Galtier accepts PSG are better balanced without Neymar, but not a stronger side

By Sports Desk March 07, 2023

Christophe Galtier accepts Paris Saint-Germain's attack is more balanced without Neymar but refuted suggestions his side are stronger without the injured forward.

PSG confirmed ahead of Wednesday's Champions League last-16 second leg with Bayern Munich that Neymar will miss the rest of the season after undergoing ankle surgery.

The 31-year-old has been directly involved in 34 goals this term, which is behind only team-mate Kylian Mbappe (37) and Erling Haaland (38) across Europe's top five leagues.

Despite these impressive figures, former France striker Christophe Dugarry said he is "happy" Neymar is injured as Mbappe and Lionel Messi work better as a partnership.

While Galtier does not necessarily disagree with that assessment, the PSG head coach cannot see how being without a player boasting 18 goals this season can be a positive.

"I've read the debate around Neymar. It's unfortunate for him and a handicap for the team," Galtier said at Tuesday's pre-match press conference.

"Look at his goals and assists this season. When I read that it could be a good thing for us, no! The player is seriously injured. 

"He's always been professional since I've been here, though he did have a difficult period after the World Cup.

"Is the team better balanced? Yes. But is it better like that? Having Neymar in the squad is an additional asset for us to score goals."

PSG travel to the Allianz Arena aiming to overturn a 1-0 deficit from last month's first leg in Paris, courtesy of Kingsley Coman's 53rd-minute goal.

On the six previous occasions PSG have lost the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie, they have advanced just once – against Borussia Dortmund in the 2019-20 campaign.

PSG may be without Neymar for the trip to Bavaria, but Kylian Mbappe has regained full fitness, and sharpness, since returning from a calf injury during the second half of the first leg.

Mbappe has 30 goals in 30 games this season – only Manchester City striker Haaland can better that tally across Europe's top five leagues, with 33 goals in 34 appearances.

The France forward has scored in his two previous Champions League away games at Bayern, and team-mate Marco Verratti is hoping Mbappe can prove the difference in this latest encounter. 

"In matches like this, we need everyone," Verratti said. "Mbappe is a player who is always present in the big matches.

"Kylian is Kylian. We are lucky to have him here. He has a great personality – we need players like him. We have confidence as we know nothing has been lost.

"There is a lot of pressure on us because something big is on the line. But we always like having that pressure here and I'm sure the team will give everything tomorrow."

For all the focus on PSG's attackers, they are the only side left in the Champions League yet to have kept a clean sheet in this season's competition.

However, asked if his side are too open defensively to go all the way in the competition, Galtier said: "Every system has it flaws and its strong points.

"In the last few games we've conceded goals. We have to fix that and we are working on it together.

"We talk about this a lot. There are flaws with us, but also with our opponent. We need to make sure we're vigilant and also daring in the way we attack."

Galtier also confirmed Achraf Hakimi is in line to feature against Bayern after recovering from injury, despite last week being charged with rape by French prosecutors.

Morocco defender Hakimi firmly denies the accusations and is confident of clearing his name.

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  • Inter Miami v Columbus Crew: Black & Gold aim for further road joy against gutsy Herons Inter Miami v Columbus Crew: Black & Gold aim for further road joy against gutsy Herons

    Inter Miami are sitting comfortably at the top of the Eastern Conference table but face a challenge on Thursday when Columbus Crew visit for an MLS clash at Chase Stadium.

    The Herons are two points clear at the summit of the East standings after snatching a 2-1 triumph over Philadelphia Union last time out.

    Yet Wilfried Nancy's Crew have triumphed in their last four road games in the league, battling to a 3-2 victory over New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Friday.

    "It's a massive run and just shows how good we are mentally" Mohamed Farsi said of the streak.

    "I think we have more away wins right now than last year all season. I think so or the same, so I'm happy for that."

    Farsi has become a central figure for Columbus and scored the go-ahead goal in the 53rd minute against the Pigeons, much to the delight of head coach Nancy.

    "The idea for Mo is to be more consistent because he brings a lot of energy to the team," Nancy said.

    "He wants also to show himself that he's a better player than last year when we had the same deal here. Good for him.

    "Now, he knows that he has to work on certain things, but I'm happy for him. He's doing a good job."

    Despite missing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Matis Rojas – all of whom are on Copa America duty – the nine-man Herons overcame the Union thanks to Leo Afonso's last-gasp strike.

    "It is clear that in 10 times, nine of these games we would end up losing," Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said.

    "Absolutely all the credit belongs to them. That has to do with the effort, with the character, with the guts that the boys had."

