Neymar close to PSG return as Pochettino takes on critics
Mauricio Pochettino hopes Neymar will soon be available to reinforce his Paris Saint-Germain side as they chase Champions League glory.
Mauricio Pochettino revealed Neymar is close to returning for Paris Saint-Germain as he urged critics to respect the team's Champions League win over Barcelona.
The PSG head coach did not specify whether Neymar would come into contention for Sunday's home match against lowly Nantes, who sit 19th in the 20-team Ligue 1 table.
Speaking on Saturday, Pochettino faced questions about the performance of his players in the second leg of their clash with Barcelona, with a string of excellent saves by Keylor Navas, including a penalty stop from Lionel Messi, helping the French side snatch a 1-1 draw.
That clinched a 5-2 aggregate victory, and Pochettino wants to hear more admiration for such a scoreline, given the stature of the opposition.
On the question of when Neymar would return from an injury lay-off that has extended to a month, Pochettino explained: "I think I said there was a chance he'd be back for the Barcelona game.
"We also knew it would be difficult to set a timeframe because players' recoveries can be difficult to predict. He has trained with the squad today, we are pleased with his progress, and we hope he will be back with the team soon."
But Pochettino was probed over how PSG allowed Barcelona to be so dominant for large parts of the second leg of their European tie, particularly the first half, and he was not happy for his team's achievement to be followed by such interrogation.
"I don't understand why we should be so focused on that," Pochettino said.
"That was the story of the first half of the second leg against Barcelona when we didn't play well. That is the reality. But focusing too much on that in my opinion would be a mistake.
"Of course we analyse everything that happens during games but we mustn't forget the team have reached the quarter-finals after beating a strong Barcelona side, and overall it finished 5-2 after 180 minutes. That is the reality.
"There have been games where we played well and lost, such as the game against Monaco [which PSG lost 2-0 last month], and other games where we haven't performed so well.
"The most important thing is to learn and we do have to improve because none of us were happy with the first half, but after achieving such a big target I think our performance in the first half can be downplayed."
With third-placed Lyon only drawing against Reims on Friday, PSG remain in the thick of a title battle, with leaders Lille having a tricky clash with Monaco on Sunday.
Pochettino on Nantes challenge
PSG sit second as they chase a fourth successive league title, and they cannot afford to slip up against a Nantes side who are equally in need of points.
"Yes, it will be a tough game for us," Pochettino said. "I wouldn't say it would be a trap, but we are aware that after such a happy night for the club and the fans, with us getting through in the Champions League, it is in our minds that the next game is important. That is the theory, but we know it's an important game and we have to put that into practice.
"Preparation is essential in football. We often say we are ready, but Nantes are a physical side who will make things difficult, just as Monaco did after we played Barcelona [in the first leg], but that is why our performance level is essential and we have to be fresh.
"I will try to select a team that can really battle with Nantes and have that freshness that can give us the energy that we need in this sort of game."