PARIS (AP) — After Lionel Messi’s second-half goal helped a lackluster Paris Saint-Germain beat Toulouse 2-1 to move eight points clear at the top of the French league on Saturday, the team was urged to lighten their superstar’s load.
Messi struck with a typical curling strike in the 57th minute following a move with Morocco right back Achraf Hakimi, who drew PSG level late in the first half after free kick specialist Branco van den Boomen put Toulouse ahead in the 20th.
PSG was without injured forwards Kylian Mbappé and Neymar and relied heavily on Messi, who hit the post during stoppage time. Without Messi, who has hit 98 goals for Argentina, PSG would have struggled more.
“Messi was a very important driving force for us, given his goal and the chances he created. I’m asking the team to play for him and to work for him. He must be relieved of certain duties,” coach Christophe Galtier said. “His teammates must intensify their efforts to win the ball back and to create spaces, so that he can spray around his passes which are so rare.”
PSG needs Messi with Bayern Munich coming up on Feb. 14 in the first leg of their round-of-16 game in the Champions League.
Mbappé is out for at least three weeks after sustaining a left thigh tear. Neymar is having treatment for a sore adductor and missed his second straight game. PSG’s injury woes increased when Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches went off injured early with a thigh injury.
PSG had lost two and drawn one of its previous five matches, and fell behind in the 20th when Van den Boomen’s free kick from the right flew past stranded goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma into the left corner.
After Marquinhos hit the post with a header from Messi’s corner, PSG equalized with a fine 20-meter strike from Hakimi in the 38th.
But Marquinhos appeared offside on Messi’s goal, to the frustration of sarcastic-sounding Toulouse coach Philippe Montanier.
“I don’t know the rules of refereeing so well but I did play in goal for 30 years,” he said. “So I know that it’s difficult when a player gets in the way of the ball.”
Kosovo winger Edon Zhegrova equalized with a volley and set up substitute Rémy Cabella’s volleyed goal in the 85th minute as Lille won at Rennes 3-1 to move two points behind Rennes in fifth spot.
After scoring in the third minute in midweek, forward Amine Gouiri netted after only 28 seconds for Rennes.
Also, Alexandre Lacazette scored his 13th goal of the campaign — level with Mbappé — as Lyon won at Troyes 3-1.
Second-placed Marseille needs to beat Nice at home on Sunday to stay five points behind PSG ahead of their clash on Feb. 26.