    Afonso echoed his coach's sentiment ahead of another crunch match-up.

    "It's difficult when you're missing the best players in history in their positions," he said. "But we got to keep working, and we got to try our best."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Inter Miami – Jordi Alba

    With stars Messi and Suarez on international duty, Jordi Alba will be expected to step up once more for the Herons.

    The former Barcelona full-back has two goals this year in MLS, as well as five assists – that creative tally is only bettered by Messi (13) and Julian Gressel (six) among Miami team-mates.

    Columbus Crew – Diego Rossi

    Diego Rossi remains an integral figure in attack for the Crew, whose Javier Hernandez (five goals) has only scored more than the forward's four in 10 MLS games this year.

    With other Uruguayan colleagues at the Copa, Rossi will hope to extend his fine scoring form here.

    MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW

    Miami may be leading the way in the East but a draw appears the most likely outcome at Chase Stadium.

    The Herons have never lost a home match against the Crew (W2 D1), though Columbus did earn their first away point against David Beckham's Miami-based side on the last visit to Fort Lauderdale, a 2-2 draw in July 2023.

    Martino will hope to continue a strong run of form with another victory, however.

    Miami have won eight of their last 11 regular-season matches (D2 L1) following a 2-1 victory at Philadelphia on Saturday. Since that run began in mid-April, Martino's side have managed 26 points and scored 28 goals – both league-leading figures.

    Yet Columbus should not be ruled out for a win either.

    The Crew have won four straight regular-season away matches for the second time in club history after a four-match run in August-September 2015.

    Columbus have lost only one of their last 11 regular-season road matches, dating back to last September (W5 D5), and that streak could continue here.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Inter Miami win – 37.4%

    Columbus Crew win – 36.3%

    Draw – 26.4%

  • Mbappe injury leaves Deschamps concerned after France's Euro 2024 triumph Mbappe injury leaves Deschamps concerned after France's Euro 2024 triumph

    Kylian Mbappe suffering a late head injury marred France's Euro 2024 victory over Austria as Didier Deschamps was left concerned about the Les Bleus star.

    The Real Madrid-bound attacker sustained a blow to his nose after an aerial challenge with Austria's Kevin Danso before Mbappe was withdrawn on Monday.

    France held on for a 1-0 victory in Dusseldorf to move level with fellow Group D leaders Netherlands, but Deschamps will have to sweat over Mbappe's fitness before facing Ronald Koeman's men on Friday.

    "[His] nose is not good at all," the France head coach, who hit 100 wins in charge of his country with the victory over Ralf Rangnick's side, told reporters.

    "Even if it's just the nose, it's the big negative point for us tonight."

    Mbappe missed a gilt-edged opportunity in the second half as his wait for a European Championship goal continued.

    The former Paris Saint-Germain man remains without a goal from a total of 18 shots in the tournament, while he has registered 12 strikes from 39 attempts at the World Cup.

    Mbappe played the cross in for Max Wober's decisive first-half own-goal, however, as the centre-back's inadvertent error proved the difference in the pair's tournament opener.

    France are the first European side at major tournaments (World Cup/Euros) to benefit from 10 own-goals, four more than any other side – Germany are the next best on six.

    Deschamps was still satisfied with Les Bleus' work, though acknowledged their failure in front of goal.

    "Happy with what the players did even if we missed opportunities to double the tally," he added. "It was not perfect but we were solid.

    "We could have been more efficient offensively but it's good to start with a win.

    "There's quality and talent but being solid and working together is also important. We're not going to be over-confident, but it's a good start."

    N'Golo Kante was named as the Player of the Match after his efficient display in midfield, having only returned to the international setup for this tournament after a two-year absence.

    No France player made more successful tackles than Kante's two (level with Jules Kounde), while the midfielder's pair of interceptions marked the most for Les Bleus.

    "Everything was not perfect but we have the result we wanted, this is a good start," Kante said. "There are solid foundations, we have to be more efficient.

    "It makes me happy to be back. Things have changed, makes it feels good to get back into this jersey."

    The defeat ended a run of seven games without a loss for Austria in all competitions (W6 D1), while it was only their second reverse in their last 17 matches (W12 D3).

    Yet former Manchester United boss Rangnick refused to point the blame at any of Austria's players.

    "We are all very disappointed... we allowed France to go ahead, they didn't shoot their goal, it was an unlucky own goal by us," Rangnick said.

    "I think no one can accuse the team of not being engaged enough, not running enough. They gave their everything.

    "They didn't always make the right decisions with the ball. But it isn't easy, the French were aggressive, and played compactly and that wasn't a surprise."

