Messi set for PSG debut? Will Pochettino unleash his fearsome front three?

By Sports Desk August 20, 2021

The wait is over. A week-and-a-half after joining Paris Saint-Germain, Lionel Messi could be set to make his debut against Brest on Friday.

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 star Neymar, has been training this week, and though Pochettino refused to confirm his squad during Thursday's news conference, it is expected the duo will play a part.

With Kylian Mbappe already back, here's how Pochettino could set out at Brest.

 

GK: Keylor Navas

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, at 22, represents the long-term option, but after only just returning to training, it is likely Pochettino will stick with the former Real Madrid goalkeeper for Friday's game, though the ex-Spurs boss did suggest Donnarumma may be available. 

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.

CB: Marquinhos

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. Even though he has just returned from an extended break following Brazil's Copa America exploits, it would not be surprising to see the former Roma man thrown straight back into the fray given PSG have conceded three times across their opening two matches.

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 last week's 4-2 home win over Strasbourg.

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, while he also assisted Mauro Icardi's opener against Strasbourg.

CM: Ander Herrera

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. However, it seems likely we will have to wait to see the playmaker link up with Messi, as he too is only just easing his way back into training. In his place, Herrera seems set to carry on in midfield and, in truth, is a more than able back-up. He attempted 100 passes on matchday two, completing 94 of them.

CM: Danilo Pereira

Leandro Paredes, Messi's international colleague, was trusted for the big occasions in the Champions League. However, he has just returned to training after helping Argentina win the Copa America, while Idrissa Gueye has been out due to COVID-19 protocols. Youngster Eric Ebimbe started against Strasbourg but was replaced by Pereira after an hour, and the towering Portuguese would add some presence in the middle of the park.

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. He already has two Ligue 1 assists to his name this season, and that is without playing alongside two of the world's best players.

LW: Neymar

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.

Related items

  • Irving will not change vaccine stance despite Durant layoff: I'm standing rooted in what I believe in Irving will not change vaccine stance despite Durant layoff: I'm standing rooted in what I believe in

    Kyrie Irving does not feel compelled to change his stance regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, despite the Brooklyn Nets potentially being without Kevin Durant for six weeks.

    The seven-time NBA All-Star has refused to be vaccinated against coronavirus and is therefore banned from playing in home games due to New York's vaccine mandate.

    Irving was left off the Nets' initial roster for the 2021-22 season, but that decision was reversed last month when the 29-year-old was included as a part-time player.

    He has been restricted to four road games so far and has averaged 20 points, which is down on his career average of 22.8.

    The Nets could do with Irving more than ever after losing Durant to a knee injury that will keep him out for at least a month, but the point guard is staying rooted to his decision.

    "That's what I think comes into a lot of this culture and basketball and sport and entertainment," he said. "You bring in teams and you bring in situations. 

    "Kev's going to heal, Kev's going to be okay, and we're going to have to deal with that as his team-mates. 

    "But in terms of where I am with my life outside of this, I stay rooted in my decision. And that's just what it is.

    "It's not going to be swayed just because of one thing in this NBA life. That somehow it's brought to my attention as being more important than what's going on in the real world. 

    "It's just not happening for me. I respect everyone else's decision. I'm not going to try to convince anyone of anything or any of that, I'm just standing rooted in what I believe in. 

    "Though we're dealing with this right now with Kev, I know I'm protected by the organisation, by my team-mates, by all the doctors I've talked to. And I just stand rooted."

    Irving was speaking after leading Brooklyn with 27 points in their 114-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday – his best tally since returning to action this month.

    The Nets are once again denied the chance to partner star trio James Harden, Durant and Irving, but head coach Steve Nash is hopeful others can step up.

    "It's a great opportunity for guys and our team to grow," he said. "We can't rely on Kevin in ways we could, and we have to find ways and solutions to be competitive without him."

    The Nets' 'Big Three' have played only 16 games together, going 13-3 across that period.

    "It's a great challenge for us," Nash added. "I don't spend time dwelling on it. It wouldn't do us any good. It wouldn't do me any good. 

