Paris Saint-Germain’s aggregate lead over Barcelona will not result in a change in Neymar’s scheduled return from injury.
Kylian Mbappe made up for the absence of his star team-mate on Tuesday, with his sensational hat-trick propelling Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG to a 4-1 victory at Camp Nou in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 tie.
Neymar – who scored twice in Barca’s famous 6-5 aggregate triumph over PSG in 2017 – missed the game through an adductor injury sustained in a Coupe de France win over Caen.
The 29-year-old is set to miss four weeks, which would put him in line to be available for the return leg against his former club at the Parc des Princes on March 10.
However, asked if PSG’s 4-1 lead heading into the game will mean there is less pressure on Neymar to recover on schedule, Pochettino insisted the result has had no impact on the Brazilian’s lay off.
“Neymar’s recovery is following the plans put in place and the strategy by our medical team,” Pochettino told a news conference ahead of Sunday’s Ligue 1 clash with Monaco.
“Whether it’s one game, one competition or another, the priority is the player’s well-being.
“We want players to get back as quickly as they can, but not linked to any specific game. The priority is for Neymar to make a good recovery and he will be back in the week when he is back.”
Moise Kean also stepped up to fill the void left by Neymar, and scored the other goal in PSG’s rout, heading in from Leandro Paredes’ free-kick.
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) February 19, 2021
Kean, on loan from Everton, has now netted on his last three starts across all competitions, taking his tally to the season for 14 in total – he has scored a goal every 1.5 shots on target in Ligue 1 this season (10 goals, 15 shots on target), with only Lens’ Gael Kakuta (1.3) having a better ratio in the top-flight among players with five or more goals.
“I was not surprised by Moise Kean’s performance, if I said I was surprised it would be for a different reason,” Pochettino replied when asked if Kean’s display at the Camp Nou had shocked him.
“I think he has confirmed he has the potential that we knew about, but players don’t surprise us in our team.
“When we take a decision to include a player – possibly they are young or playing in a different position – it’s because of what we’ve seen in training and we think they can contribute positively in the match.
“Sometimes they may not perform as we expect, but he certainly does not surprise us.”
With Monaco going into Sunday’s game on the back of a 10-game unbeaten streak in Ligue 1 – the best current run in the division – Pochettino also stressed that PSG must avoid complacency, especially with the defending champions having taken only one point from their three matches against teams also in the top four this season.
“PSG is a club that has to win, and that is our responsibility,” added Pochettino, who has suffered just one defeat, at Lorient on January 31, since he took over at PSG.
“I don’t think you can relax in any way, or use that as an excuse not to perform in the same way we have been doing, and as we did against Barca.
“If we think we can be calmer we would unconsciously be making a big mistake, you have to respect everyone in football and always give your best in every competition.
“That’s why we have to work hard, with enthusiasm and focus, so that competing at our best becomes a habit.”