PARIS (AFP) – Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) brushed off the ongoing Neymar transfer saga by kicking off their Ligue 1 title defence with a straightforward 3-0 victory over Nimes last Sunday night.
The 27-year-old Neymar was left out of the squad the day after PSG Sporting Director Leonardo said talks about a possible sale of the Brazilian were “more advanced than before”.
Last Sunday, coach Thomas Tuchel told Canal+ he had “no news” on Neymar’s future and that he would have to “find solutions without” him.
Edinson Cavani’s controversial video assistant referee (VAR) penalty in the 24th minute set PSG on their way at the Parc des Princes, after supporters had made their negative feelings towards the absent Neymar clear.
A fine second-half display from Kylian Mbappe – with a goal and an assist for Angel Di Maria – showed Tuchel the obvious solution to Neymar’s impending exit, and gave the capital club a perfect start to their bid for a third straight French title and ninth in total.
“We are not going to lie. We will see what happens with Neymar – but it’s not the same team,” said Mbappe.
PSG sit level with Lyon, who beat Monaco 3-0 on Friday, at the top of the fledgling table, and will be hoping to occupy that position for the rest of the season.
Former Barcelona forward Neymar’s two years in the French capital since PSG made him the world’s most expensive player have been plagued by injuries and controversies.
Home fans unfurled a banner before kick-off translating to “Neymar. Get out”.
Other banners slammed his recent comment that his fondest memory in football was inspiring Barcelona’s stunning 2017 Champions League comeback against PSG, while one called Neymar “heartless”.
Neymar has been linked with a return to Barca or a move to their arch rivals Real Madrid.
Tuchel handed Ligue 1 debuts to centre-back Abdou Diallo, signed from Borussia Dortmund in the close-season, and midfielder Pablo Sarabia, who joined from Sevilla.
The champions monopolised the ball from the off, with Mbappe shooting straight at visiting goalkeeper Paul Bernardoni after jinking through the massed Nimes defence.
They were awarded a penalty by VAR midway through the first half, as a corner struck Nimes defender Pablo Martinez on the arm after Diallo ducked under the ball while standing right in front of him.
Cavani slammed the spot-kick into the net, before Nimes coach Bernard Blaquart was booked for his protestations.
A pedestrian affair, with Nimes happy to almost exclusively keep all 11 men behind the ball, had to wait until the 57th minute for a second goal when Mbappe slotted in to open his league account for the campaign.
Di Maria came off the bench and drilled into the bottom corner after an excellent pass from Mbappe with 20 minutes remaining, and PSG played out the most comfortable of wins – finishing with 74 per cent of possession as goalkeeper Alphonse Areola did not face a shot on target.