Football: PSG warm up for Barcelona clash with narrow victory in Neymar's absence

Paris Saint-Germain's Italian forward Moise Kean (left) is congratulated by teammates after scoring.
Paris Saint-Germain's Italian forward Moise Kean (left) is congratulated by teammates after scoring.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Moise Kean struck the winning goal as a Paris Saint-Germain side missing the injured Neymar survived a scare to beat Nice 2-1 on Saturday (Feb 13) and boost their Ligue 1 title hopes three days before facing Barcelona in the Champions League.

Kean struck in the 76th minute for his 10th Ligue 1 goal since joining PSG on loan from Everton, handing Mauricio Pochettino’s side the points after Julian Draxler’s opener had been cancelled out by Rony Lopes at a freezing Parc des Princes.

The result allowed the reigning champions to go provisionally top of the table on goal difference from Lille, who play Brest at home on Sunday. Lyon are two points back in third but can climb to the summit with a win at home to Montpellier later on Saturday.

“Today in the circumstances I think we need to be happy. We are in the position we need to be in,” Pochettino told Canal Plus.

“I think we controlled the game and deserved the victory. We didn’t play great but I think it was a very professional performance.”

PSG are expected to be without Neymar for at least the next three weeks after the world’s most expensive player came off with a groin injury in a midweek French Cup win at second-tier Caen, a huge blow ahead of the Champions League last 16, first leg in Barcelona on Tuesday.

Angel di Maria will also be out for that game, and the Argentine watched the visit of Nice from the stands next to Marco Verratti, another key player on the injury list just now.

PSG were knocked out of the Champions League in the last 16 in each of Neymar’s first two seasons with the club, defeats against Real Madrid and Manchester United both coming after the Brazilian suffered an untimely injury.

‘No excuses’

After reaching the final last season, the fear now is that another injury to their talisman could prove fatal to their hopes against Barcelona.

“We are missing some important players but we have a squad in whom we can trust,” insisted Pochettino.

“It is always better when you have everyone available but of course we are going to try to win the game and there can be no excuses.”

Pochettino handed starts to Kean and Mauro Icardi alongside Kylian Mbappe in attack against Nice, as PSG sported a pink and violet-coloured fourth kit with player names on the back in Mandarin to mark the Chinese New Year.

The new look inspired the home side to go in front midway through the first half thanks to Draxler, who followed up to score after Icardi had turned Thilo Kehrer’s cross onto the post, the German scoring on his first league start since October.

However, a Nice side who have struggled badly for form this season drew level five minutes into the second half when Marquinhos attempted a pass out from the back but only succeeded in finding Lopes, who picked up the ball on the edge of the box and fired high into the net.

Keylor Navas then turned Amine Gouiri’s shot onto the bar with PSG on the ropes, but Pochettino’s side grabbed the winner with just under quarter of an hour left.

Mbappe’s cross from the left to the back post was returned into the six-yard area by Icardi, and Kean headed in.