It was all on Neymar to get Paris Saint-Germain through a crucial Champions League match as Kylian Mbappe watched on from the stands, injured. Beating Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City would have been a daunting challenge even with Mbappe available, but without him the pressure was on his Brazilian strike partner to deliver.
This, however, was what Neymar wanted all along. He made the move to the French capital in the first place to escape Lionel Messi’s shadow at Barcelona with PSG more than willing to make him the face of their club. The emergence of Mbappe changed the dynamic at the Parc des Princes, but Tuesday’s Champions League semi final second leg was how Neymar had originally envisaged it - all on his shoulders.
It was therefore notable that he failed to make anything happen. PSG saw plenty of the ball against City, but never looked like truly troubling the Premier League champions-elect as they failed to register a single shot on target. Neymar flattered to deceive with a number of aimless dribbles that led nowhere.
At this point, Neymar is hindering PSG more than he is helping them. On his day, the 29-year-old is as devastating as anyone in the sport, but those days are too few and far between. His form doesn’t fluctuate from week-to-week, but within matches - see how Neymar started well in last week’s first leg against City, but faded soon after.
Neymar’s future is particularly pertinent as talks between the Brazilian and PSG over a new contract continue. Neymar himself has hinted that an agreement is close to being reached, but performances like the one produced against Manchester City on Tuesday night should force a rethink from the French club.
Having paid a world record transfer fee of €222m in 2017, Neymar receives a reported annual salary of €36.8m. Are PSG really getting good value for their outlay? Keep in mind that this is more than the reported €31m Cristiano Ronaldo is paid by Juventus per year and more than double Mbappe’s reported €17.5m salary.
Mbappe’s contract situation is also far from certain, with the French international believed to be on Real Madrid’s radar. If PSG have to pick between their two star forwards, it’s clear keeping Mbappe should be more of a priority than tying down Neymar. The 22-year-old is the player PSG should aim to build around.
In a strange way, Neymar’s exit might actually help Mauricio Pochettino build a squad capable of winning the Champions League, freeing up money to be spent in other areas. PSG have a frontline capable of troubling any opponent, but their midfield and defence could be strengthened. They are particularly weak in the full back positions, where any windfall from the sale of Neymar could be reinvested.
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One of the biggest differences between City and PSG is in the depth of options available to Guardiola. When Pochettino looked to his bench to change the match in the second half of the semi final second leg, he saw a bunch of unproven youngsters and journeymen, like Rafinha and Julian Draxler. Guardiola, on the other hand, had Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling to introduce. Aymeric Laporte, Joao Cancelo, Ferran Torres and Rodri didn’t even get on.
PSG counted on Neymar’s individual quality being enough to turn them into Champions League winners, but four years later it’s become apparent much more will be required to achieve that objective. The Brazilian, far from driving the club forward, has become a distraction. An expensive one at that. PSG would be better off without him.