Lionel Messi scored a superb second-half winner as a Paris Saint-Germain side missing the injured Kylian Mbappe and Neymar came from behind to beat Toulouse 2-1 on Saturday and consolidate their lead at the top of Ligue 1.
Dutch midfielder Branco van den Boomen gave mid-table Toulouse the lead at the Parc des Princes from a 20th-minute free-kick, only for Achraf Hakimi to curl in the equaliser with half-time approaching.
Messi then put PSG in front just before the hour mark with a glorious first-time strike on his left foot low into the corner of the net from just outside the area.
It was Messi’s 10th Ligue 1 goal of the season and his 15th for his club this campaign, as the World Cup winner stepped up in the absence of PSG’s two other superstar attackers.
The Qatar-owned club are now eight points clear at the top of the table from Marseille, who play Nice on Sunday and then host PSG in the French Cup last 16 in midweek.
Mbappe will miss that game and the Champions League last-16 first leg against Bayern Munich on February 14 after being ruled out for three weeks with a thigh injury suffered in the 3-1 win at Montpellier last Wednesday.
Neymar missed a second successive game with an apparently minor adductor problem, meaning it was left to Messi to lead the attack alongside the 20-year-old Hugo Ekitike with support from Vitinha and Carlos Soler.
But Christophe Galtier’s side have other issues, with Sergio Ramos unable to play, Marco Verratti suspended, and Renato Sanches forced to come off in tears just 12 minutes into the game.
“Leo is holding the team together,” Galtier told broadcaster Amazon Prime.
“It is not just two players we are missing. There is Kylian and ‘Ney’ but also Marco Verratti and Sergio Ramos.
“He takes on the role of leader naturally, and he did so in midweek too. He was so important to the way we played. He takes the initiative. We need to give him the ball even more.”
Portugal midfielder Sanches was starting for just the fifth time since joining from Lille at the start of the season but had to come off with what looked like a hamstring injury.
He was replaced by teenage defender El Chadaille Bitshiabu, with Danilo Pereira moving up into the midfield, and the substitute was partly responsible when PSG fell behind.
Bitshiabu was booked for bringing down Zakaria Aboukhlal 25 metres from goal, and Van den Boomen sent the resulting free-kick low into the left corner of the net with Gianluigi Donnarumma beaten.
Messi hit the post from a corner and Toulouse had another goal disallowed for offside before the home side drew level seven minutes from half-time as Hakimi collected a Soler pass, cut in from the right flank and curled a shot on his left foot into the far corner from 20 metres.
Hakimi then turned provider as he set up Messi to make it 2-1 on 58 minutes, the goal standing despite Toulouse coach Philippe Montanier feeling it should have been disallowed as Marquinhos blocked the goalkeeper’s view while in an offside position.
The outcome was rarely in doubt after that with PSG – who have had some recent wobbles – deserved winners.
Anthony Rouault did force a good save from Donnarumma deep into injury time before Messi hit the post again right at the death.
Meanwhile Rennes missed out on an 11th consecutive home league win as they went down 3-1 to fellow European hopefuls Lille.
Amine Gouiri put the home side ahead inside 30 seconds but Edon Zhegrova, Remy Cabella and on-loan Everton midfielder Andre Gomes all scored in the second half for sixth-placed Lille, who are now just two points behind Rennes in fifth.
Elsewhere, Lyon boosted their outside hopes of European qualification with a 3-1 win at Troyes in which Bradley Barcola and Rayan Cherki both scored before Alexandre Lacazette netted his 16th goal of the season.
Originally published at tribune.com.pk