Messi to the rescue as PSG extend Ligue 1 lead

PSG’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his side’s fourth goal during the Champions League Group A soccer match between PSG and Club Brugge at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

(Reuters) – Lionel Messi scored in the second half to help Paris St Germain recover from a woeful start and extend their Ligue 1 lead to a provisional eight points with a 2-1 home victory on Saturday.

Messi struck the winner after the break with his third goal in his last five league games to put PSG on 54 points from 22 games.

Achraf Hakimi had cancelled out Branco van den Boomen’s opener in the first half for Christophe Galtier’s side, who had only won two of their last five matches in Ligue 1. The result left Toulouse in 12th place on 29 points.

Olympique de Marseille are second on 46 points before hosting Nice on Sunday with third-placed RC Lens travelling to Stade Brestois.

Without Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, both injured, Messi was flanked by Hugo Ekitike in attack with Vitinha just behind.

“Lionel was our engine, he scored and created chances. I ask of the team that they play for him,” said Galtier. “His team mates need to make more efforts defensively to give him more freedom to create movement and opportunities.”

Renato Sanches was on in midfield following Marco Verratti’s suspension, but the Portugal international left the pitch in tears after sustaining a thigh injury on 12 minutes.

Van den Boomen then opened the scoring in the 20th minute with a finely taken free kick that left Gianlugi Donnarumma with both feet stuck in the ground. Marquinhos latched onto a Messi free kick, only for his deflection to hit the post 12 minutes before the break, but Hakimi was more precise five minutes later with a superb curled attempt from outside the box.

Messi then curled another one into the bottom corner from outside the area in the 58th minute to put PSG decisively ahead, coming close to adding one more in stoppage time only to hit the post.

Stade Rennais’s Champions League hopes later took a major knock when they wasted a 1-0 advantage and lost 3-1 at home to Lille, who prevailed thanks to late goals by Remy Cabella and Andre Gomes.

Rennes are left in fifth place on 40 points, with Lille in sixth, two points behind them.

Olympique Lyonnais continued to improve as goals by their youngsters Bradley Barcola and Rayan Cherki helped them beat Troyes 3-1 away.

Laurent Blanc’s side, however, remain in eighth place on 32 points.