Football

Pochettino defends Messi substitution

Argentinian star appeared unhappy to be taken off with Lyon tie in the balance

Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino defended his decision to substitute attacker Lionel Messi in their 2-1 win over Lyon yesterday morning (Singapore time), insisting that his Argentinian compatriot was OK with being taken off in the Ligue 1 game.

Messi, making his third appearance for the side, hit the woodwork but failed to score on his Parc des Princes debut.

The 34-year-old shone initially but faded away towards the end and was substituted in the 76th minute with the score at 1-1.

He looked puzzled when he was replaced by fullback Achraf Hakimi. As he walked off the pitch, he exchanged words with Pochettino and appeared to reject his compatriot's hand.

But, without him, PSG got the winner as Kylian Mbappe's superb cross from the left was headed in by Mauro Icardi in stoppage time.

"I think we all know we have great players in this 35-man squad. Only 11 can play, we can't play more. The decisions in the game are made for the good of the team and each player," Pochettino said.

"Every coach thinks about that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes players like it and sometimes they don't. At the end of the day, that's why we're here.

"These are decisions that have to be made by the coach. As for his reaction, I asked him how he was, he said he was OK.

"That was it. That was our exchange."

Three games into his PSG career, Messi is still looking for his first goal, but he was unfortunate not to find the net in the first half when everything PSG did went through the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Neymar, Mbappe and Angel di Maria were all on the field too, but - unfortunately for such a superstar attack - there is only one ball and it seemed to be drawn to Messi's feet.

He was set up by Mbappe for a shot that was saved by Anthony Lopes in the 17th minute.

Then he combined with Neymar for another effort that was turned behind and, soon after, the Argentinian cracked a free-kick from almost 30 metres off the junction of bar and post.

OPENING GOAL

Lyon took the lead in the 54th minute, when Karl Toko Ekambi delivered a low ball from the left and Lucas Paqueta swept a first-time shot low into the net at Gianluigi Donnarumma's near post.

PSG were back level in the 66th minute as Neymar went down in the box under a challenge from Malo Gusto.

It could as easily have been a free-kick the other way but a penalty was given and the Brazilian sent the goalkeeper the wrong way.

Messi remains short of full fitness and was taken off 14 minutes from time, before Icardi - in many ways the forgotten man of the PSG attack - allowed his side to make it six wins from six in Ligue 1 this season.

"We deserved our victory, even if it was in the last second," insisted Pochettino.

However, the fact this was a contest might surprise many who expect PSG to run away with the Ligue 1 title this season and perhaps even go all the way in the Champions League.

Nevertheless, they were disappointing in drawing 1-1 with Club Brugge in Belgium in midweek in Messi's first start for the club. They were also given a run for their money by Peter Bosz's Lyon.

They are now five points clear of Marseille, who have a game in hand, at the top and that gap will surely widen as the weeks go by.

Lyon, meanwhile, are already 10 points behind the leaders in ninth place.

"It was a cruel defeat," said Bosz. "We made a real match of it and showed we were not afraid of losing." - AFP, REUTERS

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