Is Kylian Mbappe's future nearing a resolution?

Mbappe is out of contract at the end of the season and the Paris Saint-Germain forward is no closer to extending his contract in the
French capital.

Real Madrid are reportedly poised to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID NEARING MBAPPE DEAL?

Real Madrid are closing in on Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Monday's Marca.

Mbappe is in the final year of his PSG contract and he has reportedly made it clear he has no intention of re-signing in Paris.

Long touted to join Madrid, the LaLiga giants' pursuit of Mbappe is set to enter a decisive phase this week.

The Transfer Window podcast, however, claims Liverpool will attempt to sign Mbappe on a free transfer at the end of the 2021-22 season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport reports Barcelona are monitoring Arsenal pair Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as they look to rebuild following Lionel Messi's departure to PSG.

- Inter are eyeing Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne but want a discount on the Italy star, claims Sky Sport Italia. Napoli value Insigne at around €25-30million with one year remaining on his contract. Lazio's Joaquin Correa, Atalanta forward Duvan Zapata and Fiorentina sensation Dusan Vlahovic have also been linked to Inter.

- Sport Italia says Tottenham are in talks with Fiorentina for centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, who has been linked with West Ham. Spurs are also keen on Fiorentina star Vlahovic, according to Sport Italia.

- According to Cadena SER, Antoine Griezmann is open to returning to Atletico Madrid this off-season. Griezmann swapped Atletico for Barca in 2019.

Luka Jovic has decided he wants to join Inter on loan, per Nerazzurri Siamo Noi. The Madrid outcast has also been linked with Eintracht Frankfurt, Sampdoria and Genoa.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City are tracking Metz's 18-year-old midfielder Pape Matar Sarr, claims the Daily Mail.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique compared Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe to Brazilian great Ronaldo as he hailed Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

Mbappe and Haaland are two of the most in-demand players in the transfer market, with LaLiga giants Real Madrid reportedly interested in both.

PSG's Mbappe – entering the final year of his contract in Paris – has long been tipped to join Madrid, while Haaland has also been linked with Barca, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

Mbappe scored in PSG's 4-2 Ligue 1 win at home to Strasbourg on Saturday, having now either scored or assisted in seven consecutive matches in the competition (eight goals, four assists).

Haaland took his tally to 62 goals in 61 games for Dortmund after bagging a brace as the German giants opened their Bundesliga season with a 5-2 rout of Eintracht Frankfurt.

Pique was asked to pick between Mbappe and Haaland in an appearance on Twitch following Barca's 4-2 victory over Real Sociedad on Sunday, and he replied: "Mbappe and Haaland are different.

"One is very similar to Ronaldo Luis Nazario, who is Mbappe. Haaland is more powerful, stronger, he is a goal killer."

Barca kicked off the Lionel Messi-less era by seeing off Sociedad at Camp Nou in the opening game of the LaLiga season.

Messi – the club's all-time leading goalscorer – joined PSG after his contract expired, with Barca's financial difficulties forcing the six-time Ballon d'Or winner to leave.

"It was tough," Pique said on Messi's exit. "I have known him since I was 13 years old.

"He has made us all better. We have to accept it because it is reality. We will all step forward to be competitive."

Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino insists he did not hear the jeers directed at Kylian Mbappe before and during Saturday's 4-2 Ligue 1 win over Strasbourg.

Mbappe – making his 150th Ligue 1 appearance – was a leading light for PSG at the Parc des Princes, getting an assist for Julian Draxler and also finding the net via a massive deflection off Ludovic Ajorque in the first half.

He was a regular threat to the Strasbourg defence but will likely be frustrated not to have added more goals as he was denied by Matz Sels twice in the second period.

Despite consistently being the biggest danger in a PSG side that faded badly in the second half and saw their 3-0 lead cut to 3-2, Mbappe was targeted by certain sections of the crowd.

The France international is into the final year of his contract at the club, and although president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said Mbappe had no reason not to extend his deal following the signing of Lionel Messi, an agreement still eludes PSG as Real Madrid circle.

However, Pochettino is convinced Mbappe remains utterly focused.