    "It wouldn't do the team any good if the leader of the team is sitting at home contemplating how many games they haven't played.

    "That would take me away from being excited and positive to come in every day and try to affect the group positively for these guys to feel empowered and to grow."

  • Real Madrid great Paco Gento dies at 88 Real Madrid great Paco Gento dies at 88

    Real Madrid have announced that former star Paco Gento had died at the age of 88.

    The former Spain international was considered one of his country's greatest players of the 20th century and formed part of one of the finest Madrid teams in history.

    Gento scored 182 goals in 600 official matches for Los Blancos, winning a club-record 24 trophies, including 12 LaLiga titles and six European Cups. He remains the only man to have won Europe's top club competition more than five times.

    He also won 44 caps for Spain and featured at the 1962 and 1966 World Cups.

    "Paco Gento truly represents all the values of Real Madrid, and has been and will continue to be a reference for madridistas and for the sporting world," the club said in a statement on Tuesday announcing his passing.

    "He will always be remembered by madridistas and all football fans as one of their greatest."

    Francisco Gento, who began his career with regional teams in his native Cantabria, joined Racing Santander in 1953 before his transfer to Madrid, where he spent 18 hugely successful years.

    A fast and skilful wide player, described by Madrid as one "many believe to be the best left-winger of all time", Gento was part of an historic side that included Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Raymond Kopa and Hector Rial.

    He was part of the team that won the first five European Cups from 1956 to 1960 before he captained an all-Spanish Madrid side – known as the 'Ye-ye' Madrid – to a sixth title in 1966. Gento played in eight finals in total, a record he shares with Milan great Paolo Maldini.

    Gento also won 12 LaLiga titles between 1954 and 1969, before he took over as Castilla coach following his retirement in 1971. After spells coaching Castellon, Palencia and Granada, Gento took up an ambassadorial role with Madrid and became the club's honorary president following the death of Di Stefano in 2016.

    "He was fast and he hit the ball like a cannon," Di Stefano said of his old team-mate, as per Radio Marca. "That's not something you learn, it's something you're born with. You can only teach the rest."

  • Australian Open: Medvedev embracing the pressure but says Nadal remains the favourite Australian Open: Medvedev embracing the pressure but says Nadal remains the favourite

    Daniil Medvedev is happy to be considered the favourite for the Australian Open title but says Rafael Nadal remains the man to beat at Melbourne Park.

    World number two Medvedev is now the top-seeded player in the competition after Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia on Sunday.

    Competing in his first grand slam since winning the US Open in September, Medvedev made a solid start by seeing off Henri Laaksonen 6-1 6-4 7-6 (7-3) on Tuesday.

    The Russian, who lost last year's Australian Open final to Djokovic in straight sets, will now take on either Liam Broady or Nick Kyrgios in round two.

    He is aiming to become the first man in the Open Era to follow up his maiden Grand Slam title with another in his next major appearance.

    Medvedev is not shying away from the spotlight, but the 25-year-old considers Nadal the real favourite for the trophy because of his incredible record.

    "I like pressure but last year I started well here in Australia in the ATP Cup and I managed to be in the final here," he said.

    "The tournaments in Australia are always really important for me. I like to play in Australia on hard courts. I want to do better here than I did last year but it's not going to be easy.

    "But I always say whoever is the highest ranked is the favourite so this time I will go with Rafa because he has 20 Grand Slams."

    The 20 major singles titles won by Nadal is equal to Djokovic and Roger Federer, who is also absent in Melbourne due to injury, as the most by a men's player.

    Just one of those titles have come at the Australian Open, however, with the Spaniard – who beat Marcos Giron in his opening match on Monday – going all the way in 2009.

    Nadal and Medvedev are in opposite sides of the draw and are on course to meet in the final, but many challengers await between now and then.

    That path became a little clearer on Tuesday as world number eight Casper Ruud withdrew from the tournament due to an injured ankle.

    Ruud had been due to face Alex Molcan in the first round, but his place will be taken by lucky loser Roman Safiullin.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.