PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain had been waiting for such a performance from Neymar, and the Brazilian more than delivered in Wednesday’s Champions League victory over Liverpool.
The world’s most expensive player scored what proved to be the winning goal as PSG beat last season’s runners-up 2-1 to step back from the brink of an unthinkable group-stage exit.
His 14th goal of the season came at the end of a move he had initiated with his blinding pace. Neymar celebrated by performing a dance by the corner flag with Kylian Mbappe and posing for the cameras.
But Neymar’s evening was about so much more than that.
Shortly after Juan Bernat’s opening goal, Neymar rushed across to the touchline in front of the dugout to make a challenge and then waved his arms in a frenzy to whip up the crowd.
He spent much of the second half running his socks off to help PSG defend their lead, and he also upset Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp for being supposedly “clever” in winning fouls and buying time.
“For us it was all or nothing. We suffered quite a bit but we are relieved that we won, played well and showed the strength of our squad,” Neymar said.
“We need to celebrate that. After the game we were shouting, jumping around, dancing, so we are happy.”
PSG could have been eliminated with a defeat, but are now above Liverpool in Group C and head to Red Star Belgrade in their final game in a fortnight with qualification for the last 16 in their hands.
It was a big night personally for Neymar, in PSG’s most important Champions League game since the last 16, second leg against Real Madrid last season, which the Brazilian missed due to injury.
– ‘Monster’ Silva –
This was probably the French club’s most significant result in the competition since they beat Barcelona 4-0 in the last 16 two seasons ago. Neymar was far from the only man responsible.
There were big performances throughout, with Marco Verratti impressive in midfield, even if he was lucky not to be sent off for a dangerous tackle on Joe Gomez in the first half.
Thiago Silva towered over everyone in central defence, the 34-year-old Brazilian living up to his nickname of “The Monster” by helping shut out Liverpool’s front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
Yet it was telling that Silva was so keen to praise his coach at the end of the game, as he described Thomas Tuchel as “fantastic”.
– Tuchel gets better of Klopp –
The German has won all 14 games in Ligue 1 this season since being appointed, but he desperately needed a signature European performance.
Tuchel made some big decisions, none more so than selecting defender Marquinhos in midfield rather than Adrien Rabiot.
Marquinhos was particularly impressive, playing in a holding midfield role without the ball and dropping into a three-man defence in possession.
Tuchel therefore won the tactical battle against his compatriot Klopp and crucially seems to have won over his players.
“The attitude was extraordinary. I am very proud that all the supporters in the ground saw the efforts of a team,” said Tuchel.
The question now is whether this result can act as a trigger for PSG to go on to the latter stages of the competition.
“I hope so. It is very important to go through this experience together to create a special atmosphere for the weeks ahead,” Tuchel added.