PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain's run of three straight defeats across all competitions ended with a 4-3 home win over Lille OSC in Ligue 1 on Sunday but the capital club's revival came at a cost. Neymar and Nuno Mendes got injured and Christophe Galtier's men required a late Lionel Messi winner to scrape home with a result despite star man Kylian Mbappe's double. Somehow, despite a dramatic start to 2023, PSG managed to pack the story of their entire season so far into a roller coaster 90-minute league encounter which very nearly saw their rotten run continue until a late show of star power.
Neymar hurt again
Back in action in the capital again on Sunday after Tuesday's UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg home loss to Bayern Munich, Mbappe'shad provoked plenty of pre-match chatter. The French superstar was believed to have been targeting Neymar who went on a post-defeat late-night poker session followed by a visit to McDonald's.
Thierry Henry quipped on French television that Neymar does not need enemies if his "friends" continue to create such talking points alluding to their role by posting the picture online. Galtier himself also chided the South American on Friday when the .
"I saw people talking about Neymar and what has been going on -- what I said was not a jab at him," Mbappe clarified after the game where he scored twice and the Brazilian once. "In our current situation, that is the last thing that would help. It was advice more generally for everybody. I hope that Neymar will be back soon as he is a key player for us."
This game also acted as a window into the frustrated relationship Mbappe and Neymar share away from the field despite how productive they can be together on it. The South American assisted the Frenchman's opener and scored the second himself after a decent start but then injured his right ankle which has been particularly problematic since the FIFA 2022 World Cup and probably means time away from the field.
Galtier confirmed post-game that Neymar had hurt his ankle yet preferred to wait for the results of medical tests before speaking further about the severity of the injury. The chances are that we could be talking weeks given how much of a battering his ankle has already taken over the past few months, but the club confirmed no serious immediate damage.
"Neymar suffered a sprained ankle during the game against Lille and underwent an MRI scan today," read PSG's official medical update. "It did not reveal any fracture. A new ligament assessment will be carried out in 48 hours."
Despite looking better in this game, Neymar's injury was perhaps not as worrying as Nuno Mendes' given how much joy the left-back had against Bayern in the UCL in midweek. Luckily for PSG, Galtier hinted after the game that the Portugal international's injury is not too serious.
"Nuno Mendes, who was also injured during the game against Lille, suffers from a small strain in the medial ligament of his right knee," added PSG. "A new assessment will be carried out in 48 hours."
Mbappe at the double
As if there is any doubt, Mbappe once again underlined his talismanic role at PSG here. The 24-year-old made his big comeback in the midweek loss at home to Bayern but it was not enough even inspire a draw at Parc des Princes on Tuesday. Neymar teed up Mbappe for his 11th-minute strike and he slid home the leveler from a Juan Bernat pass three minutes from time to set up a grandstand finish in the seven additional minutes.
"It was not our best game as we made many mistakes and lost concentration," said Mbappe. "Against a quality team like Lille, you pay for that. We showed, though, that we can be a different team -- even on a bad day and in an unfavorable context. I am getting better, but I am not yet 100%. From the 45th minute until around the 65th, I was withdrawn. Later on, it was pride pushing me on as I had little energy left. It was out of the question to come back home and lose -- we did everything to win."
Defense keeps leaking
Mbappe's words appeared to have the desired effect in some quarters as the French champions rode out some early LOSC pressure thanks to Gianluigi Donnarumma before a stunning solo effort from Les Parisiens' star man to open the scoring. Presnel Kimpembe had looked rusty since kick-off making his first start since a lengthy injury lay-off and his inability to keep tabs on Bafode Diakite allowed LOSC to halve the deficit after 24 minutes.
The team have suffered defensively through a combination of the France international's injury, captain Marquinhos' flaky form, and veteran Sergio Ramos' alarming drop-off. They also conceded a self-inflicted penalty in the second half when LOSC were awarded a contentious penalty a few minutes after Neymar was forced off.
There were two separate incidents with Fabian Ruiz's hand brushing the ball, but it was actually Marco Verratti's shirt tug on Tiago Djalo which was penalized by referee Willy Delajod. Jonathan David stepped up to square things up at 2-2 and an irate Galtier thought that things could not get much worse against the team that he led to the 2021 Championnat crown at PSG's expense.
Eleven minutes later, Jonathan Bamba fired home past Donnarumma after yet more porous defending to put Lille ahead for the first time in the game: "It was incredible in terms of the story," admitted Galtier after the game. "We put in 20 very interesting minutes to go 2-0 up and then we totally lost ourselves and our concentration. We started to get angry and we conceded the penalty in the second half. At that moment, the situation became very complicated."
Messi's minimum service
PSG fell back on nasty habits at times and were creating next to nothing towards the end of the first half -- Lionel Messi was particularly ghostlike in his display. The Argentine had barely factored into the encounter and even Mbappe had been reduced to the role of a spectator given the minimal effort to press from the PSG attack.
Yet Messi was handed the golden chance to win it from a well-positioned free kick in the final eight minutes which saw both the legendary Argentine and the French talisman secure all three points in dramatic fashion for the hosts. The 2022 World Cup winner did not need to be asked twice in a game he barely registered in and ensured his major contribution with a well-hit winner which Lille goalkeeper Lucas Chevalier might have done better on.
"I think that the term is relief," said Galtier of the result. "It was a very important game and we absolutely had to win. Leo's goal saved us, but there is so much more to say about the match than just that."
PSG still in turmoil
That perhaps leads us to the most interesting final point which is that PSG remain in major difficulty despite the win. Galtier and sporting advisor Luis Campos are clearly feeling the heat right now and that was no more obvious than when the Portuguese came pitch side to berate the players at 3-2 down to his and the French tactician's former club.
"Any coach who loses four consecutive games with PSG is obviously put in a very complicated position," admitted Galtier. "It was a relief, but I have my staff and the president to support me and back me up."
Clearly, PSG need major improvement if they are to hope to advance past Bayern in the Champions League after their 1-0 first-leg loss and rediscovering their ability to score here could prove to be a key turning point. However, the returning Kimpembe also felt that such a result in testing circumstances could reunite the squad.
"Speaking with the fans in Monaco was not calculated," said the France international of last week's heart-to-heart with irate PSG fans in the principality. "It was a moment between the supporters and myself. I felt it necessary to speak with them. It was a tough run for the team, but it was important to bring everyone together and unite us all. That was the message conveyed here -- we need it to go as far as possible together. We need work, humility, and above all respect."