PSG vs. Lyon: Mauro Icardi spares Mauricio Pochettino’s blushes as Lionel Messi is substituted in late win

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino is no closer to knowing his strongest XI, but saw substitute Mauro Icardi save him at the death with a headed winner from a Kylian Mbappe ball in to secure a 2-1 victory over Olympique Lyonnais at Parc des Princes on Sunday.

The Argentine tactician’s decision to withdraw the goalless Lionel Messi will make the headlines but the capital outfit can count themselves lucky thanks to Neymar’s controversial penalty equalizer after Lucas Paqueta had given Peter Bosz’s men a not undeserved second half lead.

Result aside, though, there remain major holes in this PSG side after another clunky collective performance and it is not simply a question of establishing a working chemistry between Messi, Mbappe and Neymar but finding a way for the entire starting XI to pull their weight.

“I think everyone knows that we have a lot of very good players,” said Pochettino of the Messi change after the match. “Choices have to be made with the squad and during games with the best for the team and each player in mind. Some decisions are positive and others are not — we are there on the touchlines to make those decisions. Some are popular, others are not. I asked Leo how he was and he told me he was fine — no problem.”

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On the fantastic front three, Neymar scored, Mbappe provided and Messi hit the woodwork, but there were few genuine signs that the trio can be complementary, and not even the presence of the perennially under appreciated Angel Di Maria could aid that.

Neymar was awarded a penalty for a foul on Lyon’s Malo Gusto that, on replay, should have been reversed via VAR. Mbappe muddled through 90 largely anonymous minutes only to provide the game-breaking assist at the death for Di Maria’s replacement, Icardi.

By that point, Pochettino had withdrawn Messi to the disgust of the legendary Argentine and the bewilderment of teammate Leandro Paredes and the capacity Parc des Princes crowd as it felt like Les Parisiens would be held to a second draw this week.

The hosts were ultimately spared that ignominy, but can feel extremely grateful to referee Clement Turpin for his decision on Neymar’s penalty and the fact that Lyon’s attacking threat was limited somewhat by the absence of Moussa Dembele.

Not that they were unable to create chances with Paqueta beating Gianluigi Donnarumma far too easily; the PSG defense was carved open, and that will have worried Pochettino on top of his lightweight midfield pairing of Idrissa Gueye and the surprisingly prolific Ander Herrera.

While the Senegal international brought the bite that was so clearly lacking away at Club Brugge in the UEFA Champions League in midweek, the Spaniard’s lack of creativity and limited technique was exposed, making Marco Verratti sorely missed in the middle and Paredes surprisingly ignored.

An adequate partner for Gueye in the middle would have only solved half of the issue, though, as the decision to withdraw Achraf Hakimi from the defense for fear of getting caught out wide on the right brought familiar perils with the hapless Thilo Kehrer deployed in his place.

Nuno Mendes underlined why he deserved to start on the left with another accomplished display from the 19-year-old but captain Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe allowed the beating of Kehrer to undo them too easily which is how Bosz’s OL took the lead nine minutes into the second half.

Questions will rightly be asked of Donnarumma, but the German, Brazilian and French defenders must be tighter than that with big games against the likes of Manchester City in the UCL on the horizon.

Messi and Pochettino’s terse exchange as the former Barcelona man made his way off the pitch at Paris will remain an enduring image for at least the next few weeks, especially if PSG drop points elsewhere, but the ex-Tottenham Hotspur boss was vindicated by Icardi’s late heroics — this time.

“I am very happy to have scored,” said Icardi after the final whistle. “The team were looking to take chances and to score that goal. We knew we were playing against a great team and we tried hard to win. Winning in the last minute is always a big thing. We know that there is still room for improvement, though.”

All too often since Pochettino’s arrival last winter it has felt like we are waiting to see which identity he will choose for this PSG side, and we are still no closer to being able to say that the 49-year-old has his team playing in a recognizable style.

The pressure is off for now after that win, but there are tougher challenges to come for the French giants and they do not appear ready to overcome them without some serious fine-tuning over the next two matches against FC Metz and Montpellier HSC in Ligue 1.

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