Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery has called on fans to show Neymar more “affection”, despite the Brazilian’s excellent form since joining the Ligue 1 leaders.
The world’s most expensive player has struggled with injury since the winter break and was booed for taking a penalty on his only league appearance of 2018 so far against Dijon, which denied Edinson Cavani a chance to break the PSG goalscoring record.
But Neymar scored four times in an 8-0 rout that day and has been a key figure for the capital club this season with 24 goals, and Emery wants the PSG fans to get behind their star player.
“We need to give Neymar affection, he’s a player we need to make the most of,” the Spaniard said after Wednesday’s 4-2 French Cup win over Guingamp.
“He is here, in Paris, and he’s a great player.”
PSG’s ultras backed Neymar during the midweek game, unfurling a banner saying: “To boo players runs contrary to our values.”
PSG head into Saturday’s game against Montpellier at the Parc des Princes with an eight-point lead at the Ligue 1 summit over Lyon, after Bruno Genesio’s men became only the second team to beat them in the league this term last weekend.
Neymar was absent for the 2-1 loss with an apparent thigh problem and hasn’t played since returning from a rib injury for the thrashing of Dijon, while reports in Spain have claimed Real Madrid are hopeful of signing the 25-year-old.
“He’s continuing his recovery with the physio, I hope he’ll be back with the team very soon,” Emery added.
Kylian Mbappe is also an injury worry for the match against Montpellier, who have the best defensive record in the French top flight, having been stretchered off last Sunday after a clash with Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes.
“He’s fine, we’ll see if he can return on Saturday, but I hope he’ll be ready at the latest for Lille (on February 3). It was a hard knock and the risk is getting another blow,” said Emery.
– Cavani stalling in record chase –
Cavani’s form in front of goal has dipped in recent weeks after a stellar start to the season, with the proximity of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s club scoring record appearing to have an adverse affect on his game.
The Uruguayan is level with Ibrahimovic on 156 PSG goals, but he has scored just once in four outings, having managed 25 in 26 matches before that this season.
PSG announced the signing of former Real Madrid and Chelsea midfielder Lassana Diarra earlier this week, but Saturday’s game will likely come too early for the France international despite him training for the first time on Thursday.
The race for the three Champions League spots could take a crucial turn on Sunday, when third-placed Marseille host reigning champions Monaco, who sit just a place and one point adrift.
Second-placed Lyon will be looking to extend their unbeaten league run to eight matches when they visit Bordeaux, after following up the win over PSG with an impressive 3-2 cup victory at Monaco.
Player to watch: Florian Thauvin
The former Newcastle United flop has flourished since returning to Marseille permanently last year, already scoring 10 league goals this season. The 24-year-old winger could help Marseille strengthen their grip on a top-three spot on Sunday against Monaco, as he bids to secure his place in France coach Didier Deschamps’ World Cup plans.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Dijon v Rennes (1945)
Paris Saint-Germain v Montpellier (1600), Angers v Amiens, Guingamp v Nantes, Metz v Nice, Saint-Etienne v Caen, Toulouse v Troyes (all 1900)
Lille v Strasbourg (1400), Bordeaux v Lyon (1600), Marseille v Monaco (2000)
– Agence France-Presse