Pochettino defends Messi, reveals Neymar could start at Nantes

By Sports Desk February 18, 2022

Mauricio Pochettino has moved to defend Lionel Messi after the Paris Saint-Germain forward's missed penalty against Real Madrid.

Although Kylian Mbappe's superb late winner put the Parisians on the brink of the Champions League quarter-finals, Messi's performance in the first leg drew criticism.

Since his first season in the competition (2004-05), no player has missed more Champions League penalties than Messi, who has failed with five spot-kicks.

But speaking ahead of PSG's Ligue 1 trip to Nantes on Saturday, Pochettino launched a strong defence of his fellow Argentinian.

"Messi is the best in the world," said former Tottenham boss Pochettino. "A player like him, with his experience, and what he means, is the essence of football.

"If you want to explain to someone what football is all about, it is Leo Messi.

"In no way will missing a penalty affect his confidence, that is impossible. If anyone thinks that, they do not understand this sport. 

"I am pleased with his performance. He played well [against Madrid], which was down to his ability to link difference pieces together on the pitch.

"Leo Messi is football."

Messi has struggled for consistency during a stop-start first season in French capital, netting just two league goals from an expected goals tally of 5.82, a notable underperformance of over three goals.

The former Barcelona captain was joined on the pitch against Real Madrid by Neymar, as the substitute provided the assist for Mbappe's match-winning strike with a sumptuous backheel.

Pochettino has confirmed the Brazilian is now in contention to make his first start since suffering an ankle injury against Saint-Etienne last November.

"Neymar could start [against Nantes]," Pochettino said on Friday.

"He has been doing well in training, and he has been very focused at every stage of his recovery, showing his commitment to get back to his best level and help the team.

"We hope that he is over these problems now, and through playing competitive games, that he can reach his best level."

Neymar has suffered a plethora of injury issues since making his own move from Barcelona to Paris in 2017, failing to make over 20 Ligue 1 starts in a single season to date. However, he has managed 59 goals and 34 assists in his 80 league appearances for the capital club.

Related items

  • John Mousinho applauds ‘absolutely incredible’ Portsmouth after promotion John Mousinho applauds ‘absolutely incredible’ Portsmouth after promotion

    John Mousinho hailed Portsmouth’s “remarkable achievement” after the come-from-behind 3-2 win over Barnsley at Fratton Park secured the League One title and promotion to the Championship.

    Pompey looked to be missing their opportunity in front of their own fans when, needing one point to return to the second tier after a 12-year absence, they were 2-1 behind after Devante Cole and John McAtee struck either side of Kusini Yengi’s equaliser.

    But the hosts hit back in the final seven minutes with Colby Bishop scoring from the penalty spot and Conor Shaughnessy heading home the winner.

    Mousinho told BBC Radio Solent Sport: “I think once everything settles down it will sink in properly. I’ve never experienced anything like that, the last 15 minutes, it was absolutely incredible.

    “Even at 2-1 down, to get the momentum and the crowd behind us, I am just so proud of the boys. I’m genuinely just so pleased for everyone connected to the football club. They’ve gone through so much.

    “When we got it back to 3-2 I thought we have played so poor, but found a way to win somehow in a game where we really struggled. It really does sum up the boys.

    “A tough night, tough conditions, but they got the job done. It’s hard for me to sum it up, but I get what’s happened over the last 15 years at the club and how difficult it was, on the brink of liquidation, to come back and have a night like this is incredible to be involved in.

    “To be head coach, it is a privilege. Hopefully we can have a few more nights like this.

    “I never could have imagined this happening this quickly. This was obviously the goal at some point, but didn’t think it would happen with two games to go this season. It is a remarkable achievement. That is a serious effort to be crowned champions ahead of some of the big boys in this league as well.”

    Play-off chasing Barnsley, having lost three of their last four games, are four points above seventh-placed Lincoln.

    Boss Neill Collins told the club’s official website: “There are a lot of positives. But the biggest frustration is that all those positives didn’t add up to what I thought would be a deserved victory.

    “We perform like that, we’ll be fine. We’ll win games. It’s just the fine margins. For me, it’s the fine margins that have gone against us the past four or five games.

    “Tonight again, it’s some of our doing. But that’s what we need to concentrate on. That’s what the Football League is all about.”

  • Darren Moore admits lapse of concentration cost Port Vale Darren Moore admits lapse of concentration cost Port Vale

    Port Vale boss Darren Moore blamed his relegation-threatened side’s dramatic 2-1 home defeat to Wycombe on a lack of concentration at the back.

