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Paris Saint-Germain bounced back from their opening-match loss against Liverpool to beat Red Star Belgrade 6-1 at home in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday. Neymar bagged a hat-trick, while Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe also got on the scoresheet.
After a slow opening 20 minutes, the Ligue 1 champions shifted gear and barely gave the visiting Serbs any breathing room. Neymar opened the scoring with a free-kick and doubled his tally minutes later before Cavani and Di Maria added to the score.
Mbappe got his deserved goal after the break but Red Star pulled one back through former Chelsea man Marko Marin. Neymar completed his hat-trick inside the final 10 minutes.
Les Parisiens are favoured to advance from Group C alongside the Reds, who face Napoli on Matchday 2.
New Central Role Will Unlock Full Potential of Neymar, PSG
PSG manager Thomas Tuchel has experimented with his biggest star of late, using Neymar in a new central role as a main playmaker. In the formation, the Brazilian slots in behind Cavani and next to two attack-oriented players―in this case, Mbappe and Di Maria.
As The Athletic’s Nico Morales pointed out, the system carries some major risks due to Neymar’s defensive limitations:
The Athletic Soccer @TheAthleticSCCR
At #PSG, Neymar is becoming more of a central playmaker, but he is also creating defensive problems for which Tuchel (and his teammates) must compensate. @Nico_OMorales on the Neymar conundrum. https://t.co/AvP0X9z1Hp
But the former Barcelona man tracked back well on Wednesday, showing a healthy and needed work rate in midfield. Behind him, Adrien Rabiot bounced back from a rough start and Marco Verratti was his usual dominant self picking up runners with the ball.
The result was an efficient, impressive outing from the hosts. The threat of Neymar soaked up tons of attention, with defenders moving away from their own box to attack the trickster as soon as he touched the ball. That opened up tons of space for his team-mates, who took full advantage.
Former NFL star Chad Johnson watched Wednesday’s contest and came away impressed after Neymar bagged his second goal:
Chad Johnson @ochocinco
Wow Neymar scores again w/ the assist from Mbappe
The system will be more severely tested against better teams who will pressure Neymar on the ball, but based on what we’ve seen so far, he has adapted well to the role and should be able to deal with that. He’s already showing a knack for finding space in between the lines despite limited time in the new role.
It’s a brave move from Tuchel to use Neymar in this way, but this role may just push Neymar to an even higher level―to the benefit of his team-mates.
Despite Liverpool Debacle, PSG Remain Among UCL Favourites
Many fans and pundits were down on the Ligue 1 giants after their disappointing loss against Liverpool on the opening matchday, but some context is in order.
For starters, it remains the only blemish on an otherwise perfect record this season. Any team can have a bad day or a bad run―just ask defending champions Real Madrid, who lost to CSKA Moscow on Tuesday and are now winless in their last three outings.
It’s also worth noting PSG hadn’t played a true top team since the Trophee des Champions and went into the match at Anfield untested. Top teams need to face the best to grow as a unit, and the Liverpool match served as a learning experience.
The schedule is about to heat up significantly for Les Parisiens, per sportswriter Jonathan Johnson:
Jonathan Johnson @Jon_LeGossip
PSG vs. Crvena Zvezda – October 3 at 18h55 PSG vs. Lyon – October 7 at 21h00 PSG vs. Napoli – October 24 at 21h00 Marseille vs. PSG – October 28 at 21h00
This is a team that should be judged on how they perform in the second half of the season, and not an early-season trip to Anfield. PSG have dominated since that setback and appear to be right back on track.
Depth and Versatility Key to Difficult Stretch for Les Parisiens
There was a minor cause for concern in the first half when Di Maria went down with a knock that required some treatment and saw him removed from the pitch for a brief spell. But PSG fans likely didn’t worry when they saw who was warming up to potentially replace him:
Jonathan Johnson @Jon_LeGossip
Draxler & Diaby warming up. #PSG #UCL
Julian Draxler and Moussa Diaby are both exciting attacking talents who can hold their own in a variety of roles. The former can even play in midfield, giving Tuchel even more options.
PSG’s tough stretch of matches will carry into November, with fixtures against Lyon, Napoli (twice), Marseille, Lille, Monaco and Liverpool all to come before the calendar turns to December. Les Parisiens have ample depth to deal with any absences, however, and enough versatility to switch formations if needed.
Few teams can match the Ligue 1 giants in both departments, and thanks to their healthy eight-point lead in the domestic competition, Tuchel can already start thinking about rotating with an eye on the Champions League.
PSG will host Lyon in Ligue 1 on Sunday, while Red Star visit FK Zemun in the Serbian SuperLiga.