Neymar flops once again on disappointing Champions League night for PSG, but team still qualify

Neymar flops once again on disappointing Champions League night for PSG, but team still qualify
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What happens when a team which relies on moments fails to capitalise on said moments?

From a position of strength in the second half, 1-0 up and in the driving seat in their Champions League group, PSG contrived to surrender their advantage and, by extension, the group.

From Mauricio Pochettino’s perspective, it largely hinged on one moment.

With 17 minutes remaining and the game locked level, Neymar collected the ball on the edge of the area. Slaloming his way through the Man City defence, he had the goal at his mercy.

His finish, however, was dragged wide of the post.

Less than two minutes later, City grabbed their winner.

The episode characterised Neymar’s season in the French capital. Whereas many expected him to thrive after the arrival of former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi, he has cut a slightly awkward figure. Most damning is that a team which requires decisiveness in the final third is currently getting the opposite from the Brazilian.

PSG’s game plan on the evening mirrored their approach to the fixture at the Parc des Princes in September. Pochettino packed his midfield with athleticism – Ander Herrera replaced Marco Verratti in the starting lineup – before surrendering possession and tasking his star-studded attacking trio to go and win the match.

It was all going to plan for an hour. City created the majority of the goalscoring opportunities, but their pressure wasn’t incessant and there were periods in which PSG were able to take the sting out of the game without much resistance from Guardiola’s side.

However, when City responded through Sterling on the hour mark PSG didn’t really lose their composure. It was about as much as Pochettino could ask from his defensive unit given the instructions he had handed them pre-match, but they were let down by Neymar’s profligacy in that moment 17 minutes from time.

Perhaps he could be forgiven if this was merely an off-night, but it marked the fourth Champions League game this term that Neymar has provided neither an assist or a goal. In a group including Club Brugge and an RB Leipzig side struggling for form, it makes for dismal reading.

His domestic form barely offers a note of encouragement either. Three goals and as many assists in nine starts doesn’t cut it in a dominant PSG side. Many will underline the fact the Parisiens have flattered to deceive in Ligue 1 this term, but Neymar’s contributions – or lack of – is part of that.

When compared to Kylian Mbappe’s numbers, you would be forgiven for believing Neymar was a bit-part squad member. The Frenchman has registered 12 assists this season, with eight goals to boot in all competitions. He is averaging a goal involvement roughly every 59 minutes on the pitch.

There’s only one football on the pitch, you might say, which renders it largely impossible for each of PSG’s front three to post extraordinary numbers. But it’s been Mbappe’s decisiveness which has marked him out. This is also a player who believed he was leaving PSG with just a week left in the transfer window last summer.

Of course, there could be mitigating circumstances. Neymar missed the opening three games of the season through injury, and his performances hint at a player carrying either mental or physical baggage.

But at present, it’s difficult to defend Neymar’s contributions. In fact, it’s difficult to justify his place in the team at all.

-90min

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