Neymar proved Paris St Germain’s hero on his return to the Ligue 1 champions’ side with a spectacular injury-time winner against Strasbourg.
The Brazilian has work to do to win back the support of the club’s fans after a summer of intense speculation about his future but, with the transfer window closed, Thomas Tuchel included him in the team for the first time this season.
And his dramatic late intervention was certainly a good start in regaining the supporters’ affections as he secured a 1-0 win for PSG.
After 92 minutes of frustration for Neymar and his team-mates, the world’s most expensive footballer met Abdou Diallo’s cross with an overhead kick that flew into the net off the inside of a post.
Neymar had the ball in the net again moments later but it was ruled out by VAR with Angel Di Maria offside in the build-up.
Not since Caen held PSG to a goalless draw at the end of the 2017-18 season had Tuchel’s side failed to find the back of the net and they looked like having to settle for a point again against Strasbourg.
Strasbourg were the only club not to lose a league game to the dominant capital outfit last season and, despite having not yet won this term, their organisation and defensive solidity saw them match PSG.
Neymar scored for Brazil in an impressive display against Colombia last week and Tuchel put him straight into the side as well as giving a debut to goalkeeper Keylor Navas, signed from Real Madrid.
Neymar had his first opening in the 15th minute but was unable to connect with the ball at the near post.
Strasbourg were not just sitting back and Navas was called into action in the 19th minute to make a save from Ludovic Ajorque.
PSG were certainly not peppering the Strasbourg goal. Neymar had another chance in the 55th minute but shot wide, and eight minutes later new signing Mauro Icardi was introduced in place of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
As the hosts’ frustration grew, Navas was again called upon to keep out Ajorque.
Neymar then hit a post direct from a corner with only four minutes left, but his biggest contribution was yet to come.
Maurizio Sarri hailed his side’s character but ended up counting the cost of a goalless draw at Fiorentina after taking charge of Juventus for the first time.
The former Chelsea coach had missed Juve’s first two games of the season due to a bout of pneumonia but he watched prospective injury problems pile up at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Danilo, Douglas Costa and Miralem Pjanic were all forced off early due to muscle issues with Pjanic, in particular, now a doubt for his side’s Champions League trip to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.
Sarri told a press conference: “For Miralem it (facing Madrid) could be a minor problem but we will see tomorrow morning.”
Juve’s failure to put away their lowly opponents was a source of frustration for Sarri, who insisted they are still finding their feet after injuries and international duty.
Sarri added: “There had been a physical decline in the first two games, but then this summer we had several players at the Copa America and others in the infirmary.
“It has taken time to get them into the rhythm of the game. We need to grow a lot in terms of quality, tactics and athletics.
“It was not a high-level game from a technical point of view and the situation was made complicated by changes we used to replace the injured players.
“Having fresh players in the final stages of the game would have been important. I am aware that a team with less character would lose such a game.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
In an interview with the Catalan newspaper Sport this week, Messi said the return of Neymar, who was at Barca from 2013 and 2017 when he left for Paris Saint-Germain, could only strengthen the Spanish champions.
“I would be thrilled if Neymar came back,” said the Argentine.
“I understand that not everyone agrees. That’s normal after everything that happened around Ney, the way in which he left, the way he abandoned us.
“But when you look at the sporting angle, for me Neymar is one of the best players in the world and obviously would improve our chances of getting the results we want.”
The Brazilian looked set to return to Camp Nou during the summer transfer window, just two years on from his departure to PSG for a record €222 million.
In two seasons with the Parisians, Neymar has scored 51 goals in 58 appearances and, after an on-off soap opera, ultimately stayed in the French capital, at least for the time being.
“I am not disappointed,” said Messi. “I would have liked it if he had come and been with us but, as I have said, we have an exceptional squad to challenge for every title, even without him.”
Messi denied reports he had used his influence to try and force the Barcelona board to push through the deal.
“Here, it is not me that gives the orders,” he said. “We never said that he had to be brought in. We didn’t make any demands.”
“I don’t know if the club (Barcelona) wanted it to happen. What I do know is that Neymar really wanted it. But I understand it is very difficult to negotiate with PSG.”