Paris, France, Dec 16 – Neymar starred on his return to the Paris Saint-Germain line-up after two games out with two goals and two assists in Saturday’s 4-1 defeat of Rennes in Ligue 1.
The world’s most expensive player missed last weekend’s win over Lille due to suspension and sat out Wednesday’s French League Cup clash at Strasbourg after travelling back to Brazil to deal with a family matter.
But he made an immediate impact in Rennes by scoring the opening goal after just four minutes before teeing up Kylian Mbappe to add a second for PSG just past the quarter-hour.
Firmin Mubele halved the deficit after the break, but Rennes were reduced to 10 men when Benjamin Andre picked up a second booking and Edinson Cavani netted PSG’s third on 75 minutes.
Neymar swiftly made it four as he turned home his second goal of the afternoon, while Wahbi Khazri blazed over a late penalty for Rennes after PSG centre-back Presnel Kimpembe was sent off.
“When you see a player like Neymar, I think that all the fans who were here today, or watching on TV, they might support PSG, but if they like football they are happy to see a player like Neymar,” said PSG coach Unai Emery.
PSG had already ensured they will head into the winter break top of the table and lead second-place Monaco by nine points, but the capital club have shown signs of weakness this month with losses to Strasbourg and Bayern Munich.
However they brushed aside Strasbourg 4-2 in the League Cup on Wednesday without Neymar and Mbappe, both of whom were restored to the starting team at Roazhon Park by Emery.
The pair promptly linked up to great effect as Mbappe exchanged passes with Marco Verratti before slipping a ball across the face of goal for Neymar to tap in from point-blank range.
– Cavani halts drought –
It was the same combination that produced PSG’s second goal on 17 minutes as Neymar turned provider by sliding over a low cross with the outside of his right boot for Mbappe to convert.
Cavani twice went close to further stretching the lead, first when his clever back-heel was stopped on the line by Hamari Traore and then as he was denied by Rennes goalkeeper Tomas Koubek with his follow-up blocked by Joris Gnagnon.
Mubele gave Rennes hope on 53 minutes when he forced the ball in after Morgan Amalfitano’s header from a corner rebounded off the inside of Alphonse Areola’s near post.
The hosts suffered a damaging blow when Andre was dismissed after catching Kimpembe as the defender cleared, although they nearly equalised when Khazri broke into the box only to be thwarted by Areola.
But Cavani snapped a four-game drought with a brilliant lob on 75 minutes after he collected a lofted pass from Neymar on the edge of the area, his league-best 18th goal of the season ending Rennes’ resistance.
Neymar capped off a memorable performance a minute later when he tucked away another Mbappe assist, sliding in at the far post to increase his league tally for PSG to 11 goals.
The visitors lost Kimpembe to a second yellow card after he conceded a penalty by bringing down James Lea Siliki, but Khazri drilled the resulting spot-kick over in the final minute.
Lille crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Dijon in the club’s first game since officially parting ways with Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, while promoted Strasbourg climbed into the top half after a 2-1 win over Toulouse extended their unbeaten run to six matches.
Lyon can reclaim second place from Monaco when they host fourth-place Marseille on Sunday, while a resurgent Nice will hunt a fourth straight win at home to struggling Bordeaux.