Messi joins PSG: Will Mbappe suit Suarez role in new superstar front three?

By Sports Desk August 11, 2021

For Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League rivals, the most daunting thing is that they have seen this all before.

Lionel Messi has been unveiled as the Ligue 1 giants' latest superstar signing, reuniting him with friend and former team-mate Neymar at the Parc des Princes.

As Barcelona did between 2014 and 2017, though, PSG have more besides the great Argentina and Brazil number 10s.

At Camp Nou, Luis Suarez arrived from Liverpool to quickly link up with his two fellow forwards and fire Barca to European glory.

This time, Kylian Mbappe, already at PSG, is the third man in a frightening front line.

On paper, it is a terrifying prospect, but can the PSG trio work together as Barca's famous 'MSN' did for three years?

Goals and assists galore

Across the three seasons Messi, Suarez and Neymar played together in Catalonia, the three players ranked first (149), third (128) and joint-sixth (89) for goal involvements in Europe's top five leagues.

Only four players registered both 30 goals and 30 assists in that period and three of them played for Barca. Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, was the other.

Barca and Ronaldo's Real Madrid accounted for six of the 10 highest-scoring LaLiga seasons by a team in the competition's history over the space of those three years.

Spanish football has never before or since been as exciting – and Messi, Suarez and Neymar (and Ronaldo) were at the forefront, pushing one another on.

In that time, Messi and Suarez combined for a goal every 198 minutes in the league (36 in total from 144 chances created together). Messi and Neymar between them created 2.1 chances for one another per 90 minutes, resulting in 22 assists, while Suarez and Neymar were also an effective combination with 26 assists.

 

Messi and Neymar had already had a single season together in 2013-14, so it was Suarez's seamless introduction that was most impressive. His 43 assists over those three years tied with Messi and trailed only Kevin De Bruyne (47).

This time it is Messi's turn to join an established duo, with Neymar and Mbappe setting an alarming standard in their limited time together on the pitch.

Injuries to Neymar have limited them to 3,552 minutes – less than half as many as Messi and Suarez over a longer period – but they have combined for 102 chances (2.6 per 90) and 21 assists (one every 169 minutes).

Missing the middle man

The similarities in this context are clear, but Mbappe and Suarez are very different players in a number of ways, including their positioning. Messi and Neymar have changed their roles since they first combined, too, and that is why this front three might require a little work at first.

In 2014-15, their first season together at Barca, the Blaugrana trio's touch maps told the tale of a balanced forward line.

A huge 60.1 per cent of Neymar's touches were on the left flank in the attacking half, with 33.4 per cent concentrated in an area just outside the box.

With the former Santos man staying left, Messi and Suarez were able to link up across the rest of the final third. Messi started from the right but took 22.5 per cent of his touches in the very centre of the attacking half, the same zone in which Suarez enjoyed 17.9 per cent of his touches.

Suarez, with 20.4 per cent of his touches on the left wing in the final third and 23.1 per cent on the right, was capable of drifting out to either side to create space but would rarely occupy these spaces for an extended period. That is a crucial contrast to Mbappe.

Mbappe last season took 57.9 per cent of his touches on the left flank in the attacking half, with only 11.6 per cent on the right. That left-sided share actually dwarfed Neymar's 46.3 per cent in the same position, indicating both their lack of playing time together and a slightly freer role for the world's most expensive player.

 

Indeed, the natural striker is the one of the three PSG forwards who uses the least of his touches through the centre. Messi, like Neymar, has become even more of a central figure since breaking away from the 'MSN' attack, last term taking 25.1 per cent of his touches in a central position just outside the box.

These touches speak to a fluid PSG approach, but they may need Mbappe to stretch the play down the middle and provide a focal point – something Suarez did that suits neither Messi nor Neymar.

Pressing from the front

Barca's front three of 2014-15 were not just brilliant in possession, they were also an effective force without the ball, winning it back to quickly get on the attack once more.

Luis Enrique's men allowed just 7.0 passes per defensive action (PPDA), not letting their opponents rest and forcing 370 high turnovers that contributed to starting their attacks 44.7 metres upfield on average.

PSG are starting from a slightly lower, if still impressive, base in a pressing sense this season. They allowed 8.9 PPDA and forced 337 high turnovers to start attacks 43.7 metres upfield on average.

It is likely Mauricio Pochettino, who employed a pressing game at Tottenham, will want to move up another gear in his first full season at the club, but that might be easier said than done with the players at his disposal.

In 2014-15, Messi led all LaLiga forwards in winning possession 37 times in the final third. Neymar (26) was second and Suarez (16) joint-11th. Across Europe's top five leagues, only Karim Bellarabi (also 37) could match Messi in this regard.

Messi has never since tallied as many final-third recoveries, with that rate of 1.0 per 90 now halved to 0.5 at the age of 34.

Neymar, in limited minutes, reached a new high by winning possession 1.3 times per 90 in 2020-21, yet his tackle rate of 0.9 is considerably down on 2014-15's high of 1.5.

Mbappe twice recovered the ball in the final third in PSG's opening league game of this season against Troyes and last year peaked with 23 such examples across the campaign, but they counted among 59 total possession gains – Messi and Neymar each passed 100 in 2014-15.

So, a revival of that devastating Barca press in Paris seems unlikely at this stage, even if Messi and Neymar, with a new partner, look primed to thrill again.

