Neymar scored a deflected winner as Paris Saint-Germain warmed up for their Champions League clash with Real Madrid with a battling 1-0 win at Toulouse in Ligue 1 on Saturday.
Marseille’s 2-2 draw at Saint-Etienne on Friday opened the door for Unai Emery’s men to stretch their lead at the top of the table to 13 points.
Neymar appeared to collect an early injury but he completed the full 90 minutes ahead of Wednesday’s trip to the Spanish capital, although Edinson Cavani missed out with a hip problem.
And the Brazilian provided the key moment after 68 minutes of a game short of chances, Neymar beating two Toulouse defenders and seeing his strike flash in after a nick off home captain Issa Diop.
Neymar’s 19th Ligue 1 goal since joining PSG from Barcelona was a sign of why the French club made him the world’s most expensive player, and after being rested for a midweek Coupe de France win at Sochaux, he was twice denied a late second by the woodwork.
Emery rested captain Thiago Silva and Marco Verratti with an eye on the Madrid clash, but a below-par performance was not ideal preparation for facing the Champions League holders.
Alban Lafont made a spectacular save to deny Presnel Kimpembe in the fifth minute, the PSG defender turning Neymar’s low cross into the goalkeeper’s chest from point-blank range.
Max Gradel had scored five goals in his last seven Ligue 1 games and the winger shot away from Dani Alves to cross for Yaya Sanogo, but Alphonse Areola parried the striker’s header.
Kylian Mbappe, leading the line in Cavani’s absence, tricked his way clear of Issiaga Sylla after 26 minutes, but Lafont made a fine save down to his right to tip the teenager’s shot wide.
Intricate PSG play saw Mbappe burst into space down the left but when Neymar turned the low cross goalwards, Lafont was there to deny the leaders again with a strong right foot.
Mbappe teed up Neymar again before half-time with a clever flick but the Brazilian fired over, then the influential Lafont got enough of a touch on Angel Di Maria’s inswinging corner to turn the ball against the woodwork.
Di Maria arrived at the back post too late to turn in Neymar’s cross-shot after 54 minutes, then the former Barcelona star whipped a free-kick just over the angle as PSG toiled.
Toulouse had won their two previous matches 1-0 to ease relegation fears and Mickael Debeve’s men continued to frustrate the runaway leaders, Emery’s men requiring a stroke of luck to find a way through Lafont.
Neymar wriggled away from a pair of Toulouse challenges before firing a shot on target, with a small deflection off Diop enough to give Lafont no chance of keeping the ball out.
PSG were inches away from making the final scoreline more comfortable, but Neymar drilled a shot against the post and floated a curler on to the top of the crossbar.
Key Opta stats:
– Toulouse have won only one of their last 17 Ligue 1 games against PSG (D2 L14), in September 2016 (2-0).
– PSG have picked up 65 points after 25 games in Ligue 1 this season, the second highest tally ever in the French top flight after PSG in 2015/16 (69 points).
– PSG have lost only two of their last 28 Ligue 1 games (W23 D3), in December 2017 at Strasbourg (1-2) & in January 2018 at Lyon (1-2).
– PSG have scored 76 goals after 25 games in Ligue 1 this season, only RC Paris have done better at this stage of the competition, in 1959/60 (80).
– PSG are the only team to have won all of their Ligue 1 games when they scored the opening goal (20/20).
– Neymar has been involved in five goals in two Ligue 1 games against Toulouse (3 goals, 2 assists). He has been involved in 30 goals in Ligue 1 this season (19 goals, 11 assists), no other player has done better in the European Top 5 leagues (alongside Lionel Messi).
– He has been involved in 30 goals in Ligue 1 after only 18 games. It took him 37 games in Liga to reach this tally with Barcelona.
– He made 137 touches & attempted 100 passes against Toulouse, his highest tally in each category in a single league game in the Top 5 European leagues (L1 + Liga).
– Angel Di Maria has been involved in 16 goals in all competitions in 2018 (9 goals, 7 assists), more than any other player.