Navas, not Neymar, is the one holding PSG’s season together
PARIS (AP) — Although goalkeeper Keylor Navas kept Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League hopes alive with 18 saves in two games, the club no longer controls its own destiny in the French league.
That’s because defending champion PSG is three points behind league leader Lille with seven games left, relinquishing control by l osing at home to Lille last weekend. Lille can provisionally move six points ahead if it wins at Metz on Friday, with PSG facing a tough trip to a physical Strasbourg side the next day.
As good as he is, not even Navas could prevent the defeat against Lille, but the fact PSG is even in contention is largely down to him.
The defending champion would have lost more than eight games — its most in the past 10 years — if not for Navas.
His outstanding form papers over huge cracks, which were glaringly evident on Wednesday night. He made 10 saves against a rampant Bayern Munich that sliced PSG’s midfield and defense apart in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal.
PSG somehow came through that pummeling in the snow with a 3-2 win.
The match before that in the Champions League, Navas kept out eight shots in a 1-1 draw against an equally dominant Barcelona side in the second leg of their last-16 game, including a penalty from Lionel Messi.
During the group stage, Navas bailed out his teammates at home against Leipzig and away to Manchester United in games PSG won but could easily have lost.
“Keylor is one of the best goalies in the world,” PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino said. “I’m very happy he’s with us.”
So he should be.
Because for all its attacking firepower, PSG has often proved to be a a fragile side which still lacks composure and unity.
That was evident against Lille, when star striker Neymar was sent off at the end of the game for a reckless foul off the ball. He then tried to confront the same player he’d fouled in the tunnel afterward, and had to be restrained by a security guard. The league handed Neymar a two-game ban, meaning he’ll miss the Strasbourg trip and next Sunday’s home match with Saint-Etienne.
Pochettino may have rested Neymar against Strasbourg, anyway, with Tuesday’s return leg against Munich in mind.
But Neymar’s lack of discipline — three red cards in his past 14 league games — could be a serious concern going forward. Neymar was sent off against Marseille at the start of the season and hit with a three-game ban.
Should the title go down to the wire, Pochettino will need his best players available, which hasn’t always been the case with Neymar at PSG.
For this is the third straight season where the injury-prone and hot-tempered Brazil forward will have played less than half of the scheduled 38 league games.
Altogether, the Brazilian has played just 65 out of a possible 145 league games so far since joining PSG for a world record 222 million euros ($264 million) — with a high of 20 in his first season.
While PSG is still hoping to get the best out of Neymar on a consistent basis, and of persuading him and the prolific Kylian Mbappe to sign new long-term deals, Navas is proving himself to be one of the club’s best ever buys.
For after joining from Real Madrid for 15 million euros ($18 million) two years ago, the 34-year-old Costa Rican just seems to be getting better.
That outlay alone was paid back by keeping PSG in the Champions League in such a testing season for the club.
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