PARIS, March 2, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – While Neymar’s untimely injury is a huge blow to Paris Saint-Germain, it does represent a golden opportunity for Angel di Maria and other members of their expensively assembled squad.
Not only will Neymar miss PSG’s Champions League last 16, second leg against Real Madrid next week, but the world’s most expensive player might not feature for his club again this season, with the doctor who will operate on his fractured foot in Brazil saying he could be out for three months.
That means it is without their 222 million-euro ($264m) star recruit — who arrived in Brazil on Thursday for surgery on Saturday — that PSG must try to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit against Madrid, as well as secure a clean sweep of the domestic honours.
However, the man most likely to directly benefit is Di Maria, himself feted as the player to turn PSG into genuine Champions League contenders when signed from Manchester United for 63 million euros in 2015.
The Argentine may not be a first pick for coach Unai Emery anymore, but he has still probably been their best player in 2018, profiting from whenever Neymar, Kylian Mbappe or Edinson Cavani have been absent.
A double in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Marseille in the French Cup quarter- finals means Di Maria has now scored 12 times in 2018 in 13 starts.
“He had been lacking a little bit of confidence, but he is a player who can change a match at any moment,” said Marco Verratti of the former Real Madrid winger.
“He is not someone who we are just discovering. He has done a lot of great things in his career.”
PSG go to struggling Troyes this weekend, and with a 14-point lead over Monaco at the top of Ligue 1, Emery must be tempted to wrap his players in cotton wool before the Real game.
“We will miss Neymar, but the team is preparing to do without him,” said Emery, who saw Mbappe come off at half-time against Marseille.
“He took a kick on the ankle and asked not to play the second half. But I don’t think it’s too serious.”
Others who could have an important role in upcoming games are Javier Pastore and Julian Draxler, underused of late but who cost a combined 80 million euros.
Meanwhile, the return of Thiago Motta provides a boost to Emery, with the veteran Italian midfielder proving his fitness in an impressive 74 minutes on the field against Marseille in midweek.
He missed the first leg against Real altogether, but even at 35 he remains the man who makes PSG tick.
Player to watch: Rony Lopes
While the brilliant Bernardo Silva left champions Monaco for Manchester City last year, his compatriot Rony Lopes has taken the opposite route.
Now 22, the Portuguese attacking midfielder was at City before being sold to Monaco in 2015. After spending last season on loan at Lille, he returned to the principality as a replacement for Silva, and is enjoying a fine campaign.
Often troubled by injury in the past, Lopes has scored five times in Monaco’s last six league games, including a brace in last week’s 3-3 draw at Toulouse. Leonardo Jardim’s side are unbeaten in 12 league outings and sit second in the table.
‘I am playing close to my best at the moment, but I know that I can get better still,” Lopes said ahead of Friday’s clash with Bordeaux.
His coach added: “This year he is progressing, he has more confidence and he is almost never injured, so I am pleased for him.”
Fixtures (all GMT)
Nice v Lille (1800), Monaco v Bordeaux (1945)
Troyes v Paris Saint-Germain (1600), Amiens v Rennes, Angers v Guingamp, Metz v Toulouse, Saint-Etienne v Dijon (all 1900)
Caen v Strasbourg (1400), Montpellier v Lyon (1600), Marseille v Nantes (2000)