Dubai: Neymar missed Paris Saint Germain’s crucial 3-0 win against rivals Marseille in Ligue 1 and their next match against Nantes which they won 4-2. Despite being one of the biggest names in football, he was not missed by the team. The performances of the reigning champions in those two matches were their best of the season. And with news that Neymar will now be out for the rest of the campaign as he faces surgery on an ankle ligament injury, it begs the question: are PSG better without the Brazilian? I believe that they are.
Without him they have looked balanced, compact, efficient and have played with cohesion and team spirit.
The 3-5-2 formation, which utilized Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe in tandem up front, worked perfectly against Marseille’s high line. Together they produced a masterclass, with Mbappe notching his 200th goal for PSG and Messi celebrating his 700th at club level. The pair were at it again the following week against Nantes and added to their goals tally.
While we will never know how the games would have gone if Neymar had played alongside his two superstar teammates, the collective expression without the No. 10 on the pitch was the best I have seen from PSG this season. They were up against two good teams with an aggressive press but they performed really well without Neymar.
In PSG’s previous tough games this season with their famous “MNM” trio, the limitations of the front three had been exposed. For example, in a 1-1 draw at Benfica in the Champions League, PSG struggled. Against Stade de Reims at the Parc des Princes in Ligue 1, the three looked out of sorts and the away side should have won with the game finishing 1-1. Against Lille at home, they made heavy work of things and needed two very late goals for a miraculous 4-3 victory.
It is also clear that in terms of balance and solidity, the 3-5-2 formation with only two of the “MNM” up front is better against pressing sides. I believe that’s the way forward in games of importance. The Messi/Mbappe duo showed the way against Marseille and Nantes.
Against lesser teams that play a low block and don’t press much, the technical ability of the stars and their capacity to play in tight spaces will always be needed. Against more challenging sides it’s no longer enough. The lack of defending and running without the ball from the front three is too much to carry.
PSG have tried various formations, including 3-4-1-2, 4-3-1-2, and 4-4-2, but none appear suitable with all three playing. The French champions are too exposed and too unbalanced with “MNM”. This is why I say PSG are better without Neymar. For the big games, there is a feeling that they all shouldn’t start together because they don’t always play well. Mbappe has to play, of course, and Messi’s profile is arguably a better fit for the France star than Neymar.
Neymar has been a steady contributor, with impressive statistics in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League. However, his attitude on the pitch has been questioned, especially after being seen verbally abusing teammates Hugo Ekitike and Vitinha at Monaco. He has also faced criticism for his off-the-field behavior, including his late birthday party and his trip to a poker club and McDonald’s the day after the Bayern loss.
He will now undergo surgery and be out for approximately three to four months, his longest injury since he has been in Ligue 1. He will will miss the Champions League round of 16 second leg against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena but I don’t think PSG will miss him.
Incredibly, during his time at PSG, he has been out of action for 731 days. That is two full years. Since arriving from Barcelona for a world record fee of £200 million in 2017, he has been unavailable for a total of 104 games. That just is not good enough. PSG might now be tempted to cut their losses and flog him to whoever can afford his astronomical wages believed to be £600,000 per week because they just are not getting any value for money for him. A front two of Messi and Mbappe gives the team a better balance. As the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth...