By Sean Walsh
Paris Saint-Germain warmed up for a huge Champions League last 16 second leg away to Bayern Munich with a far-from-ordinary 4-2 win against Nantes on Saturday night.
Christophe Galtier’s men have moved 11 points to the top of the Ligue 1 table, a pretty sizable gap considering they were in danger of being dragged into the title fight a couple of weeks ago.
The hosts took the lead on 12 minutes through Lionel Messi following a rousing team action. The Argentine linked up well with Sergio Ramos in midfield before Fabian Ruiz’s play passed to Nuno Mendes, whose deflected cross was hit by Messi after he managed to force his way past defender Nicolas Pallois into the box.
PSG doubled their lead minutes later. Mendes’ low shot was denied by the feet of goalkeeper Alban Lafont, and with Nordi Mukiele lurking at the far post ready to intercept the rebound, Jaouen Hadjam positioned himself to get to the ball first, but instead of clearing away he could only deflect ball sliding back over the line and into the net.
But Nantes surprisingly pulled one back against the flow of play after half an hour. Ludovic Blas managed to jump Vitinha and Mukiele down the right wing and, seeing a hole in the front post, fired a shot past an unfortunate Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Messi came close to re-establishing PSG’s two-goal lead with a quick shot from the edge of the box from 18 yards, with his shot flying just over the bar.
Donnarumma almost cost PSG again when he inexplicably spilled a routine Florent Mollet shot from distance, with Marquinhos managing to scoop the ball out of danger just in time.
But from the resulting corner, Nantes equalized. Mollet’s corner was deflected into the near post by Ignatius Ganago and helped over the line by Jean-Charles Castelletto.
After the break, Mukiele turned down a big chance to restore PSG’s lead. Messi slotted a smart ball between two Nantes defenders and into the full-back’s path, and had the option of going on goal or square off Kylian Mbappe: he tripped and played a pass behind his team-mate, allowing Nantes to clear .
Galtier’s men returned to the front through an unlikely source on the hour. Mbappé dished in a cross after Nantes cleared a corner, with Danilo Pereira climbing further up to header.
Not long after, PSG a penalty was awarded when Hadjam brought down Mukiele, though a free kick was awarded after a lengthy VAR check concluded the challenge went outside the box.
Mbappe was millimeters away from becoming PSG’s all-time top scorer when a wicked 25-yard shot whistled past the post, before the energetic Warren Zaire-Emery was denied by Lafont’s feet.
The young France goalkeeper was called into question again when Messi he carried the ball from midfield and let it fly from the edge of the area, although he was grateful to see the ball slip towards his catch.
On the other hand, Ganago came very close to equalizing again for Nantes, firing a low shot just wide of Donnarumma’s near post.
In stoppage time, substitute Timothee Pembele flicked back a cross to allow Mbappe to circle and finish, overtaking Edinson Cavani as the club’s all-time top scorer.
Paris Saint-Germain player ratings (3-5-2)
PORT: Gianluigi Donnarumma – 2/10 – It didn’t inspire any confidence. He almost single-handedly opened the door for a comeback for Nantes.
CB: Danilo Pereira – 8/10 – Largely serene and scored a vital goal for his side.
BC: Sergio Ramos – 7/10 – He came into midfield with ease and played at his own pace.
BC: Marquinhos – 6/10 – He swept away any danger PSG were in.
RM: Nordi Mukiele – 6/10 – A chaotic presence at both ends of the field. This approach produced at least PSG’s second goal.
CM: Fabian Ruiz – 10/7 – He played with a real confidence and maturity that wasn’t always present in his debut season in Paris.
CM: Vitinha – 6/10 – Sometimes a little insecure of himself. I found it more difficult to play as the deepest of PSG midfielders.
CM: Warren Zaire-Emery – 7/10 – Ah, the exuberance of youth. The 16-year-old was fearless on both sides of the ball and set an example.
LM: Nuno Mendes – 7/10 – Supplied in large width. Messi is always able to interpret that characteristic pass like he did with Jordi Alba.
FC: Lionel Messi – 9/10 – A surprisingly stubborn performance from the little wizard, who cuts his way into challenges high up the pitch and proves he’s the difference on the ball as da.
FC: Kylian Mbappe – 8/10 – He caused all sorts of problems and finally found his record-breaking goal.
Carlos Soler (71′ for Mukiele) – 6/10
El Chadaille Bitshiabu (76′ for Marquinhos) – N/A
Timothee Pembelee (87′ for Zaire-Emery) – N/A
Christophe Galtier – 7/10 – PSG was fine. It’s not really Galtier’s fault that Donnarumma had a mare.
Player of the match – Lionel Messi
This article was originally posted on 90min.com as PSG 4-2 Nantes: Player ratings as Lionel Messi guides Les Parisiens to hard-fought victory.