Neymar lifts PSG past Toulouse ahead of Real trip
Neymar scored the only goal as Paris Saint-Germain ground out a 1-0 victory at Toulouse on Saturday in their final tune-up for next week’s Champions League showdown against holders Real Madrid.
The runaway French league leaders stretched their advantage over Marseille to 13 points courtesy of Neymar’s 19th Ligue 1 goal of the season midway through the second half in Toulouse.
Unai Emery’s team will now turn their focus to Wednesday’s first leg of their heavyweight last-16 tie against Cristiano Ronaldo’s faltering Real in the Spanish capital.
Neymar returned to the PSG line-up after sitting out Tuesday’s French Cup win over Sochaux, but Edinson Cavani, the league’s leading scorer with 21 goals this term, missed the trip south with a hip complaint.
Lassana Diarra came in for his first start in the league as Unai Emery elected to rest both Marco Verratti and captain Thiago Silva ahead of the visit to the Bernabeu.
Presnel Kimpembe, filling in for Silva in central defence, forced 19-year-old Toulouse goalkeeper Alban Lafont into a terrific early save from point-blank range after latching onto a low cross from Neymar.
Former Arsenal striker Yaya Sanogo also threatened for Toulouse as Alphonse Areola parried his diving header following a left-wing cross by Max Gradel who had escaped beyond Dani Alves.
But the first half was largely played in the Toulouse half, with Lafont producing an excellent fingertip save to deny Kylian Mbappe and then sticking out his right boot to keep out Neymar.
The home keeper was almost caught out by an Angel Di Maria corner just before the break but was relieved to see the ball smack against the crossbar and away to safety.
PSG again went close 10 minutes into the second half when Neymar screwed a shot across goal that rolled agonisingly out of the reach of a lunging Di Maria at the far post.
But Neymar delivered the breakthrough on 68 minutes when he gathered Di Maria’s crossfield ball, twisted his way past Steeve Yago, and fired in a shot that took a wicked deflection off Issa Diop to beat Lafont.
Only the woodwork prevented the Brazilian from adding to his tally, as Neymar planted an effort against the base of the post before curling a sublime 25-yard shot against the bar.
Julian Draxler, who came off the bench in place of Di Maria, was thwarted by the legs of an inspired Lafont late on as the Germany international sought to kill the game off in the closing minutes.
Monaco can climb to second later on Saturday with victory away to Angers, although the champions will be without the injured Radamel Falcao as well as the suspended Keita Balde.
Lyon will attempt to snap a run of back-to-back league defeats at home to Rennes on Sunday, while Marseille lost keeper Steve Mandanda to injury during Friday’s 2-2 draw at Saint-Etienne.
The France international is expected to be sidelined for two to three weeks after hurting his hamstring and faces a race against time to recover for the league and French Cup double-header with PSG at the end of the month.
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