VAR helps PSG but not Marseille; Mbappe shines not Neymar
PARIS (AP) — With two wins and six goals scored — including two each for Brazil star Neymar and World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe — Paris Saint-Germain seems to have made the perfect start to its title defense.
But things could have taken a completely different complexion if not for some fortunate decisions on Saturday.
Before Mbappe scored twice away to Guingamp in a 3-1 win in the French league, PSG would have been in big trouble without VAR.
Leading 1-0, Guingamp had a headed goal disallowed after use of the video assistant referee led to the actual referee deeming there had been a foul. Images and replays, however, proved inconclusive.
Then, with the scores at 1-1, Guingamp should have had a penalty after midfielder Marcus Coco was clearly fouled. Yet there was not even a VAR review.
PSG made the most of the reprieve as the 19-year-old Mbappe netted twice to underline his reputation as one of the world's best players.
The headline on sports daily L'Equipe's front page on Sunday said so.
"Comme Un Messie" (Like A Messiah), it read — a clear allusion to Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.
Mbappe, who scored four goals for France at the World Cup, shares the same devastating ability to change games as Messi.
"Individuals made the difference," PSG coach Thomas Tuchel told Guingamp coach Antoine Kombouare after the game.
It was a short but revealing comment because, beneath the veneer, things are not as smooth as they seem at PSG.
The troublesome Achilles heel from previous seasons — a lack of teamwork — still seems a major concern.
In the previous match, a 3-0 home win against Caen, PSG looked lackluster but was gifted two goals by glaring errors.
Although Tuchel and Mbappe insist Neymar is PSG's leader, he is not playing like one.
Against Guingamp, Neymar won and scored a penalty thanks to a piece of trademark trickery but — like against Caen — otherwise made little impact.
Late in the first half, Neymar even reproached 20-year-old teammate Christopher Nkunku for shooting from the edge of the penalty area rather than passing to him. Yet as an attacking midfielder, this is precisely Nkunku's remit.
Last season Nemyar bickered with striker Edinson Cavani — no less than PSG's all-time leading scorer — over who should take a penalty.
There is no doubting Tuchel's audacity.
In his first two league games, he has started with three youth academy players aged 19 or under — and also brought others on.
But he was almost caught out as Guingamp exposed PSG's inexperienced players in a one-sided first half.
VAR YOU SERIOUS?
VAR let PSG off but Marseille was let down by it.
Late in the first half of Marseilles' 3-1 defeat at Nimes on Sunday, forward Valere Germain was clearly yanked back by his jersey as he went to head the ball following a free kick.
Even though Germain was pulled to the ground by midfielder Teji Savanier there was no review.
The idea of VAR was to eradicate errors, but it appears to be prone to mistakes from its own officials.
Saido Mane, Ousmane Dembele, and now Ismaila Sarr?
The French league has another potential standout in Sarr: a 20-year-old Senegalese forward with Rennes.
Like his countryman Mane, who is now a Premier League success with Liverpool, Sarr was spotted playing in Senegal and then joined Metz.
Afer just one season with Metz in 2016-17, where he stood out with his dribbling at speed and finishing, Sarr was signed by Rennes.
In Saturday's 1-0 win against Angers, he scored another impressive individual goal — following several last season.
It's now a question of whether Rennes decides to cash in on him like they did with Dembele — who joined Barcelona last season in a deal that could reach nearly 150 million euros ($172 million).
Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire