A nervy Paris Saint-Germain were outplayed for long spells but held on after an early Neymar penalty to beat RB Leipzig 1-0 on Tuesday and revive their Champions League campaign.
Last season’s runners-up had lost two of their opening three matches in Group H and would have been staring at an early exit from the competition had they lost again to the Germans behind closed doors at the Parc des Princes.
Yet Neymar’s 11th-minute spot-kick proved enough for a PSG side struggling with injuries and suspensions, as Leipzig failed to convert any of the chances that came their way.
“We are a team who, in the difficult moments, manage to stick together and do a good job. Once again we proved that,” captain Marquinhos told RMC Sport.
Both PSG and Leipzig are now level on six points with two games still to come, with Manchester United three points clear at the top of the section after easing to a 4-1 victory over Istanbul Basaksehir.
Crucially, PSG have the head-to-head advantage over Leipzig, thanks to an away goal, if the two teams end level on points. They lost 2-1 when the teams met in Germany three weeks ago.
Thomas Tuchel’s team go to Old Trafford next and the feeling is that the French champions could still just as easily advance to the last 16 in first place as they could fail to qualify at all.
They brushed Leipzig aside in the semi-finals of last season’s competition in Lisbon in August but collapsed worryingly in their last meeting with Julian Nagelsmann’s team after taking an early lead.
Here they again went in front and then succeeded in seeing the game out despite struggling desperately to maintain possession and stop the waves of Leipzig attacks.
“There are lots of things that happen that people maybe don’t know about,” insisted Marquinhos, with PSG having struggled with injuries, suspensions and coronavirus infections all season.
Here they were without as many as six first-team regulars.
“I don’t think we had the means to put in an exceptional performance, but the most important thing was the victory.”
The decisive spot-kick was awarded when Marcel Sabitzer was rather harshly adjudged to have fouled Angel di Maria.
Neymar stepped up to roll the ball home from 12 yards for his first Champions League goal of the season on what was his first start in almost a month after injury.
Alongside him, Kylian Mbappe saw his European goal drought go on — Ligue 1’s leading scorer has still not scored a Champions League goal in 2020 in eight appearances.
Nevertheless, PSG did not need their French World Cup-winning superstar to be at his best as Leipzig — who have not managed to replace Timo Werner since the Germany striker left for Chelsea — were unable to turn their dominance of possession into goals.
Dayot Upamecano saw his header tipped over by Keylor Navas and Emil Forsberg turned a Dani Olmo cross over the top in the first half.
The pressure continued at the start of the second half, but Forsberg and Sabitzer notably missed the target and the chances dried up after the home side reverted to a three-man central defence in the closing stages.