Neymar fails to take his moment for PSG


What happens when a team that relies on moments fails to take advantage of those moments?

From a position of strength in the second half, 1-0 up and in the driver’s seat of their Champions League group, PSG managed to give up their advantage and by extension the group.

From Mauricio Pochettino’s perspective, it largely hung in a moment.

With 17 minutes left and the match locked even, Neymar collected the ball on the edge of the area. He went slalom through the Man City defense and had the goal at his mercy.

His finish, however, was drawn outside the post.

Less than two minutes later, City took their winner.

Neymar rejected his chance / Marc Atkins / GettyImages

The episode marked Neymar’s season in the French capital. While many expected him to thrive after the arrival of former Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi, he has cut a somewhat awkward figure. Most condemning is that a team that demands determination in the last third currently gets the opposite from the Brazilian.

PSG’s game plan in the evening reflected their attitude to the match at the Parc des Princes in September. Pochettino filled his midfield with athleticism – Ander Herrera replaced Marco Verratti in the starting lineup – before handing over possession and commissioning his star-studded attacking trio to go and win the match.

The whole thing was to be planned for an hour. City created the majority of the goal chances, but their pressure was not incessant and there were periods when PSG could take the stick out of the match without much resistance from Guardiola’s side.

But when City responded through Sterling on the hour, PSG did not really lose their composure. It was about as much as Pochettino could ask for from his defensive unit given the instructions he had given them before the match, but they were let down by Neymar’s carelessness at that moment 17 minutes after time.

He might have been forgiven if this was just an off-night, but it marked the fourth Champions League match this term that Neymar has not given either an assist or a goal. In a group that includes Club Brugge and an RB Leipzig side that are fighting for form, it will be gloomy reading.

His domestic form hardly gives a note of encouragement either. Three goals and as many assists in nine starts do not diminish that in a dominant PSG team. Many will emphasize the fact that the Parisians have flattered to cheat in Ligue 1 this term, but Neymar’s contribution – or lack thereof – is part of it.

Compared to Kylian Mbappe’s figures, you would be forgiven for thinking that Neymar was part of the team. The Frenchman has registered 12 assists this season, with eight goals left in all competitions. On average, he has a goal mix about every 59 minutes on the pitch.

There is only one football on the pitch, you could say, which makes it virtually impossible for each of PSG’s top three to put out extraordinary figures. But it has been Mbappe’s determination that has characterized him. This is also a player who thought he would leave PSG with only one week left of the transfer window last summer.

Mbappe added another goal to his collection / Alex Livesey – Danehouse / GettyImages

Of course, there may be mitigating circumstances. Neymar missed the first three games of the season due to injury, and his performances suggest a player carrying either mental or physical baggage.

But at the moment it is difficult to defend Neymar’s contribution. It is actually difficult to justify his place in the team at all.

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