PSG’s World Cup-bound stars all unscathed as leader wins 5-0

Sports

PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain’s stars came through their final game before the World Cup unscathed, with France forward Kylian Mbappe opening the scoring in the unbeaten league leader’s 5-0 home win against Auxerre on Sunday.

Argentina star Lionel Messi, Brazil’s Neymar and Mbappe all started against Auxerre as PSG maintained its five-point lead over second-place Lens.

Messi and Neymar came off with about 15 minutes left but Mbappe played the full match, despite coming off near the end last weekend with muscle fatigue. Mbappe joins up with defending champion France’s squad on Monday before flying out to Qatar on Wednesday.

“As soon as my players had made the difference, I focused on managing them,” PSG coach Christophe Galthie said. “I quickly made changes to protect them.”

PSG rested Brazil defender Marquinhos because of some muscle discomfort.

PSG’s players didn’t hold back against Auxerre, despite the fear of a late injury, as the opening goal came after 10 minutes.

“I ask the people I work with to be demanding, not to fall into a comfort zone … We had to win, Lens has been on an incredible run,” Galthie said. “I wanted to pick the most competitive team possible. The players responded very well today, we were serious and diligent.”

Messi lofted a clever pass over the defense for Portugal defender Nuno Mendes sprinting down the left, and his pass was volleyed in by Mbappe for his league-leading 12th goal.

The goal was awarded following a video review after Neymar handled the ball moments earlier in Auxerre’s penalty area.

PSG’s defense was caught napping when M’Baye Niang profited from a long ball and hit a powerful shot that goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma parried well.

Neymar was bundled over in the 30th after a heavy challenge but got straight back up to continue playing.

The World Cup-bound Mendes broke free again down the left and his cross was deftly turned in by forward Carlos Soler in the 51st. Right back Achraf Hakimi made it 3-0 soon after.

Hakimi, one of the main players in Morocco’s World Cup squad, latched onto Soler’s pass and sprinted clear from halfway to beat goalkeeper Benoit Costil with a neat side-footed shot.

Soler, who is in Spain’s World Cup squad, was replaced after one hour. Messi hit the post with a curling shot soon after.

Central defender Presnel Kimpembe, who has played only one hour of football since sustaining a hamstring injury on Sept. 18, was on the bench and came on for the last 15 minutes.

Kimpembe, who helped Les Bleus win the 2018 World Cup, is in France’s injury-hit squad.

“I had it in mind for him to play today,” Galthie said. “I didn’t want to start him because it’s a long time since he played.”

Attacking midfielder Renato Sanches added the fourth goal with an angled shot from the right that bounced in off the left post. Hugo Ekitike made it 5-0 with his first goal for the club.

Later Sunday, fourth-place Marseille visited fifth-place Monaco with the sides level on points.

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