    Vale’s League One existence now hangs in the balance after a late Nigel Lonwijk strike means they are three points from safety with just two games left.

    Wycombe took the lead in the fourth minute when David Wheeler was first to react after Connor Ripley had saved a close-range header from Sam Vokes.

    Wanderers could have been two ahead just moments later as Wheeler again found himself free with just Ripley to beat, only to see his effort drift wide.

    Vale’s only real effort of the first period fell to Ethan Chislett, whose long-range volley was spectacularly pushed over by Franco Ravizzoli in the Wycombe goal.

    The home side began the second period brightly and were level just two minutes after the restart when Chislett slotted past Ravizzoli after finding himself in acres of space.

    But with Vale pushing for that all-important winner in their battle to beat the drop, it was Lonwijk who popped up at the other end to win it for Wycombe and heap more misery on Moore’s men.

    Moore said: “It was disappointing because you don’t want to lose a game in that manner.

    “I really felt like we were in the ascendancy and if we kept our concentration we could get a chance to win the game, but we fell to a really late goal that absolutely knocked the stuffing out of the boys.

    “We gave ourselves a mountain to climb after conceding that early goal and got back into the game early in the second half through Chislett to really give ourselves momentum and hope.

    “I still felt that a chance was going to drop our way but what I didn’t envisage was our lapse of concentration at the back that has led to their goal.

    “We’ve got two games remaining and we know what to do, we’ve got to dust ourselves down and get ready for another tough game on Saturday.”

    Wycombe claimed a second consecutive away win.

    Boss Matt Bloomfield said: “I’m disappointed we weren’t further ahead if I’m honest. We could have been three-up after 10 minutes and could and should have been out of sight.

    “We knew it was going to be a tough game as Port Vale are fighting for their lives and have got some really good players, so to find an early goal and a late winner, I’m delighted.

    “We needed to start the game on the front foot and the game plan was coming off and it wasn’t until the second half that they managed to break us down, but to find the character to go and get the winner was really pleasing.

    “I stood on the touchline thinking this was a war of attrition and it was tough to get out at times, but we had fresh legs on the bench so I’m really pleased with the performance of the whole squad.”

  • Southampton have changed dynamic of promotion race – Russell Martin Southampton have changed dynamic of promotion race – Russell Martin

    Russell Martin said the Sky Bet Championship automatic promotion race “dynamic” has changed after Southampton’s 3-0 domination of Preston.

    Saints had looked destined for a play-off place after three defeats in four games during February, but three home wins in seven days has them just four points off the top two.

    A Che Adams brace and Stuart Armstrong’s fourth goal of the season sealed the points on Tuesday and Saints boss Martin said: “I think it was a brilliant performance with some really beautiful stuff.

    “It has been a big week for us. It has changed the dynamic. We were written off some point ago but the players have stuck at it and been resilient.

    “We have the opportunity to take the points off teams around us but if we have to take care of the next one against Cardiff and if we don’t then the others become a bit pointless.”

    Adams opened the scoring in the 19th minute when he tapped in Adam Armstrong’s centre for his 100th career goal.

    He doubled his tally by finishing a fine team move with a cool finish before Stuart Armstrong capitalised on a defensive howler to smash in.

    The only taint on the evening was an Achilles injury to goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu in the warm-up that looks to have ended his season.

    Martin, who promoted Alex McCarthy, said: “He has felt something in his Achilles and will have a scan tomorrow. We don’t expect to see him any time soon and we’ll give him all the support he needs.

    “Al has trained so well. He has travelled everywhere and trained like a beast. We’ve seen what Joe (Lumley) can do and has done really well and we wanted to see Al. It was a feeling I had in my gut at the time.”

    But Martin added on the performance of Adams, who he subbed off before he could score a hat-trick: “He has just threatened to beat me up out there! We had a hug and a laugh and he understands why I had to take him off.

    “He looks like he is going to score all the time at the moment.”

    Preston had the third lowest expected goals of the Championship season with 0.07 and manager Ryan Lowe said: “The be all and end all was the first half has cost us. The game plan that we set out to do in the first half was nowhere near.

    “The game was probably over at half-time at 3-0. You can’t give a team like Southampton chances like that because they’re a fantastic team.

    “The game plan was to try and nullify their strengths and capitalise on their weaknesses and we didn’t really do either.

    “They could end up going up automatically, if not they’re going to be a real force in the play-offs.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.