 

"Kylian is focused on our goals. He did well and I am very happy with his performance. He must continue like this," said Pochettino.

"I didn't hear the whistles against Mbappe."

Earlier in the evening it was all cheers for the fans in the Parc des Princes, which welcomed a capacity crowd for the first time since February 2020. Those in attendance got their first glimpse of Messi following his arrival from Barcelona.

Messi and his fellow new signings – including former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos – were presented on the pitch before the game to a raucous ovation, though neither of those two actually played.

Pochettino wished he could have joined in the celebrations.

"It was a great day for the PSG family, there was an amazing atmosphere," Pochettino said.

"I was not present during the presentation of the signings, but the feedback we got was that it was incredible.

"All players need to feel this affection from the fans. I want to congratulate the whole club again. We experienced something moving. I would have preferred to be outside the changing rooms to experience this.

"It's always nice to see our supporters up close. Football is different with the public. A year and a half later, it feels good."

Paris Saint-Germain had last played in front of a full Parc des Princes on February 29 last year, a 4-0 win over Dijon. It's unlikely many fans in attendance on that day would have contemplated the idea of Lionel Messi being present upon their next visit.

Yet despite Messi not actually being involved, his presence was certainly felt.

The Barcelona great – like the rest of PSG's new signings – was paraded on the pitch before kick-off of Saturday's visit of Strasbourg, simultaneously setting fans' tongues wagging and surely leaving Ligue 1 defenders quaking in their boots, if they weren't already.

As Messi stood there with a big grin on his face, arm around Sergio Ramos of all people, the sheer nonsense of the situation just set in a little more. Previously two pillars of arguably the most famous rivalry in world football, now they're both party to the same 'galactico' project in Paris.

Understandably, the pre-match show helped stir up an incredible atmosphere, and it all seemed to rub off on the players as well, with PSG 3-0 up inside 27 minutes.

But if there was one thing PSG's eventual 4-2 victory suggested, it was that Ramos' arrival is arguably the more important of the two transfers.

After all, Messi wasn't the only one of their soon-to-be first-choice front three absent; Neymar was sat up in the stands next to him, owing to lack of fitness following his Copa America exploits.

But they still had Kylian Mbappe out strutting his stuff, seemingly relishing all eyes being on him, the France superstar tormenting the Strasbourg defence relentlessly with his direct running and astonishing pace.

Perhaps it was a taste of what life might be like at Real Madrid should he choose not to renew in Paris; he was the main man and the star of the show, whereas he'll soon have to share the spotlight with not just Neymar but his old Barcelona pal as well.

That's not to say Mbappe looked anything other than focused on where he was, in what was his 150th Ligue 1 appearance.

 

Soon after Mauro Icardi – another big name, though one who'll likely be reduced to a back-up role – nodded PSG in front in just the third minute, Mbappe carved open the Strasbourg defence with a disguised pass in from the left, though it was ultimately a little too deceptive as it even caught Georginio Wijnaldum flat-footed.

He was then in the thick of the action as PSG went 2-0 up, cutting in from the left and hammering a ferocious effort that went in off Ludovic Ajorque, and Mbappe did much of the damage to make it 3-0, too.

Stepover. Shimmy. Another stepover and then an explosion of pace. He made himself the tiniest bit of space to squeeze a left-footed cross into the danger zone and Julian Draxler was on hand to tap in.

Mbappe somehow failed to add another himself, shooting at Matz Sels twice after the break. The second of which, in the 62nd minute, was a particularly strong opportunity with an expected goals (xG) value of 0.35 – the one he created for Draxler was 0.90.

By that point Strasbourg had already been given some encouragement, with Kevin Gameiro capitalising on the shoddy awareness of Achraf Hakimi and Thilo Kehrer in the 53rd minute to ghost between them and head in.

Then, swiftly after Mbappe's second miss, Ajorque made a mockery of Presnel Kimpembe as he slashed the deficit to one goal with an emphatic header that also left Keylor Navas helpless.

 

For a significant part of the second half, Strasbourg looked the better team. PSG had seemingly become comfortable with their lead and that complacency was being capitalised on by the visitors.

