Neymar back for PSG's crucial clash with Lyon, confirms Pochettino

By Sports Desk March 20, 2021

Neymar has been included in Paris Saint-Germain's squad for the Ligue 1 clash at Lyon on Sunday, head coach Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed. 

The Brazil star has been out of action since suffering an adductor injury in PSG's Coupe de France win away at Caen on February 10.

He has missed nine games across all competitions, including the Champions League last-16 triumph over his former club Barcelona, but the 29-year-old could make his return at the Groupama Stadium.

Speaking at his pre-match media conference, Pochettino revealed that while Neymar has been included in the squad against Lyon, he is unlikely to feature from the start.

"Neymar is in the list of players who will be in the group," he said. "It is a great joy to be able to count on him. It's a big step for him and for the team.

"We like to apply common sense. After the match against Caen, it's been about five weeks or almost six since he played. It will be difficult to see him from the start of the match.

"It's already good that he can be there. He will get in shape to have more and more minutes."

Second-placed PSG are level on points with Lyon, who sit in third, and are looking to end a winless run of four top-flight games against the other top-four teams. 

However, the reigning champions go into the clash in fine form on the road, having won their last three away games in Ligue 1 without conceding a goal – the best current run in the league. 

PSG suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Lyon in December under former boss Thomas Tuchel and Pochettino has warned his players to expect another tough game against an "aggressive" side.

"The truth is, it's a very important game," he added. "I don't know if it's a final but it's almost like it. It is three very important points for the standings. It won't be definitive, but it will be very important for the classification.

"The circumstances of each match are different. We hope that it [the defeat] will not be repeated but we expect an aggressive Lyon with a lot of quality.

"The players in the middle in Lyon are great players and it will be difficult. Either team can win. We respect Lyon but we are going there to bring back the three points."

PSG announced Mauro Icardi will miss the game after suffering a low-grade muscular tear to his left thigh, while they will also be without Juan Bernat, Pablo Sarabia, Thilo Kehrer and Alexandre Letellier.

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    There were two main winners from England's defeat of Croatia in their Euro 2020 opener: England themselves, obviously, and Kalvin Phillips.

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    The short answer to whether that was a typical Phillips display is, technically, no.

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    He fits the role perfectly for Leeds because his excellent athleticism lends itself ideally to Marcelo Bielsa's intense pressing setup, which is identified by the fact they allowed the opposition fewer passes per defensive action (PPDA) in 2020-21 (9.3) than any other team, meaning they commit bodies to winning possession back earlier than everyone else in the Premier League.

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    Former England midfielder Darren Anderton was among those concerned in that sense.

    "I think, sometimes when you look at that, it looks like it's two defensive midfielders, and I don't like that too much," Anderton told Stats Perform. "I think it makes it a little bit one-dimensional. I think central midfielders should be able to make those good passes forward as well, but I think he can do all of that.

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    As it happened, Phillips created the winning goal, and it was in this action that you got the clearest glimpse of just how different a role he was playing, much to Anderton's satisfaction.

    "His moment of quality is what won the game for England," he continued. "He's a great player, he was the difference on the day, there's no doubt about it. He made the surging run forward and he also made the perfect pass for Sterling.

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    Unleashed

    As touched upon by Anderton, the main difference between how Phillips was deployed against Croatia and how Marcelo Bielsa uses him for Leeds is that Southgate encouraged him to play a more advanced role.

    There was much less emphasis on Phillips to get on the ball and dictate the play. After all, with Rice alongside him and seemingly having a slightly less well-rounded skillset, why would you have Phillips playing deep as well?

    Of course, that will have been the concern of many England fans pre-game, but the fact Phillips' total passes (33) and touches (44) were actually significantly down on his Premier League per-90 minute averages (52 passes, 69.8 touches) highlights just how different Southgate was asking him to play.

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    Granted, his 20 passes in the opposing half was also down on his average for 2020-21 (23.8), but those were from a much smaller total. When you consider that those 20 equate to 61 per cent as opposed to his usual 46 per cent, the picture becomes clearer still.

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    It encapsulated his performance perfectly, but it'll be intriguing to see whether these trends continue or if Phillips thriving in a more advanced role was a fluke.

    Those who've seen him play regularly won't have any concerns about him repeating certain feats against Scotland in what promises to be an intense and high-octane rivalry clash, when his all-action approach will surely be vital.

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