Why Neymar's injury absence solves a problem for Pochettino's PSG



Posted Wednesday, December 01, 2021 by Goal.com

Why Neymar's injury absence solves a problem for Pochettino's PSG

The Brazilian could be out for up to eight weeks with an ankle injury, but it could be a positive for both the player and his club

Neymar's nightmare season took another malevolent twist on Sunday as the Paris Saint-Germain forward suffered an ankle injury amid the snow flurries in Saint-Etienne.

There were only a couple of minutes of the Ligue 1 encounter remaining when the Brazil star was inadvertently caught by Yvann Macon as the France Under-21 international desperately tried to regain possession as his side chased a 2-1 deficit.

In trying to evade the sliding challenge, Neymar stepped on the defender's leg and his ankle gave way below him in a sickening manner.

What is another significant blow to Neymar, though, represents something of a liberation for PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino.

The Argentine has been shackled to playing the superstar trio of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar to limited results this season.

This front three has left the team unbalanced, while Neymar has retained his spot despite some entirely indifferent form.

In 14 games for PSG this season, he has contributed only three goals, one of which was a penalty, while the other two came against a Bordeaux side battling relegation.

This has not been the 'real' Neymar and yet he has kept his place in the starting XI by strength of reputation alone.

His woeful performance against Manchester City in last week's Champions League loss at the Etihad, during which he looked sluggish and clumsy, typifies the type of campaign he has endured.

The team as a whole, meanwhile, has similarly looked stilted and lacking in fluidity. It has leaned upon individuals to step up at key moments, which they have inevitably managed to do in Ligue 1.

This has allowed them to amass an enormous 12-point advantage over the chasing pack, which serves only to disguise how fine the margins have been in virtually every one of their victories so far this season.

In turn, this has put pressure on Pochettino, who could yet be allowed to join Manchester United next summer.

PSG supporters have been clamouring for their team to play a more dynamic and direct offensive game. Neymar, who inevitably likes to take many touches, has been slowing things down.

This injury, then, offers the chance of revolutionising the team and its style. Pochettino will have a couple of months to play around with PSG's system.

He will remain limited in his options, for there are no offensive workhorses in the squad like Edinson Cavani once was at Parc des Princes, but at least the opportunity to toy around with some alternative ideas is there. Angel Di Maria is expected to be the primary benefactor.

For Neymar, meanwhile, this injury could be a blessing in disguise. The 29-year-old, after all, has spent much of 2021 playing at an intense level.

There have been a couple of breaks through injuries, but the summer's Copa America means that he has been going flat out virtually since August 2020, when PSG reached the Champions League final.

Is it any wonder, then, that he has been looking jaded?

A medium-term injury, of course, is not the ideal way to have some respite from the rigour of playing three games a week, but at least Neymar will have the opportunity to take a step back from the spotlight, assess where his career presently is and come back stronger.

Certainly, he will not have been impressed by only placing in the Top 20 of the Ballon d'Or vote on Monday – and even that was arguably a generous assessment of his performance over a difficult 2021, in which his highlight was reaching the Copa America final with Brazil.

This latest setback is an opportunity for Neymar to regather his forces. He should be fully firing by the time PSG return to Champions League action in February, and it is in that competition he and his colleagues must be at their best.

"Unfortunately, these setbacks are part of the life of an athlete," Neymar posted on Instagram. "Now you just have to lift your head and move on. I'll come back better and stronger."

Pochettino, meanwhile, will be racing against time to find an alternative system that can function smoothly if the 'real' Neymar does not make a return in the spring.

Certainly, this is an opportunity for the coach to make a point that amassing superstars does not guarantee elite team performances, while the forward's absence provides a unique opportunity for some of his team-mates to make a similar case.

By the time Neymar returns from injury in early 2022, PSG want to put him under pressure – and that may be just what he needs to return to his best.

In the long term, it may be a lesson the club needs to learn, too.

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