The wait is almost over. A week and a half after joining Paris Saint-Germain, Lionel Messi looks set to make his debut against Reims on Sunday.
Following his shock exit from Barcelona as a free agent, Messi became the Ligue 1 giants’ fifth major signing of the transfer window, joining the superstars Mauricio Pochettino already had at his disposal.
Messi, alongside his former Barca team-mate Neymar, has been training for almost two weeks and Pochettino confirmed on Saturday that the duo would be included in the squad, though did not disclose whether or not they would start.
Kylian Mbappe will also travel, despite Real Madrid’s bids for the France star this week.
Stats Perform looks at how PSG could line up.
GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma
Navas has been one of Europe’s outstanding goalkeepers in recent seasons, ranking third for goals prevented (8.1, using expected goals on target data) in the top five leagues in 2020-21. Gianluigi Donnarumma – the Player of the Tournament at Euro 2020 – did not leave boyhood club Milan just to sit on the bench and after Navas made a pretty shoddy error last week, the 22-year-old could be set for his debut.
RB: Achraf Hakimi
Alessandro Florenzi headed back to Roma at the end of his loan, but PSG identified just about the best replacement on the market. Over the previous two seasons, Robin Gosens (34) was the only defender with more goal involvements than Hakimi (30), who scored on his first Ligue 1 appearance.
PSG won 72.5 per cent of the games Marquinhos played last season in all competitions, conceding 0.7 goals on average. Those numbers altered significantly in his absence, with a winning percentage of 52.9 while shipping 1.1 goals per game. Even with the club’s superstar signings, their captain remains one of the key men. After sitting on the bench against Brest and watching his team-mates concede twice, surely Marquinhos will be thrown back into the fray.
CB: Presnel Kimpembe
Sergio Ramos, another freebie, may no longer be able to play every game – he appeared only 15 times in LaLiga for Real Madrid last term – but PSG better hope he is there for the big ones. However, the 36-year-old will not be available until September, meaning France defender Kimpembe is likely to continue in the heart of defence for now. He made a game-high four clearances in the 4-2 home win over Strasbourg yet was shaky at Brest last week.
LB: Abdou Diallo
This is perhaps the one position on the pitch where PSG lack a genuine world-class option. Even if Pochettino were to bring in Kimpembe as a third centre-back, there is no outstanding left-sided wing-back. Diallo, a defensive full-back in an attacking team, gets the nod by virtue of starting the season fit and ahead of Layvin Kurzawa in the pecking order.
CM: Idrissa Gueye
Ander Herrera opened the scoring against Brest but it would be harsh in the extreme to drop Idrissa Gueye, who had the most touches (136) and went in for the most duels (18) of any PSG player in that game, not to mention the stunner he scored in the second half. His four tackles was also a joint-team high, and he would allow his fellow midfielders to push on.
CM: Marco Verratti
At the end of a season in which Marco Verratti was restricted to only 16 Ligue 1 starts, Euro 2020 provided a reminder of his talents. The Italy midfielder created a tournament-leading 14 chances across just five games while still completing 93.1 per cent of his 417 passes. He slotted straight back in against Brest, completing a game-high 85 passes in the opposition half.
CM: Georginio Wijnaldum
Angel Di Maria would be very unfortunate to miss out on a full-strength XI and undoubtedly still has a part to play even with Messi in place, but he too is only just back from international duty. Wijnaldum has featured in both of PSG’s Ligue 1 games so far and across his Liverpool Premier League career, led all Reds midfielders in recoveries (951) and duels won (645) and ranked second in interceptions (115) and third in tackles (181).
RW: Lionel Messi
Of course, Messi can play across the front three, but starting from the right – with Hakimi in the Dani Alves role outside him – will bring back memories of Barca teams of old. It is the role he occupied in 2014-15, forming part of perhaps the Blaugrana’s most exciting attacking trio, which of course Neymar was also part of.
CF: Kylian Mbappe
Mbappe has the Luis Suarez role, providing the direct runs in behind that create space in front of the defence for Messi and Co, and a video of the two stars linking up in training went viral this week. Last season’s 53 goal involvements did not quite match the forward’s career-high of 54 in 2018-19, but Mbappe can expect to break all sorts of records in this thrillingly creative line-up this term. Given he opened his account for the season with a brilliant header, and all the speculation over his future, the 22-year-old will surely be out to prove he can handle all of the noise.
Still the world’s most expensive player if no longer the biggest name in his own dressing room, Neymar was the third member of that 2014-15 front three. Having decided to step out of Messi’s shadow, the Brazil superstar wanted his old friend back. During their four years together at Barca, Neymar assisted Messi 22 times, while the six-time Ballon d’Or winner returned the favour on 20 occasions, and surely the chance to have this sensational front three starting together will be too tempting for Pochettino to turn down – even if it is harsh on the in-form Icardi.
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