Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo should be protected by referees – Koeman

By Sports Desk February 15, 2021

Lionel Messi, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and players of their ilk should be protected by referees, according to Ronald Koeman, who hopes the Paris Saint-Germain star can face Barcelona in the second leg of their Champions League tie.

Barca host PSG in the first game of their last-16 contest on Tuesday, but Neymar – who spent four years at Camp Nou – will be absent due to an adductor injury suffered against Caen last week.

The Brazil international is expected to be out for four weeks, in theory ruling him out of the return leg against Barca at the Parc des Princes, where he has scored as many Champions League goals (16) as he did at Camp Nou but from six fewer games (14).

The second leg comes around on March 10, just before the predicted four-week absence period is due to end, so there remains a glimmer of hope for Neymar, and Barca coach Koeman would like for the PSG talent to be involved.

"To see the best game, you always have to have the best players on the field of play," Koeman told reporters on Monday.

"You never know how a team reacts if they lack a player like Neymar. Both teams have casualties. I hope in a couple of weeks everyone can be there to find out who is the best.

"I think we must always protect this type of player, players like Neymar, Messi, Cristiano, because they let us enjoy their quality a lot.

"And in this respect, the referees have to defend them, but in football there is contact and the players have to know that when they play one-on-one, and the referees have to decide when it is an ugly foul, but football is still a contact sport."

Given the tie had been billed as something of a duel between Messi and Neymar, understandably much of the focus from a PSG perspective has switched to Kylian Mbappe, despite the France forward netting only once in his nine Champions League knockout games for PSG

Koeman acknowledged Mbappe's talents but was keen to stress there is more to both teams than a single player.

"It is not a duel between Messi and Mbappe," he continued. "It is a duel between two teams played on one side by Leo Messi, the best player in the world and whom we need in his best form to win the tie, and similarly PSG with Mbappe.

"He is a very fast player who can complicate things a lot. It will be a beautiful game and these players are to be enjoyed as a football fan."

While Koeman suggested he hoped Neymar could feature in Paris next month, Jordi Alba – a former team-mate of the PSG talisman – was brutally honest in his appraisal of the situation.

"I am not going to deceive you, personally, it is better that players like Ney do not play in the opposing team," he added. "He is an important loss for them, like [Angel] Di Maria, who defensively and offensively contributes a lot.

"PSG has important players and I am sure that the people who replace them will have the same or similar level. It will be a contested tie that'll be decided by small details. We also have significant casualties from great players but the people who come in are doing well."

Barca are aiming to reach the quarter-finals of the competition for a record 14th successive season, and the omens are not great for PSG, who have only ever won once away to Spanish opposition in the knockout rounds of the Champions League.

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