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

  • Curry after Suns defeat Warriors: They're Western Conference champions for a reason Curry after Suns defeat Warriors: They're Western Conference champions for a reason

    Stephen Curry believes the Phoenix Suns showed why they are Western Conference champions after the Golden State Warriors were defeated on Tuesday.

    Phoenix (18-3) moved level with the Warriors at the top of the table with a 104-96 triumph, their record-equalling 17th straight win, matching the previous franchise-best set in 2006-07.

    The Suns' defence proved vital for the win, limiting Golden State to just 61 points after quarter-time as Curry and Draymond Green finished with only 12 and eight points respectively.

    Curry, who converted a meagre 4-for-21 from the field, insisted post-game that Monty Williams' side showed their championship credentials as the pair now sit with identical 18-3 records at the top of the Western Conference.

    "Losses definitely jolt the system a bit," Curry told reporters at the post-game news conference. "Credit to their length and multiple efforts. 

    "We'd rather win, but they're the Western Conference reigning champions for a reason. They're good.

    "With all of the mistakes we did have and how terrible I shot the ball, it was a close game down the stretch. I know [Devin] Booker got hurt, but yes, it was a good learning lesson for us. Understanding the intensity and the focus we need to beat a team like that.'' 

    The Warriors were held below the 100-point mark for the first time this season and it was also the first time they have not managed a century in 43 games.

    The Suns had veteran guard Chris Paul and Mikal Bridges to thank for a large portion of Golden State's season-high 22 turnovers and losing coach Steve Kerr appreciated the defensive job the opposition produced.

    "They frustrated us with the pick-and-roll," Steve Kerr said to reporters. "They did a really good job on Steph and Draymond in the pick-and-roll. 

    "It just didn't feel like we executed some of the other stuff. Then it felt to me like we were in a rush constantly. Teams are going to commit people to Steph the way that Phoenix did.

    "There are going to be openings. There are going to be openings for Jordan [Poole], openings for Otto [Porter Jr.]. 

    "There are going to be openings for Klay Thompson. That's going to be fun. [There is] a lot to look forward to, but the main thing we need to take from this is that we must get better. 

    "We played the Western Conference champions. They were the better team. We play them again in a few days. Let's see if we can make some improvements and carry that forward."

  • Harden credits 'aggressive' mindset after Nets edge past Knicks Harden credits 'aggressive' mindset after Nets edge past Knicks

    James Harden believes "being aggressive the entire game" was key for his starring role as the Brooklyn Nets held off the New York Knicks on Tuesday.

    The Nets went down 107-113 to the Phoenix Suns on Saturday but bounced back with a tight 112-110 victory over the Knicks at the Barclays Center.

    Harden struggled in the defeat to the Suns, converting just four of 16 attempted field goals, while registering seven turnovers and going none-for-six from three-point range.

    However, the 2018 MVP recovered by delivering his third 30-point game of the season – finishing with 34 – as he recorded a double-double with 10 rebounds, eight assists and three steals.

    The 32-year-old, who has had to deal with lingering hamstring strains since last season, credited a pre-game talk with Hall of Famer Reggie Miller for his dominant performance.

    "Reggie's the one that got me going," Harden told reporters at the post-game news conference. "Ultimate confidence, ultimate 'best player in the league'-type vibe. 

    "That mindset. He just hit me with some good motivation before the game – something I needed."

    Brooklyn coach Steve Nash called for Harden to adopt an attacking mindset all the time prior to the meeting with the Knicks and was subsequently granted his wish.

    Asked what had changed for Harden to dominate, the shooting guard responded: "Yeah, just being aggressive. Being aggressive. That's the only thing every night is my aggressiveness. I've just got to continue that.

    "Just not thinking about anything but being aggressive the entire game. The second half was a little different, but we had guys get going. 

    "Patty [Mills] started that second half off hot, Kevin [Durant] got going a little bit, so I was just aggressive. That's the mindset for four quarters."

    Durant also chipped in with 27 points, 21 of those coming in the second half, and nine assists while crucially finding an open lane for James Johnson, whose last-gasp free throws secured the decisive two-point lead.

    Durant's late show rallied the Nets to victory and the 33-year-old insisted he wants to play every available minute for Nash's side.

    "I want to play for 48 minutes," Durant said. "That's just what it is. And I know a lot of people — I don't even know if they're concerned or not. 

    "It's just a conversation to have. I'm playing more minutes and I'm coming off an injury and all this other stuff, but I like to play, and if I can convince coach to play me the whole second half sometimes and put me in earlier in quarters, I'm going to do it. 

    "It doesn't matter. My basketball life is not that long, so I'm going to get the most out of it."

  • Rumour Has It: Former Man City boss Mancini emerges as shock Man Utd contender Rumour Has It: Former Man City boss Mancini emerges as shock Man Utd contender

    Manchester United's search for a new permanent manager continues, with Mauricio Pochettino the favourite.

    Ralf Rangnick has been appointed on an interim basis until the end of the season, though Michael Carrick is set to preside over a third game as caretaker manager on Thursday.

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked last month after a poor run of results at the end of a trophy-less tenure.

     

    TOP STORY – MANCINI EMERGES AS SHOCK MAN UTD CONTENDER

    Former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has emerged as a contender for the vacant Man Utd managerial role, claims The Telegraph.

    The current Italy head coach, who led the Azzurri to the Euro 2020 title, is under "careful consideration" by United chiefs, according to the report.

    Mancini is contracted with Italy until 2026 on a lucrative deal but may potentially be available to take over from Rangnick pending Italy's World Cup qualification play-offs in March.

     

    ROUND-UP

    Milan want to sign Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette as soon as possible and will make a move for him in January rather than wait for him to become a free agent at the season's end, according to Sport Italia journalist Rudy Galetti.

    Man Utd have been offered the opportunity to sign Brazil attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho by Barcelona, reports Sport.

    - Sport also claims Barcelona have a "total agreement" to sign Man City's Spanish forward Ferran Torres, although they want the English champions to lower their asking price of £60million.

    Ajax are looking to do a deal with Tottenham to sign Dutch forward Steven Bergwijn on loan, according to De Telegraaf.

    - Calciomercato claims Juventus have pulled out of the race to sign Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni, with Chelsea leading the contenders.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.