For just the second time this season, Paris Saint-Germain have failed to win. In the Classique, the closest thing they come to a derby match, against Marseille, they were held to a 2-2 at the cauldron that is Stade Velodrome.
Edinson Cavani proved to be the Ligue 1 leaders’s hero as he curled home a brilliant last-gasp free kick to salvage a point, but the headlines will once again be written about Neymar, whose dismissal five minutes earlier seemed to have consigned Unai Emery’s men to a shock defeat in what was perhaps their biggest match of the season to date.
Having been booked minutes earlier, the €200 million striker was fouled in the midfield by Bouna Sarr, bounced to his feet and was clipped by Lucas Ocampos. Frustrated, he squared up to the winger, who bounced off him amid limited contact. Both were cautioned for the incident, but the former Barcelona man walked having already seen yellow.
It was the culmination of his first really bad day at the office for a PSG side who showed little of their customary fluency in front of a baying home crowd. He had been peripheral for much of the game, and even the goal he scored, though with a superbly well-placed shot, bobbled into the corner of Steve Mandanda’s goal in a rather ugly fashion.
PSG will, however, point to the treatment dished out to him by both the home players and fans in the superstar’s defence.
He was roundly kicked at every opportunity, fouled on countless occasions. The actions of the supporters were even worse.
Indeed, the enduring image of the match, in the capital, at least, will be the police gathering round €200 million signing Neymar, trying to protect him with riot shields as objects were hurled at him as he tried to take corners from either side of OM’s Stade Velodrome.
Though not justification for the player’s actions – he should have understood that squaring up to an opponent having already been booked was at best risky – it is easy to understand why he would have been frustrated.
It was an incredible twist in a match that was a slow burner for much of the second half until Florian Thauvin fired the hosts into the lead with just 13 minutes left. The former Newcastle man was the benefactor of some passive defending but also some excellent persistence from Clinton Njie down the right after a corner.
That goal, which came after Luiz Gustavo and Neymar had exchanged efforts in the first half, seemed to have Marseille primed to move back into the title race, especially once Neymar was dismissed.
Yet PSG found an answer. Cavani, who infamously fell out with Neymar earlier this season over the taking of a free-kick, profited from the absence of the Brazilian over such a situation to send a delicate effort over the wall, off the underside of the bar and into the goal two minutes into stoppage time.
No doubt he will have a better claim over such set pieces when PSG’s main man returns and offered a timely reminder of the value he continues to have to the capital club.