Whether the silky interplay is as effective without the other side of the game is a query that should be answered by May.

Related items

  • Valencia report death threats made to president Murthy to police Valencia report death threats made to president Murthy to police

    Valencia have reported death threats made to president Anil Murthy to the police.

    Murthy, members of his family and employees at the LaLiga club have also been targeted by fans.

    Valencia revealed back in October 2019 that the club had informed police of death threats made to Murthy.

    With Jose Bordalas' side 11th in LaLiga and losing to Real Betis on penalties in the Copa del Rey final, supporters are alleged to have crossed the line again.

    A club statement said: "Valencia CF, through the club's legal services, are compiling all death threats, insults and other actions against president Anil Murthy, his relatives and club employees.

    "This Wednesday morning, these actions have been reported to the police, and in the coming days an update of the complaint will be carried out, including reporting demonstrations of hatred and threats of acts of violence carried out on social networks.

    "This type of behaviour is not acceptable in society, it does not represent any of the values of Valencia CF and may lead to legal consequences."

    The club earlier this month called on their supporters to respect Bordalas as they condemned "the harassment" of the coach and his players.

    Bordalas was appointed as Valencia before the start of the 2021-22 campaign, just two days after departing Getafe following a successful five-season spell.

    The 58-year-old was chosen by Valencia owner Peter Lim as the successor to Javi Gracia, who became the 11th coach to leave the club in the past nine years.

  • Shastri urges BCCI to give pace sensation Malik central contract 'straightaway' Shastri urges BCCI to give pace sensation Malik central contract 'straightaway'

    Ravi Shastri has urged the BCCI to give Umran Malik a central contract with India "straightaway" and says the paceman will be a "handful" in red-ball cricket.

    Malik has taken the 2022 Indian Premier League by storm, claiming 21 wickets at an average of 20 for Sunrisers Hyderabad.

    The 22-year-old clocked the fastest ball in this year's tournament with a delivery that registered 156.9 kilometres per hour on the speed gun against Delhi Capitals this month.

    Malik rattled India captain Rohit Sharma on the helmet and took 3-23 to make another huge statement in Sunrisers' win over Mumbai Indians on Tuesday.

    He became the youngest Indian to take 20 wickets in an IPL season with his latest exhibition of explosive pace bowling.

    Former India head coach Shastri wants to see the rapid Malik in Rohit's pace attack on the international stage in the near future.

    "Central contract straightaway," Shastri said on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time Out.

    "And keep him in the mix, don't let him float around. Keep him in the mix with the main players and then he learns seeing (and) being around with the [Mohammed] Shamis and the [Jasprit] Bumrahs, and see the way they train, see the way they manage their workload.

    "Of course, there'll be the team management there, support staff, that'll help him do that, but don't let him stray at the moment. Get him into the mix, and keep him there and groom him."

    Shastri says the quick will be even more potent when he learns to bowl with more control.

    He said: "He'll get better and better. You see his bowling once he takes a wicket. Look at the lines he starts bowling as opposed to when he has not got a wicket – that's when he is trying everything, his lines are all over the place.

    "You don't want him to cut down on pace. The last thing you would tell him looking for control, cut down on pace. What you want him to do is get his lines right: if he can bowl that stump line, attack the stumps on a constant basis, varying his lengths, he will trouble [batters].

    "If he gets a wicket and new guy comes in, he can really rattle him because he has got the pace, he can keep the bloke on his toes, but it's that line - if he gets into that channel, without cutting his pace it will make a huge difference."

    Shastri says Malik can provide a new dimension to the India Test attack.

    "I promise you, this guy is going to be a handful in red-ball cricket. Handful, really. If he is part of an Indian pace battery that has Bumrah, Shami, you add this bloke in, a fourth guy, it's going to be a serious attack," he added.

  • Tuchel confirms Christensen opted out of FA Cup final for 'private' reasons Tuchel confirms Christensen opted out of FA Cup final for 'private' reasons

    Thomas Tuchel has no idea if Andreas Christensen will play for Chelsea again after the defender ruled himself out of the FA Cup final for "private" reasons.

    Christensen's contract expires at the end of the month and Barcelona are the favourites to sign him on a free transfer.

    The Denmark international started in the 3-0 Premier League win at Leeds United, but was not in the squad for a defeat to Liverpool on penalties on the FA Cup final at Wembley last Saturday.

    Blues boss Tuchel on Wednesday confirmed the centre-back told him he was unavailable on the morning of the game.

    Tuchel is unsure if Christensen will play in the London club's two remaining Premier League games against Leicester City on Thursday and Watford three days later, as they strive to secure third place. 

    Asked if Christensen will return, the German said in a press conference: "Not sure yet if he's involved tomorrow and at the weekend.

    "Andreas came on the morning of the match and told me he was not ready to play.

    "He had his reasons, they stay private and confidential, but it was not the first time as you can see over the last weeks we had some of the same situations why he did not play so regularly.

    "We thought that we are in a good progression and good development because he played very strong in the match before the final against Leeds but the conversation took place and we have to respect it and we of course respected it and he has our support.

    "It is unlikely for the weekend, it was on very short notice before the cup final and other matches in the weeks before. So no chance I have any prediction for tomorrow and the weekend."

    Timo Werner will miss the clash with Leicester due to a thigh injury, while Kai Havertz also has a thigh problem and will be monitored ahead of the game.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.