Messi to make his mark?
All eyes on Paris as superstar expected to make PSG debut
Published: Aug 26, 2021 07:18 PM
Lionel Messi (left) and Neymar Photo: VCG

Lionel Messi (left) and Neymar Photo: VCG

All eyes will be on Paris St-Germain on Sunday when star signing Lionel Messi is expected to make his long-awaited debut for the Ligue 1 giants.

PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino hinted that his fellow Argentine is set to feature when they play Reims in their next match.

"It's been a very good week for Leo," Pochettino said after his PSG side beat Brest in the league last week.

"Next week will be a long one, but if all goes well, we hope he can be in the squad and start at a competitive level [against Reims]."

The Brest win made Pochettino's life easier in some ways as another Argentine international came off injured meaning he has one fewer of his forwards to consider when it comes to Sunday's match.

Mauro Icardi was set to undergo a scan on Saturday after injuring his shoulder in the 4-2 victory. Icardi went straight down the tunnel after being subbed off, showing clear signs of pain.

Pochettino talked it down but admitted to French media that "it doesn't look good."

Messi, of course, has not played since winning the Copa America with Argentina in the summer.

He spent last weekend in Spain, saying his goodbyes to former Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez.

Should Messi not feature for PSG at the weekend, it is likely that his next game is in an Argentina shirt as the international break follows the Riems match.

Pochettino told ESPN Argentina that he would not stand in the way of Messi playing for his homeland in their upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 tournament. Argentina face Venezuela and Bolivia in their qualifiers as they look to secure safe passage to Qatar.

The chances are that Messi will play some part in the Riems game and finally make the debut that the world is waiting for.

What can we expect from Messi's PSG bow? Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp played the occasion down when he spoke to German news outlet Bild.

"It's also blue and red, so the difference is not that big," Klopp said of the former Barcelona mainstay turning out in a new club kit. "It's difficult to imagine. But Barcelona are currently bathing the financial issues of the past. It is very, very rare that you go somewhere, really hit the plaster and then don't have to pay."

PSG's squad has been likened in some corners to Fantasy Football such are the star-studded additions they made this summer to a roster already stacked with riches beyond the wildest dreams of most rivals.

Besides Messi, PSG signed former Real Madrid skipper Sergio Ramos, AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Inter Milan standout Achraf Hakimi (who also arrived from Real Madrid after his loan spell at the Serie A champions) and former Klopp favorite Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool.

Klopp, whose own side are hoping to challenge for the English Premier League again this season after a disappointing defence of their title last time out, played down the embarrassment of riches at Pochettino's disposal.

"You can only play with 11," Klopp said. "It's not about who has the 11 best or most spectacular players on the field, but who makes the best of what they have together.

"Who makes the best of their opportunities? That is not unfair, it is just the topicality. A squad has to work. It's not that much fun when you have 40 players and 22 of them are not in a good mood any weekend.

"With us, all players have a right to exist and are very satisfied. But bringing in players just doesn't make sense," the German added.

The Liverpool boss also pointed out that the realities of such a Fantasy Football squad are somewhat more prosaic on the pitch in reality.

"Paris played 4-2 against Brest. If you see the names of Paris you'd expect it to be 8-0 - but it was 4-2.

"The nice thing about football is that nobody knows beforehand who will win. Some have better chances, some worse. But everyone has a chance."

Messi's former teammate at Barcelona Thierry Henry is another who thinks that PSG need to find a way to make their squad work.

"Balance is the most important thing. In a moment, we always talk about the best players, attacking, advancing. But there has to be a balance," he told Spain's Sport newspaper. "We talk about the team in which I played at Barca [with Samuel Eto'o and Messi] but people forget we didn't let in many goals. In general the teams that don't let in many goals aren't far from titles or Champions Leagues.

"When you have super human players it's a bit easier but when I see how Paris are doing at the moment, they are letting in a few too many goals for me. It's true, they're missing players but the balance is the most important thing."

Balance is indeed key and everyone has an eye on how Pochettino will find it, not least in making the most of Messi, his former teammate Neymar and a player who has been tipped to follow in the footsteps of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner in Kylian Mbappe.

It is a headache that most other coaches - even those at the elite end of European football - must envy, even if they can only admit to that in private.

As for the rest of the world they will watch on either to see Messi succeed or to see PSG, and their almost unparalleled financial clout, fall flat once more as they look to lift a first UEFA Champions League crown.

There is a long way to go before that, of course, and it all starts when Messi does. That could be as soon as this weekend.