But two yellow cards in quick succession for Alexander Djiku essentially spelled game over for Strasbourg, and PSG made it 4-2 soon after through Pablo Sarabia.

Majeed Waris should have pulled one back, his shot into the side-netting seeing him waste a chance with an xG value of 0.38, making it the worst miss of the day.

 

Mauricio Pochettino's men ultimately survived this scare, but their second-half drop-off will have been a real worry for the head coach and his staff – had Strasbourg got the score back to 3-3, it would have been utterly humiliating.

While this was of course a PSG without Marquinhos, their defensive frailty and seeming arrogance when thinking the game was won had Ramos' signing looking like an absolute necessity.

Lionel Messi was in the stands at the Parc des Princes on Saturday to see his new Paris Saint-Germain team-mates make hard work of a 4-2 win over Strasbourg in Ligue 1.

Neither Messi nor Neymar were included in Mauricio Pochettino's squad as they build fitness at the start of the season, although PSG's latest signing was paraded on the pitch alongside Sergio Ramos and their other recruits before the match.

It was Kylian Mbappe who was front and centre once the action got under way, netting the second goal before creating the third for Julian Draxler and the fourth for Pablo Sarabia after Mauro Icardi – surely one of the men to make way in a full-strength XI – had opened the scoring.

Sarabia's goal came following Alexander Djiku's late red card, prior to which Strasbourg threatened to wipe out PSG's lead, hitting back through Kevin Gameiro and Ludovic Ajorque to dampen the party mood a little.

The game had begun amid a raucous atmosphere and there were just 139 seconds on the clock when Icardi met Abdou Diallo's left-wing cross with a fine header, deemed onside following a VAR review.

Strasbourg did not immediately fold, but two deflections in quick succession appeared to put the game beyond them.

First, Mbappe cut inside from the left and arrowed in a shot that was redirected beyond Matz Sels by an unwitting Ajorque, then the France forward went to the byline and his cross looped up off Lucas Perrin for Draxler to tap in.

However, Sels blocked bravely from Mbappe at the start of the second half, allowing Strasbourg to go down the other end and score as former PSG forward Gameiro expertly nodded beyond Keylor Navas.

In a repeat of earlier in the half, Sels then denied Mbappe and Ajorque produced an even better header to prompt real nerves in the home ranks.

But Djiku, already booked, was carded once more for a foul on Icardi, reducing Strasbourg to 10 men and putting PSG back in the ascendancy, with another Mbappe run down the left resulting in a simple finish for Sarabia.

What does it mean? Complacency a concern

PSG were the better side in the first half, but the scoreline flattered them a little. If not for a marginal offside call and a couple of fortuitous deflections, the teams might have headed into the break all square.

So Pochettino would have been worried to see his players seemingly consider the job done as they returned after the interval, allowing Strasbourg to gain a foothold – with 51.5 per cent of the possession in the first 15 minutes of the second half – and almost tear up the script entirely.

Mbappe makes hay

Mbappe had not netted for club or country since before Euro 2020, but he is a dominant force in Ligue 1, now having either scored or assisted in seven consecutive matches in the competition (eight goals, four assists).

The star attraction in the absence of Messi and Neymar, Mbappe had the freedom to play primarily from the left, with 47.6 per cent of PSG's attacks coming down that flank before the break.

Missing Marquinhos

Messi and Neymar were not the only big names in attendance, with Ramos and, notably, Marquinhos also in the stands rather than on the pitch.

And while Mbappe was able to lead the line effectively, the stand-in defenders were less impressive. Strasbourg were allowed to have eight attempts, with both goals coming from crosses – two of three that found visiting players in the PSG area.

What's next?

As PSG fans eagerly await Messi's debut, they next turn their focus to Friday's trip to Brest. Strasbourg host Troyes next Sunday.

Tammy Abraham appears close to leaving Stamford Bridge.

With Romelu Lukaku arriving at Chelsea from Serie A, Roma are calling for Abraham.

Or will he remain in the Premier League? 

