Pochettino 'very happy' with Neymar progress: We'll see for Barcelona

By Sports Desk March 05, 2021

Mauricio Pochettino could not confirm Neymar would make his return from injury against former club Barcelona but remains "very happy" with his recovery.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar suffered an adductor injury against Caen in the Coupe de France on February 10.

A predicted four-week lay-off would accommodate a comeback against Barca in the Champions League, having missed the first-leg trip to Camp Nou where Kylian Mbappe inspired a 4-1 away win.

Pochettino has since repeatedly insisted Neymar is on schedule, although PSG's win rate has improved from 66.7 per cent to 73.7 per cent when he has been missing this season.

With the last-16 second leg now just five days away, the PSG coach was asked explicitly about the potential involvement of the world's most expensive footballer against his former club.

"He will not be in the squad for the match against Brest," Pochettino said on the eve of PSG's Coupe de France clash.

"But we are very happy with his progress and we will see in the next few days if he can be part of the group for Barcelona."

Stepping up in Neymar's absence, Mbappe became just the 10th visiting player ever to score a hat-trick away at Barca – and only the second in the Champions League.

But while Neymar – long linked with a transfer back to the Blaugrana – has appeared committed to a future at PSG, speculation persists about Mbappe.

The World Cup winner, back from suspension on Saturday, has been involved in 32 goals in all competitions (23 goals, nine assists), the sixth-most among all players across Europe's top-five leagues in 2020-21.

Pochettino added of Mbappe: "We have a very good relationship, very natural. The club and I want him to stay.

"It's a two-way decision between the club and the player. He is a very important player for us, and we hope he will stay with us for many years to come."

Rather than Mbappe's heroics, Neymar's return or any other Champions League matters, Pochettino is focused on successfully negotiating the Brest tie.

"We have to give importance to [Saturday's] game," he said. "We only think about the Brest game. We know it's going to be a tough game.

"This is an important competition for us. Our focus is on tomorrow's game."

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    Neymar said his contract renewal with Paris Saint-Germain is "no longer an issue" as the star pledged his future to the Ligue 1 giants following their Champions League progress.

    PSG forward Neymar – who arrived from Barcelona for a world-record €222million in 2017 – is contracted until 2022 but both parties have been in negotiations regarding a fresh deal in the French capital.

    Neymar has continually been linked with a return to LaLiga powerhouse Barca, but the Brazil international confirmed his intentions to re-sign with PSG.

    "This [renewal with PSG] is no longer an issue," Neymar told ESPN Brazil after PSG eliminated holders Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals.

    "Obviously I feel very comfortable and at home here at PSG. I feel happier than I was before."

    PSG lost 1-0 in the return leg on Tuesday, but they still advanced on away goals after the blockbuster tie ended 3-3.

    Neymar was named man of the match after he had more shots (six), more shots on target (three) and made more key passes (three) than any other PSG player, hitting the crossbar and then the post during the first half.

    After PSG moved through to their second successive Champions League semi-final, Neymar celebrated with team-mate Leandro Paredes in front of Bayern star Joshua Kimmich.

    "It's funny because I didn't even celebrate to mess with him, it was more with Leo and I ended up celebrating with him. It was fate that put me close to [Kimmich]," Neymar said.

    "He said that their team was better, that they would win. He was sure that they would go to the semi-finals."

    PSG's elimination of Bayern is the first instance in Champions League history of the previous season's losing finalists eliminating the holders in the knockout stages.

    French giants PSG have reached the semi-finals for the second season in a row, after managing to reach the final four only once in their previous 11 campaigns in the competition before that – their first in 1994-95.

    PSG, though, failed to score at home in the Champions League for the first time in 24 games, since a 0-0 draw with Madrid in October 2015.

  • Muller and Neuer lament Bayern's Champions League exit: It's very disappointing Muller and Neuer lament Bayern's Champions League exit: It's very disappointing

    Bayern Munich star Thomas Muller forthrightly blamed his side's first-leg result for their "very disappointing" Champions League exit at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain.

    Champions League holders Bayern won 1-0 in the quarter-final second leg in Paris on Tuesday, but were knocked out on away goals after losing 3-2 in Munich.

    Muller said the disappointment was big as he bemoaned Bayern's inability to take their chances when they had them against last season's runner-up PSG.

    "We didn't do ourselves any favours with the first leg result," Muller told Sky Germany. "The disappointment is big."

    Bayern are the third consecutive reigning Champions League winners to fail to reach at least the semi-final stage the following season in the competition, something that has not happened since four successive teams failed between 2004-05 and 2007-8 (Porto, Liverpool, Barcelona and Milan).

    Muller added: "We scored one goal too few to advance. The course of the game was different from Munich. We didn't have so much pressure in the early stages.

    "We then had the situation we wanted and scored the goal just before half-time. We had a few chances just before half-time that we didn't take for different reasons.

    "In the second half, the effort was always there, but the game was very disjointed. In the end, Paris has a great offence, but it's very disappointing that we got eliminated even though we won in Paris."

    Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer reiterated that sentiment, ruing their first-leg defeat at home to the Ligue 1 champions.

    Hansi Flick's Bayern mustered 45 shots over their two clashes with PSG – the joint-most any team managed against an opponent in two games in the Champions League this season (level with Sevilla against Krasnodar).

    "It was not just because of today," Neuer said. "The 1-0 was deserved, but the result last week was not good enough.

    "It's annoying, especially if you look at the first game, where we missed many chances and conceded one or two goals too many.

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  • PSG not Champions League favourites, insists Pochettino PSG not Champions League favourites, insists Pochettino

    Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino does not believe his team are favourites to win the Champions League after eliminating holders Bayern Munich.

    PSG advanced to the semi-finals for the second successive season on away goals after the blockbuster tie ended 3-3 following Tuesday's 1-0 loss at home to Bayern.

    Ligue 1 champions PSG exacted some revenge after moving through to the final four, having lost last season's decider to Bayern.

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    Pochettino, though, dismissed the idea that PSG are the main contender to win the Champions League this season.

    "I don't think so," Pochettino told reporters when asked if PSG are favourites. "We have beat Barcelona in last 16 in two games, we have beat Bayern now in two games too.

    "I think we deserved to win both ties, but I don't think PSG are the main contender to win Champions League. There are still rivals in. We have qualified and Chelsea did today as well.

    "We will see in the ties Man City versus Dortmund and Liverpool versus Real Madrid. Any team which is in semi-finals has the same options to win."

    PSG's elimination of Bayern is the first instance in Champions League history of the previous season's losing finalists eliminating the holders in the knockout stages.

    French giants PSG have reached the semi-finals for the second season in a row, after managing to reach the final four only once in their previous 11 campaigns in the competition before that – their first in 1994-95.

    PSG, though, failed to score at home in the Champions League for the first time in 24 games, since a 0-0 draw with Madrid in October 2015.

    Asked to pick between City and Dortmund, former Tottenham boss Pochettino – who led Spurs to the 2018-19 Champions League final – added: "We have faced Barcelona in last 16, playing two games, and we have disqualified Barca. We have also eliminated Bayern Munich in quarter-finals.

    "We don't choose one or other rival. The one we play, we will try to beat them. If you are wondering we can or not beat them, we will see."

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