Paredes thundered in an effort that kissed the outside of the post.
Marseille were better after the break and Boubacar Kamara’s shot squirmed away from Sergio Rico and wide, but further chances were few and far between.
Neymar was belatedly introduced 25 minutes from time and should have immediately won a penalty, with Alvaro granted a fortunate escape following his clumsy challenge inside the area.
Marseille spent the remaining minutes on the back foot as Neymar found his groove, missing only a finish as he sought the third, before Payet’s high boot on Marco Verratti was punished with a late red card.
What does it mean? No drama and PSG stay in the hunt
There were five red cards – three for PSG – when the sides met at the Parc des Princes in September in a game that contributed to the chaos of the champions’ season to date, going some way to explain their underwhelming league position.
Although there was bite in Sunday’s encounter, too, as the two teams shared 24 fouls and Payet was dismissed, the early Mbappe goal made sure there was no unnecessary drama this time, keeping the pressure on Lille and Lyon.
Mauro makes his mark
Only three times in the league this season have PSG started with Neymar, Mbappe, Di Maria and Icardi all in the XI as Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino have each struggled to fit the attacking quartet into the same line-up – while also dealing with illness, injuries and suspensions.
Icardi has been restricted to just seven starts, but he showed here what he is all about. Along with a fifth goal of the campaign from his only attempt, the striker used his physicality at both ends of the field, winning his four aerial duels and making three clearances before making way for Neymar.
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) February 7, 2021
Alvaro out of his depth
The subject of some scrutiny following a clash with Neymar in Paris, Alvaro was at the centre of the action again in the return fixture and did not fare well.
The centre-back struggled to contain Icardi and got a touch as the second goal deceived Mandanda, before he somehow avoided a penalty for tripping Neymar, then hobbled off having succeeded in only a single duel and failed to make a tackle.
PSG’s title tilt goes on hold this week as they go to Caen on Wednesday in the Coupe de France, the same competition in which Marseille will visit Auxerre hours earlier.