 

TOP STORY – ROMA PUSHING FOR ABRAHAM

The dominoes appear to be falling into place for Tammy Abraham's move to Roma, and the Italian club are pushing for a decision from the player, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

With Edin Dzeko expected to complete his move to Inter in the coming days and Romelu Lukaku now officially a Chelsea player, Abraham could complete the triangle with a jump to Serie A. 

Multiple outlets have said the two clubs already have agreed a £34million (€40m) fee. 

Arsenal remain a possibility to land Abraham should the Roma move not work out. 

If that happens, Jose Mourinho's side have lined up Kelechi Iheanacho as their next option, according to Sky Sports. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Villarreal want €65m (£55m) for Spain international Pau Torres, and the Times says Tottenham are ready to pounce with Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool also interested. 

- Paris Saint-Germain could make a move for Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly to fill the hole left by Sergio Ramos' injury, says La Gazzetta dello Sport. The Serie A club will want €50m (£43m) for the veteran centre-back.

- Liverpool are interested in adding Adama Traore, but Wolves want £40m for the forward, according to 90min. 

- West Ham have long been the favourites to land Nikola Milenkovic from Fiorentina but Sky Sports says Tottenham have entered the frame for the Serbia defender. 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was not in attendance for Arsenal's season-opening defeat at Brentford due to illness and The Times reports he could be on his way out at Emirates Stadium. 

- Manchester United are poised to loan out Amad Diallo, reports Romano, with Crystal Palace and Basel among those interested in the young Ivory Coast winger.

- Everton have approached United about another potential loan, for Andreas Pereira, though Romano says United prefer a permanent move. 

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti expressed his shock at Lionel Messi's Barcelona departure in a pre-match news conference that was dominated by questions relating to Kylian Mbappe.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner ended his 21-year association with Barca on Tuesday by penning an initial two-year deal at Paris Saint-Germain with the option of a third.

Messi looked set to sign a new contract with Barca, but the cash-strapped club were unable to fulfil the agreement in place with their greatest ever player.

It means there is a massive void in the Blaugrana's team, given he directly contributed to 39 goals in LaLiga last season – scoring 30 and setting up a further nine.

Antoine Griezmann was the only other player to reach double figures for goal involvements (20), with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with nine.

In will be the first season since 2003-04 that Barca have been unable to call upon Messi, and Ancelotti – set to begin his second spell in charge of Madrid – acknowledged it caught him off guard.

"I'm surprised, shocked," he told reporters ahead of Saturday's LaLiga opener against Deportivo Alaves.

"He was always Barca's emblem really, since he was a child. But I've been in this game 40 years, I've seen lots of players change allegiances. I fully respect his decision and Barcelona's decision."

 

Nevertheless, he does not think the loss of Messi will impact Barca dramatically.

"I'm pretty sure Barca will still be a rival, and Atletico," he continued. "Barca even without Messi is still one of the biggest clubs in the world, I don't think much will change."

Messi's new PSG team-mate Mbappe was also a hot topic of conversation on Friday.

The France international is now in the final year of his contract and has been strongly linked with a move to Madrid for a while, though PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi feels Mbappe now has no excuse not to renew his deal following the arrival of Messi.

Ancelotti was reluctant to speak about Mbappe, even as reporters persistently pressed him on Madrid's apparent interest.

"I'm not keen on talking about players who aren't part of my squad," he told them. "I'm happy with the squad, I've a good mix of veterans and good up-and-coming players.

"I've seen some good young players training, players for the future but who could also be important now, like [Antonio] Blanco, Miguel [Gutierrez], [Marvin] De La Fuente, [Victor] Chust.

"Then there's veterans like Casemiro, Luka Modric... Casemiro's improved a lot since I was last here.

"So, I don't think it's right for me to talk about players who aren't at this club. I'm a football fan and happy to see these players here, seeing them training and working day in, day out.

"I still have a great relationship with the PSG owner, I was of course a coach there, I worked at a fantastic club and had a great working relationship with him, but I don't know what he's thinking [regarding Mbappe's future]."

