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Neymar rounding into form as Marseille give chase

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Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar celebrates scoring his team’s third goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Galatasaray at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on December 11, 2019. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

Neymar’s steady return to form after an injury-plagued 2019 coincides with Paris Saint-Germain push to finish the year clear of old rivals Marseille, who are enjoying their best Ligue 1 run since 2014.

The Brazilian orchestrated a late comeback at Montpellier last weekend and then marked his first Champions League start in exactly 12 months with a goal and two assists in Wednesday’s 5-0 demolition of Galatasaray.

Already assured of top spot in their group, PSG coach Thomas Tuchel opted to start Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, along with Mauro Icardi, to give the planet’s two most expensive players another chance to find their groove.

“We have to rest to get back on track in Ligue 1 but we can think about the Champions League, which is our ultimate goal,” Neymar told RMC Sport after the game.

The 27-year-old has yet to fully placate the Parc des Princes faithful after a summer of uncertainty surrounding his future in the French capital.

A smattering of jeers greeted Neymar in PSG’s last home league game against Nantes, but further displays such as that in midweek should help erase any residual bitterness.

“I know I wasn’t there last year in February. We’re going to have to think of the supporters,” Neymar said.

“What makes me happy is being able to play. As long as I have a ball, a nice pitch and team-mates, I have everything I need.”

PSG, who have a game in hand, travel to Saint-Etienne in Sunday’s late kick-off, by which time Marseille could have slashed the gap at the top to just two points.

Andre Villas-Boas has overseen a run of six straight wins at Marseille, a sequence that began following a 4-0 loss to PSG in late October.

OM will hope to recall leading scorer Dario Benedetto for Saturday’s trip to Metz after the Argentine missed the 3-1 win over Bordeaux with a thigh complaint.

Player to watch: Marcelo
While Memphis Depay’s late equaliser against RB Leipzig sent Lyon through to the Champions League last 16, celebrations were cut short by angry post-match clashes between fans and players.

Lyon captain Depay confronted a fan who brandished a flag depicting a donkey with a message telling Marcelo to leave the club.

The 32-year-old Brazilian defender has had a strained relationship with Lyon ‘ultras’ since an altercation at Lisbon airport following the defeat by Benfica in October.

“Marcelo has a very strong character. He is very calm,” the player’s agent, Leonardo Scheinkman, told L’Equipe newspaper, contradicting reports he was looking to leave.

“I spoke to him and he is relaxed. It’s up to the club to talk with the supporters, not him. He feels good at Lyon.

“It’s difficult to part with a player like that. He’s expensive and it’s tricky to replace him with a defender under 30 million euros.”

Key stats
3 to 5 – the number of months Nice full-back Youcef Atal, an Africa Cup of Nations winner with Algeria, is expected to miss after damaging the meniscus in his right knee.

7 – the number of consecutive losses for Toulouse, who are bottom of the table behind Nimes on goal difference.

100 – the number of goals scored at club level by Mbappe. He has netted 73 times for PSG since leaving Monaco in 2017.

Fixtures (all kick-offs GMT)

Friday

Lille v Montpellier (1945)

Saturday

Metz v Marseille (1630), Amiens v Dijon, Angers v Monaco, Brest v Nice, Nimes v Nantes, Toulouse v Reims (all 1900)

Sunday

Bordeaux v Strasbourg (1400), Lyon v Rennes (1600), Saint-Etienne v Paris Saint-Germain (2000)


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