Neymar Makes Bright Start on Debut in PSG’s 3-0 Win over Guingamp


Guingamp never seemed like the most likely location for Neymar’s Ligue 1 debut. The Stade du Roudourou, the home ground of En Avant de Guingamp, holds only a tick over 18,000 people, and though that number is far from a huge capacity, it’s actually quite impressive given that the commune of Guingamp encompasses a population of only 7,000 inhabitants. With this in mind, it was certainly interesting for Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain’s newly acquired £198 million pound signing, to start off his time in French football in this sleepy part of the country, but that didn’t stop the locals from creating an electric atmosphere to welcome the Brazilian superstar. The crowd was frenzied and loud from the outset, and more than just merely supporting their beloved Guingamp, they turned the match into a carnival-esque occasion.

On the pitch, too, the players quickly set about creating some fireworks of their own. That didn’t happen too much in the opening 45 minutes, but once Jordan Ikoko, a former PSG youth academy player, bundled in a disastrous own goal just after half-time to give the Parisians the ascendancy, the shackles seemed to be released. That was the moment when PSG seemed to breathe a little easier, and perhaps emboldened by the fact that they had just taken the lead, the expensively-assembled group went to work in order to record a 3-0 win.

Of course, their world-record signing was at the heart of much of this. Neymar started on the left-hand side, but quickly made it clear that he would be operating with plenty of freedom. He took up whichever positions he deemed suitable and, for the most part, that meant floating inside into left-of-centre locations, otherwise known as the left half-space. This is common not only for him but also for PSG. Under manager Unai Emery, the wingers regularly filter infield, and just as Neymar did this from the left, right-winger Angel di Maria did the same from the other side of the field.

This move was designed to manufacture options for the capital club. To start with, the wingers allowed PSG to add numbers through the centre of the pitch. Then, to make up for their absence in the wide areas, fullbacks Layvin Kurzawa, on the left, and Dani Alves, on the right, provided driving runs into the final third. That meant PSG could get their combinations going either in between the lines or out near the touchlines, and with a central midfield trio of Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Adrien Rabiot, there was plenty of ball-playing ability to kickstart this process.

Neymar, however, was the man to watch from the start, and by the end of the 90 minutes, he had comfortably secured his place as man of the match as well. His ability to flit in and out of that left half-space was incredibly impressive, and despite his standing, he found a lot of space in that part of the pitch. From there, he did the kind of things that have made him such a famous face in world football. He exchanged passes sharply, often with the added flair of a first-time flick, and he went on a slew of mazy runs that saw him finish the contest with a monumental 11 successful dribbles. The thing that truly set him apart, though, was his passing, and when he set up the second goal of the evening, just 10 minutes after Ikoko’s howler, he produced his first assist in PSG colours.

The move started when a Guingamp attack broke down. Thiago Silva casually passed the ball forward to Neymar, who had again made his way into that left-of centre location. This time, though, he was in a very deep position, but with little in the way of immediate pressure, he loped up the field with the ball at his feet. Then, as he approached the halfway line, he clicked into gear. Edinson Cavani, PSG’s striker, made a powerful run in behind the Guingamp defence, and Neymar made full use of it. He carved open the opposition with a wonderfully-weighted through ball, and once it had punctured the gap between the two Guingamp centre-backs, Cavani found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson. The Uruguayan finished the job with a neat side-footed finish, and the pass that created it, as it turned out, was just one of Neymar’s seven key passes throughout his PSG debut.

The other six also had plenty of quality attached to them. A first-half cross allowed Marquinhos to thunder a header into the underside of the crossbar, and a bit later on, in the second period, Neymar played in di Maria in a manner that was so typical of his game. He received a pass in between the lines, this time in a slightly more right-of-centre position, before piercing the Guingamp defence to put di Maria though on goal. The Argentine couldn’t guide the ball home, with his outside-of-the-foot effort being saved by Johnsson, but that couldn’t detract from the lead-up to it.

It was just yet another example of Neymar’s flawless passing technique, and when you throw in his ability to spot this kind of opening, it’s easy to see why PSG were so desperate to sign him. The fee may seem extreme, but there’s no doubt that, from a pure footballing standpoint, the club will improve because of him. At times last season, they found it hard to penetrate deep-sitting defences, and they appeared in need a player who could offer invention and inspiration at the point end of the pitch. Now, they most certainly have that player.

At one point, he found himself surrounded by three opposition markers, something which enabled Motta to dart forward into a vacant space. The players attracted to Neymar soon found themselves out of the play, as the Brazilian slid a short, two-metre pass into Motta’s feet. The ex-Inter man then teed up Cavani for a shot on goal, and it’s often in this kind of situation, where Neymar is drawing player after player towards him, that the others around him can thrive.

In that sense, his presence can only assist PSG. Neymar is now their main man, and he has the chance to propel them towards trophies. Of course, they want to regain the Ligue 1 crown that Monaco commandeered last season, but even more than that, they want the UEFA Champions League glory that has so far eluded them. Neymar has the chance to be the footballer to launch them into positions to win that kind of silverware, and as he’s shown in his exertions for the Brazilian national team over the years, he’s the type of guy who enjoys being the heart of the team.

PSG offers him the platform to do just that, and he offers his new club the chance to chase the biggest prizes in European football. A win at Guingamp, capped off by a late goal for Neymar, was the starting point. From here on in, it will be fascinating to watch PSG’s progress as the season unfolds, especially with a brilliant Brazilian leading the way for them.