Another forward Madrid have been linked with is Everton's Richarlison, who Ancelotti coached while at Goodison Park, and the Italian was a little more forthcoming about his opinion on the Brazil attacker.

"I'm really fond of him," he said. "He's an Everton footballer and I don't like to talk about players who play for other clubs, but of course I'm really fond of him."

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not among the final nominees for the 2020-21 Champions League positional awards.

On Friday, UEFA announced the 12 players, three per position, who could win the individual prizes on August 26.

The 12 players each received the most points in each positional category following a jury vote. The jury comprised coaches from the 32 clubs that entered into the group stage last season, as well as 55 journalists representing UEFA's 55 member associations. Coaches could not vote for players from their own teams.

Messi came fourth in the poll for the best forwards, while Ronaldo did not make the top 10. Each player was eliminated at the last-16 stage, Barcelona losing to Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus to Porto.

Five of the 12 nominees are from Chelsea, who won their second Champions League by beating Manchester City in the final. Edouard Mendy, Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, N'Golo Kante and Jorginho are all nominated.

City have three representatives – Ederson, Ruben Dias and Kevin De Bruyne – while beaten semi-finalists Real Madrid and PSG provide one each: Thibaut Courtois, and Kylian Mbappe.

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, who finished as top scorer last season with 10, are the other nominees.

The winners of the best goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward prizes will be announced at the group-stage draw in Istanbul in two weeks' time.

Harry Kane remains a Tottenham player with the new Premier League season set to commence.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has declared their interest in signing the England international.

The situation has been at a standstill and remains unresolved.

 

TOP STORY - CITY READY TO UP KANE BID

Manchester City are willing to pay €150m (£127m) for Harry Kane as they try to convince Tottenham to sell their captain, claims The Guardian via Fabrizio Romano.

Spurs have reiterated Kane is not for sale this off-season despite the forward's reported request to leave late last season.

Tottenham turned down a €117m (£100m) bid previously, which is the same amount City spent to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa.

 

ROUND-UP

- AS have reported that Paris Saint-Germain will look to sign Cristiano Ronaldo in 2022 as a replacement given the anticipated exit of Kylian Mbappe, whose contract expires next year. Mbappe is a long-time target for Real Madrid.

- Tottenham have ramped up their bid to sign Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic, amid interest from Atletico Madrid claims Sky Sport Italia. Spurs will offer €60m (£51m) including bonuses.

- Corriere dello Sport reports that Barcelona are shopping around Philippe Coutinho, who has been offered to Lazio, Milan and Inter.

- Tammy Abraham remains unconvinced about moving to Roma despite meeting with the Italian club who had agreed terms with Chelsea, reports Corriere dello Sport.

- The Sun claims Everton have joined Tottenham, Inter and Zenit in pursuing Napoli skipper Lorenzo Insigne.

Lionel Messi has joined Paris Saint-Germain training and was given a warm welcome by superstar team-mate Kylian Mbappe.

Messi this week completed his stunning free transfer to PSG having left Barcelona.

The deal was completed on Tuesday, before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner faced the media on Wednesday. On Thursday, he was able to link up with his new team-mates.

On their official Instagram page, PSG posted a short video clip to their story showing Messi going through running drills.

Meanwhile, Mbappe – whose contract talks are now the club's chief focus – posted pictures of an embrace with the 34-year-old great.

"Welcome to Paris, Leo," he wrote, adding a further caption on his story: "Legend."

PSG are expected to move some squad players out to offset the cost of Messi's deal and a tentative first transfer was secured on Thursday.

Timothee Pembele, the 18-year-old defender who featured six times in Ligue 1 for PSG last season, has joined Bordeaux on loan until the end of the season.

Bordeaux have the option to sign Pembele permanently, too, with a PSG statement telling the teenager to "develop the qualities he has already shown".

Kylian Mbappe has "no excuse" to leave Paris Saint-Germain following Lionel Messi's arrival, according to club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Messi was unveiled at a press conference at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday while thousands of fans gathered outside the stadium to welcome the superstar forward.

The Argentina captain signed a two-year deal, with the option of a further 12 months, after Barcelona were unable follow through on the terms they agreed with the 34-year-old due to financial problems.

