Lionel Messi registered a hat-trick of assists as a Marquinhos brace and Angel Di Maria strike gave Ligue 1 Uber Eats leaders Paris Saint-Germain a 3-1 victory at Saint-Etienne on Sunday.
Sergio Ramos was named in the Paris Saint-Germain starting XI for the first time since his summer move from Real Madrid, and the iconic ex-Spain international saw Neymar — a one-time rival in clasicos with Barcelona — find the net early only for VAR to rightly spot the Brazil international was offside (4').
With Mbappé, Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria alongside Neymar, PSG had huge firepower, but home goalkeeper Etienne Green kept them at bay for much of the first half. Mbappé found it particularly difficult to find a way past the England U21 international losing out in two one-on-one duels (13', 41').
Green's stops ensured Saint-Etienne held on to the surprise lead afforded them by Denis Bouanga. Wahbi Khazri's fantastic through ball with the outside of his right boot gave Timothée Kolodziejczak a shooting opportunity — the defender's weak shot was parried by Gianluigi Donnarumma, but Bouanga followed up with a far more ferocious effort (23'). Initially ruled out by the assistant referee for offside, the decision was overturned by VAR.
Green also denied Neymar (40') as Saint-Etienne — who came into the game second-from-bottom — looked like they would maintain their advantage until half-time. Then, Mbappé raced forward onto a ball forward that bisected two defenders — one of them, Kolodziejczak — failed to cut out the pass but made sure he felled the France international striker and referee Jérôme Brisard quickly produced a red card (45').
Just as quickly, Saint-Etienne were punished: Messi flicked the resulting free-kick into the penalty area and Marquinhos' header was just too good for Green (45+2').
Down to ten men, Puel naturally set up his side to frustrate the visitors after the break, and for much of the second half they did just that. Messi had a shot blocked (56') and then failed to connect with a bouncing ball in the penalty box with only Green to beat (59') as Pochettino's men toiled in the falling snow.
Messi, who got his first Ligue 1 goal in last weekend's win against Nantes, then steered a shot wide with the goal at his mercy after Green had shut out Neymar (68') as the home fans started to hope their team might make it through to full-time with a brave point.
Those ambitions were dashed though by Messi, who brilliantly scooped a pass into fellow Argentina international Di Maria, who steered in the decisive second (79'). PSG suffered a major blow when Neymar appeared to badly twist his left ankle when falling awkwardly in a challenge with Yvann Maçon (87') — the Brazil international was stretchered off and PSG will be hoping the injury is not as serious as their number 10's reaction would suggest.
With Saint-Etienne demoralised if not completely demobilised, Di Maria then slid a pass into the run of Messi, whose cross was nodded home from close range by Marquinhos (90+1') to complete a 13th win of the campaign for the runaway league leaders and put them provisionally 14 points clear of the rest of the league.
THE PLAYER: Etienne Green
But for the Saint-Etienne goalkeeper, PSG would have wrapped up the points by half-time. You have to wonder what the hosts might have done if they had had 11 men in the second half given their goalkpeeper was nigh-on unbeatable with Mbappé, in particular, frustrated on so many occasions.
THE STAT: 24
PSG are now unbeaten in 24 matches in all competitions against Saint-Etienne, a run that includes 17 games in Ligue 1 Uber Eats.