  • Euro 2024 data dive: Mbappe's wait rolls on as Lukaku rues his luck Euro 2024 data dive: Mbappe's wait rolls on as Lukaku rues his luck

    France got their Euro 2024 campaign up and running with a 1-0 victory over Austria on Monday.

    That came after Slovakia had stunned Belgium by the same scoreline.

    Elsewhere, Romania were big winners against Ukraine.

    With the use of Opta data, we take a look at the standout statistics from day four at Euro 2024.

     

    Austria 0-1 France: More Euros frustration for Mbappe 

    Kylian Mbappe's quick feet did for Austria's defence in Dusseldorf, as the soon-to-be Real Madrid forward beat his man and whipped in a ball that was inadvertently turned home by Maximilian Wober.

    That proved to be the decisive moment for Les Bleus, though Mbappe could have put an entertaining contest to bed midway through the second half, only to miss when one-on-one with the Austria goalkeeper, from a chance that registered a 0.6 expected goals (xG) value.

    Mbappe remains without a goal from a total of 18 shots at the European Championships, while he has registered 12 goals from 39 shots at World Cups, and to compound his frustration, he appeared to suffer a broken nose in a challenge with Kevin Danso late on.

    France got over the line, though. Their coach Didier Deschamps has now won 100 matches in charge of Les Bleus, (D30 L24), 59 more than any other manager (41 wins under both Michel Hidalgo and Raymond Domenech).

    Les Bleus have won their sixth consecutive opening game of a major tournament, the longest current run of any European side.

    Austria, meanwhile, saw a run of seven games without a loss (W6 D1) come to an end. It was only a second loss in their last 17 matches (W12 D3) for Ralf Rangnick's team.

    France are the first European side at major tournaments to benefit from 10 own-goals, four more than any other side (Germany next best on six).

    Deschamps fielded France's youngest starting XI at the European Championships (27y 273d) since June 26th 2012 against Spain (27y 079 d).

    At the other end of the spectrum, veteran Olivier Giroud came on from the bench to play at his seventh major tournament.

    Romania 3-0 Ukraine: No possession, no problem

    Romania earned just their second win at the Euros (D5 L10), and they did it in style by thrashing Ukraine. In fact, this was their biggest-ever victory at a major international tournament. 

     

    The victory came with Romania recording just 29 per cent of the possession. That is the lowest share for a winning team on record (since 1980) in a single match at the European Championships.

    Nicolae Stanciu got things started with a stunner. He became the first player ever to score at the European Championships while playing for a Saudi Arabian club (Damac).

    Excluding own goals, Romania had three different goalscorers (Stanciu, Razvan Marin, Denis Dragus) for the fourth time in a match at a major tournament, also doing so against Peru (1930 World Cup), Cuba (1938 World Cup) and England (Euro 2000).

    Dennis Man, meanwhile, is the first Romanian to provide multiple assists in a major tournament match since Gheorghe Hagi against Colombia at the 1994 World Cup.

    Ukraine, on the other hand, extended their record of most games played at the Euros without keeping a single clean sheet (12). They have also failed to score in 67 per cent of their games at the competition (8/12), the highest rate of any nation to take part in more than one edition.

    Belgium 0-1 Slovakia: Bang out of Luk

    Romelu Lukaku was guilty of missing several gilt-edged chances, while also being frustrated by VAR, as Belgium suffered a shock loss to Slovakia in Group E's other match.

    Belgium missed four Opta-defined big chances in this match, the first time they’d done so in a European Championship game since 1980 against Spain (also four missed), as Slovakia held on after Ivan Schranz's goal in the seventh minute, which was the quickest goal Slovakia have scored at a major tournament.

    While Slovakia have won each of their last four competitive internationals, their best winning run in competitive games since a run of five between October 2016 and September 2017, Belgium suffered their first group stage defeat at the European Championships since going down 2-0 to Italy in 2016.

    Kevin De Bruyne did not have his best game, though still created four chances, taking his overall total of opportunities created at the Euros to 40. Since 1980, only Luis Figo (42) and Cristiano Ronaldo (41) have crafted more chances at the finals.

    Jeremy Doku was at fault for Slovakia's goal, though he did his best to make up for it going the other way, completing six dribbles to put the opposition on the back foot.

    Across the last two editions of the Euros, there have only been four instances of a player completing six or more dribbles in a match, and two of those have been Doku.

    Slovakia's defensive grit, and a little bit of luck, got them through in the end.

    They named three players in the starting XI who were 35 or older – Peter Pekarik (37), Juraj Kucka (37) and Martin Dubravka (35). Slovakia are only the second nation in European Championships history to do so, along with France in 2008. 

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