Neymar suffered a potentially serious injury as Paris Saint-Germain laboured to a 3-1 win over 10-man Saint-Etienne.
Looking for a response after their defeat to Manchester City in midweek, not to mention the speculation over Mauricio Pochettino’s future, PSG fell flat for much of Sunday’s game.
But Angel Di Maria and Marquinhos, who scored twice, came up with the goods, with Lionel Messi assisting all three of his side’s goals in a victory that was only sealed late on.
Di Maria and Marquinhos netted in the closing stages after the defender had earlier cancelled out Denis Bouanga’s opener, with Timothee Kolodziejczak sent off for the struggling hosts before the break.
However, PSG will now hold concern over Neymar, who was taken off on a stretcher with an apparent ankle injury between the visitors’ late strikes.
Neymar had a goal disallowed for offside before Kylian Mbappe squandered a great chance by drilling straight at home goalkeeper Etienne Green.
The visitors paid for that miss in the 23rd minute. On his long-awaited PSG debut, Sergio Ramos’ hesitation enabled 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 were pegged back on the cusp of half-time. Kolodziejczak lunged in on Mbappe around 30 yards from goal, with referee Jerome Brisard deeming the tackle worthy of a straight red. It immediately proved costly for Saint-Etienne – Marquinhos escaping his marker to head in from Messi’s free-kick.
Green stood tall once more in the 69th minute to deny Neymar, with Messi drilling wide on the rebound, but the latter fed Di Maria to decisively curl in a powerful effort with 11 minutes left.
Marquinhos headed in from Messi’s corner to put the result beyond doubt, yet Neymar’s injury had marred what was a difficult win for the Ligue 1 leaders.
What does it mean? PSG well clear but far from convincing
The victory, at least temporarily, lifted PSG 14 points clear at the top of Ligue 1. They already have 40 points from their 15 games.
They were extremely wasteful, however, and their general play still leaves a lot to be desired. With such quality at his disposal, Pochettino – who the club have insisted is going nowhere – must start delivering more consistent performances.
Messi the provider
It was far from a vintage display from Messi, but he still assisted each of PSG’s goals.
His set-piece deliveries for both of Marquinhos’ headers were on point, while he had the vision and weight of pass to find Di Maria for PSG’s crucial second goal.
It is just the third time Messi has assisted three goals in a league game in his career, after doing so against Getafe in 2012 and Real Betis in 2020.
No sign of Pochettino fixing PSG’s leaky defence
Perhaps, once he is up to speed, Ramos will be the man to patch up PSG’s back line, but as it stands they still look vulnerable.
Donnarumma, put back into the team with Keylor Navas rested, hardly did his bid to be the guaranteed number one any favours when he spilled the effort from Kolodziejczak for Bouanga’s opener, but there was a significant lack of defensive organisation throughout.
Despite typically escaping with positive results, PSG have conceded the opening goal 11 times in Ligue 1 in 2021, their highest tally in a calendar year since 2012 (also 11).
PSG host high-flying Nice on Wednesday, on the same evening that Saint-Etienne visit Brest.