Neymar on target as PSG warm up for City with crucial victory

Neymar Jr #10 of Paris Saint-Germain shoots the ball and scores during the Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain and RC Lens at Parc des Princes on May 1, 2021 in Paris, France.

Neymar scored one goal and laid on the other as Paris Saint-Germain warmed up for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Manchester City with a vital 2-1 win over Lens in Ligue 1 on Saturday.

Neymar netted on 33 minutes and his corner was headed home by Marquinhos just prior to the hour mark at the Parc des Princes, with Cameroonian forward Ignatius Ganago pulling a goal back for Lens.

It was a huge three points for PSG in their attempt to retain the Ligue 1 title, as Mauricio Pochettino’s side move provisionally two points clear of Lille at the top of the table.

However Lille can return to the summit by beating Nice at home later on Saturday, while third-placed Monaco will return to within a single point of PSG if they defeat Lyon on Sunday.

PSG are looking to win their eighth Ligue 1 title in nine years and, given how close the title race is in France this season, they could not afford to take it easy in between the two legs of their Champions League tie against City.

Last season’s Champions League runners-up are up against it after losing 2-1 at home to Pep Guardiola’s side in the first leg, with the return in Manchester on Tuesday.

With that match in mind, Kylian Mbappe was rested against Lens as he nurses a calf knock, and Pochettino made six changes to his line-up in total. Angel Di Maria was also left out of the starting XI. Lens had beaten the Parisians at home back in September and travelled to the capital on a run of 13 games unbeaten that saw them come into the weekend in fifth, just ahead of Marseille in the fight for France’s last European qualifying berth.

However PSG went ahead when Argentine defender Facundo Medina tried to play the ball back towards his own goal under pressure and only succeeded in teeing up Neymar, who took a touch and scored just his seventh Ligue 1 goal of the season. Pablo Sarabia came close to adding to PSG’s lead before the break but they went 2-0 up on 59 minutes.

Marquinhos had scored with a header from a corner against City and he repeated the trick here, heading in Neymar’s delivery from the edge of the six-yard box. Lens got one back straight from the restart as Arnaud Kalimuendo’s attempted overhead kick from a Jonathan Clauss cross turned into a perfect assist for Ganago to score.

However, Lens could not find an equaliser and PSG thought they had a late third goal when Mauro Icardi turned in substitute Marco Verratti’s low centre. However, an offside flag against Verratti cut short the celebrations.

Meanwhiel, Marseille scored a late equalizer to draw with Strasbourg 1-1 at home but dropped points in the French league chase for a Europa League spot on Friday. Striker Dario Benedetto came off the bench to head home Luis Henrique’s cross from the left in the 86th minute, as sixth-placed Marseille moved level on points with Lens in fifth and the Europa League spot.

Marseille went close in the 17th when Florian Thauvin’s corner was met by defender Leonardo Balerdi, but his close-range shot was saved by goalkeeper Matz Sels.

Marseille goalie Steve Mandanda made two saves from midfielder Dimitri Lienard in the second half, but he was powerless to stop central defender Stefan Mitrovic from heading in Lienard’s 74th-minute corner.

Earlier, French police said on Saturday that two people had been arrested after the Lens team bus was vandalised while parked outside their Paris hotel ahead of a Ligue 1 game against Paris Saint-Germain.

Images on social networks and French media showed the bus, which has a huge Lens logo, smeared with yellow graffiti saying “PSG”, “Paris SG”, “Ultras Paris” and another insulting Lens.

The two people were arrested after the attack, a police source said, without giving further details.

Lens said they would not comment because they “wanted to concentrate on our match” but indicated that they might press charges.

PSG, second in Ligue 1, host fifth-placed Lens on Saturday afternoon in a crucial duel in the race for the title and European places.

The incident follows an infamous banner displayed by PSG fans at the 2008 French League Cup final between the clubs.

It attacked ‘Ch’tis’, as people from the northwest corner of France are known, saying “Paedophiles, unemployed, inbreds: welcome to the Ch’tis”

Five fans were convicted in the case, fined and banned by PSG.

PSG released a statement on Saturday supporting Lens.

“Paris Saint-Germain condemns in the strongest possible terms the intolerable acts committed against RC Lens by individuals claiming to be supporters of the club,” PSG said in Saturday’s statement.

“Police investigations are underway. The club reserves the right to take all appropriate sanctions and legal measures if it appears that some of its supporters are associated with these shameful acts,” PSG added, saying it offered “support and sympathy for RC Lens and its fans”.

A Lens representative said the bus has been cleaned up, although there are still some traces of the graffiti.


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