Messi guides PSG to victory on return after World Cup triumph
Lionel Messi scored in Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-0 win over Angers in Ligue 1 on Wednesday on his first appearance since leading Argentina to victory in the World Cup in Qatar.
Messi had been rested for PSG’s first three matches following the long break in the season caused by the World Cup but he returned to training in Paris a week ago and was back in the starting line-up for this game against Ligue 1’s bottom side.
The win, which came three and a half weeks after he captained Argentina to their World Cup final triumph on penalties against France in Qatar, saw PSG move six points clear at the top of the French table.
Neymar also started, having missed his team’s last two matches due to suspension and to undergo treatment on the ankle injury he suffered playing for Brazil at the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappe was rested for a second straight game having been afforded time off for a holiday in New York in the wake of his own World Cup campaign, which saw him score a hat-trick in the final but come out on the losing side.
Mbappe and Messi are expected to be reunited this weekend in Sunday’s match away to Rennes.
In the meantime the absence of the France star meant young striker Hugo Ekitike again started in the home attack at the Parc des Princes and he opened the scoring in the fifth minute from a Nordi Mukiele cross at the end of a move in which Messi also featured.
PSG were not at their sparkling best but Messi swept in his 13th club goal of the season to make it 2-0 with 17 minutes left.
Ekitike and Mukiele were again involved before Messi applied the finish. The goal was initially disallowed for offside but a VAR check allowed it to stand.
“Messi has recovered well. He is relaxed and in great shape physically, and with Leo the team looks different,” said coach Christophe Galtier.
Speaking to broadcaster Canal Plus, Galtier, who said he had come down with a fever during the game, added: “We are coming back off the World Cup so it is difficult for the players to find their reference points again.”
“We are all just getting used to playing together again and you could see at times that we lacked some of the connections between the players that we had more often before the World Cup.”
– PSG extend lead over Lens –
It was a 10th straight league loss for Angers, while Galtier’s PSG team extended their lead at the top of the table as second-placed Lens were held to a 2-2 draw away at Strasbourg.
PSG’s unbeaten record this season had been ended in a 3-1 defeat away at Lens on New Year’s Day, but they bounced back to win 3-1 at third-tier Chateauroux in the French Cup at the weekend without any of their superstar attacking trio.
Lens are enjoying a fine season but could not get the better of struggling Strasbourg, who were playing their first game since the sacking of coach Julien Stephan.
Alexis Claude-Maurice put Lens ahead in Alsace only for Sanjin Prcic to equalise before Kevin Gameiro gave Strasbourg the lead.
Belgian international Lois Openda then made it 2-2 before the break, and there were no further goals.
Marseille are now just two points behind Lens in third place after a 2-0 win at Troyes, sealed thanks to goals by Chancel Mbemba and Jordan Veretout, the latter a member of France’s World Cup squad.
Rennes in fourth lost ground after having two men sent off before conceding in injury time to lose 2-1 away at Clermont.
Meanwhile fifth-placed Monaco drew 2-2 at Lorient, while Nice crushed Montpellier 6-1 in their first game since sacking coach Lucien Favre.
On-loan Arsenal forward Nicolas Pepe and England international midfielder Ross Barkley both scored twice for Nice.
Lyon and Lille drew 0-0 away at Nantes and Brest respectively, while there were also wins for Toulouse and Ajaccio.