There's a well-known saying in France: "The absentees are always wrong."
Neymar missed Paris Saint-Germain's crucial 3-0 win at rivals Marseille in Ligue 1 on Sunday through injury, and considering that it was one of PSG's best performances of the season — and in Le Classique, no less — the Brazilian was one of the big losers on the night.
In what was one of the biggest games of the season for the defending champions, Christophe Galtier's side were balanced, compact, efficient. They played with cohesion and a proper team spirit. And the 3-5-2 formation, which got the most out of Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe in tandem up front, worked perfectly against the Marseille high line. Together they produced a masterclass, each reaching a career milestone as well: Mbappe notched his 200th goal for PSG, tying the club's record set by Edinson Cavani, and Messi celebrated his 700th goal at club level.
Had Marseille won the game, they would have moved to within two points of PSG at the top of Ligue 1; instead, the gap at the summit has widened to eight points.
We will never know how the game would have gone had Neymar played alongside his two superstar teammates, but the collective expression without the No. 10 on the pitch was the best we've seen this season, and against a good team with an aggressive press and a thoughtful plan.
In all the tough games PSG played this season with their fabled "MNM" trio, against teams with a press and a plan, the front three exposed their limitations. In a 1-1 draw at Benfica in the Champions League, PSG struggled, losing the xG battle against their Portuguese opponents. Against Stade de Reims at the Parc des Princes in Ligue 1, the front three was a burden rather than a boost: the away side had 17 shots and should have won, with the game finishing 1-1. Against Lille at home, PSG made heavy work of things and needed two very late goals for a miraculous 4-3 victory.