PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain and Brazilian superstar Neymar face their “first big test” of the season on Friday (Saturday in Manila) at home to Saint-Etienne as both sides hunt a fourth straight win.
Neymar dazzled in his Parc des Princes debut last weekend, scoring twice as he tormented Toulouse defenders throughout a crushing 6-2 victory, but Saint-Etienne are the only team yet to concede this season.
Former Barcelona midfielder Oscar Garcia is enjoying an extended honeymoon period having replaced the long-serving Christophe Galtier as Saint-Etienne coach in June, with his side collecting maximum points to sit level at the top with PSG and champions Monaco.
“It’s a first big test for us against Saint-Etienne,” said PSG coach Unai Emery. “They have already put in some good performances and picked up nine points.”
Saint-Etienne snatched a last-gasp draw on their most recent trip to Paris and captain Loic Perrin says they have nothing to fear this weekend.
“We’ve been lucky to start the season well. We’re going to Paris with not much to lose. When you see their squad it’s another world,” said Perrin, adding there was no particular plan to subdue Neymar.
“Neymar is an exceptional player who is one of the top three in the world and it’s exciting to measure yourself against such a player.
“It’s becoming harder and harder when you play Paris and it’s the same for everyone. You have to believe you can pull off an upset and anything is possible in a match if lots of things go your way.”
PSG are still without injured Brazilian winger Lucas while Marco Verratti is suspended following his dismissal against Toulouse.
Mbappe, Balotelli under fire
Unsettled Monaco striker Kylian Mbappe drew the ire of a section of the club’s hardcore supporters on Tuesday as speculation intensifies over the teen sensation’s future.
The 18-year-old, a reported target for PSG and Real Madrid, was left out of the squad for last Friday’s 1-0 win at Metz, a week after he stayed on the bench as an unused susbtitute against Dijon.
The Ultras Monaco 1994 group said Mbappe had “proved nothing special in his few dozen matches as a professional” before adding that “nothing or no one is bigger than AS Monaco”.
Radamel Falcao has shone in Mbappe’s absence, however, scoring five times in three matches ahead of Sunday’s visit of Marseille.
Rudi Garcia’s men dropped their first points in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home to Angers and must overcome Domzale of Slovenia on Thursday in the second leg of their Europa League play-off.
Lyon, also two points off the leading trio, will look to atone for letting slip a two-goal advantage in a thrilling 3-3 draw against Bordeaux when they travel to Claudio Ranieri’s Nantes on Saturday.
Nice’s Champions League dreams went up in smoke in midweek as Napoli strolled to a 4-0 aggregate win in their play-off tie, after which Lucien Favre blasted the performance of Mario Balotelli.
“Mario wasn’t with it, you have to be honest. He didn’t give enough. I should have taken him off sooner,” said Favre. “We played better when we replaced him with a youngster nobody knows.”
The volatile Italian striker will hope for the chance to redeem himself as Nice embark on a trip to rock bottom Amiens, who are yet to record a goal or a point.