SPIRO: PSG can prevail without Neymar
By M. Spiro
PSG may be missing star man Neymar but Matthew Spiro believes they have the firepower, experience and ability to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit against Real Madrid.
Much of the build up to Tuesday’s Champions League round of 16 second leg has centred on the Brazilian forward and the injury that could rule him out for the season. Neymar’s absence is an undeniable blow - not just for the hosts but also for the tie in general. After all, the quality and glamour that he brings is made for this particular stage.
Yet PSG are anything but a one-man team. They have quality throughout the side and a formidable home record in recent years. Furthermore, without the option of relying on their €222m man for inspiration, the 'support cast' are going to have to take centre stage. The likes of Edinson Cavani, Angel di Maria and Kylian Mbappé simply have to fire - and, let's face it, they're well capable of doing that and are probably relishing this challenge.
The past is littered with examples of clubs prevailing without their talisman. Marseille famously won the European Cup the year after selling Jean-Pierre Papin - arguably their greatest ever player - to AC Milan. Guess who they beat in the final? Nobody thought Liverpool would claim a fifth European crown when they sold Michael Owen to Real Madrid in 2004, but 12 months later it happened. That team shared responsibility for scoring goals, and an exceptional Steven Gerrard played out of his skin.
Paris will need one or two Gerrard-esque performances at the Parc des Princes if they're to keep the dream alive, yet several men within Unai Emery’s ranks are capable of providing this. Cavani is arguably a better player without Neymar. He thrives on early through balls and crosses, but when Neymar plays the approach is slower, more deliberate, and reliant on skilful runs and flicks. Starved of service three weeks ago, the deadly Uruguayan will have more to feed on in the return.
Real Madrid won't need any warning about Di Maria: PSG's in-form attacker, who has 13 goals already this calendar year, was man of the match for the triumphant Spanish side in the 2014 Champions League final. As for Mbappé, Zinédine Zidane did everything in his power to sign the attacker last summer. Tuesday is a wonderful chance for the turbo-charged teen to show the Merengues what they are missing. Mbappé proved with Monaco last season that he is at ease in the Champions League knockout stage. After an uncharacteristically low-key performance at the Bernabéu, don't expect him to disappoint twice.
Yet PSG's outstanding individuals aren't restricted to the frontline. Adrien Rabiot - who idolised Gerrard as a boy - has taken his game to another level this term and has a pivotal role to play. Marco Verratti is as talented as any midfielder in Europe. He may still be fresh-faced, but at 25 the Italian is ready to turn immense potential into a real-life match-winning display against the European champions. Like the midfield pair, Marquinhos has been at PSG for several years already. At 23, the Brazilian is still young. But he is also experienced and one of the best defenders in the world game. His time has come. PSG's time has come. With or without Neymar, they can prevail.