Mbappe has less than year remaining on his contract with the Ligue 1 club but PSG president Al-Khelaifi believes the France forward has no option but to stay and play alongside Messi and Neymar.

"Everyone knows the future of Kylian," said Al-Khelaifi. "He's a competitive player who wants to win trophies - he's said that himself.

"He wanted a competitive team, [with Messi] there is no excuse. He can't do anything else but stay."

Al-Khelaifi insists PSG are in no danger of breaching UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations after luring Messi to the French capital.

Asked about FFP, he replied: "A very great question, thank you. We have checked and we knew we had the capacity to sign Leo.

"What Leo brings to the club is huge, that is what you media need to focus on, not the negative, the positive."

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.

Lionel Messi has joined Paris Saint-Germain on an initial two-year deal after calling time on his 18-year Barcelona career.

Messi became arguably the greatest footballer of all time at Camp Nou, scoring 672 times in 778 appearances, but his prolific spell came to an end after Barca's dire financial situation forced the club's hand.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner had been a free agent since July 1, though the expectation was for him to sign a new contract at the Catalan club.

However, last Thursday's announcement he would not re-sign with Barca due to "financial and structural obstacles" prompted PSG to move quickly.

The 34-year-old was said to be a target a year ago when he stated his desire to leave, but ended up staying and playing out the final year of his contract.

Having teased the signing throughout the day on social media, PSG finally confirmed it with a video that included footage of their new recruit standing in the centre circle of the Parc des Princes. 

He will wear the number 30 shirt and while PSG confirmed the initial contract length, it is widely reported there is an option in place for a further year.

Messi will be reunited with former Barcelona team-mate Neymar, who joined PSG in a world-record deal in 2017, and link-up with Kylian Mbappe, with that trio set to form a devastating forward line.

Mbappe's future is in doubt with the France star having only one year left on his contract, though there has been talk that Messi's signing could convince him to agree new terms with PSG.

During his time at Barcelona, Messi claimed four Champions League triumphs alongside 10 LaLiga titles.

The forward finally won a senior international trophy in July, firing in four goals and adding five assists to secure Argentina's first Copa America success since 1993.

Messi's acquisition marks the culmination of a transfer window that has seen PSG add significantly to their squad, signing Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos, Georginio Wijnaldum and Achraf Hakimi after missing out on the Ligue 1 title and losing in the Champions League semi-finals last season.

Lionel Messi has joined Paris Saint-Germain on an initial two-year deal after calling time on his 18-year Barcelona career.

Messi became arguably the greatest footballer of all time at Camp Nou, scoring 672 times in 778 appearances, but his prolific spell came to an end after Barca's dire financial situation forced the club's hand.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner had been a free agent since July 1, though the expectation was for him to sign a new contract at the Catalan club.

However, last Thursday's announcement he would not re-sign with Barca due to "financial and structural obstacles" prompted PSG to move quickly.

The 34-year-old was said to be a target a year ago when he stated his desire to leave, but ended up staying and playing out the final year of his contract.

Having teased the signing throughout the day on social media, PSG finally confirmed it with a video that included footage of their new recruit standing in the centre circle of the Parc des Princes. 

He will wear the number 30 shirt and while PSG confirmed the initial contract length, it is widely reported there is an option in place for a further year.

Messi will be reunited with former Barcelona team-mate Neymar, who joined PSG in a world-record deal in 2017, and link-up with Kylian Mbappe, with that trio set to form a devastating forward line.

Mbappe's future is in doubt with the France star having only one year left on his contract, though there has been talk that Messi's signing could convince him to agree new terms with PSG.

During his time at Barcelona, Messi claimed four Champions League triumphs alongside 10 LaLiga titles.

The forward finally won a senior international trophy in July, firing in four goals and adding five assists to secure Argentina's first Copa America success since 1993.

Messi's acquisition marks the culmination of a transfer window that has seen PSG add significantly to their squad, signing Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos, Georginio Wijnaldum and Achraf Hakimi after missing out on the Ligue 1 title and losing in the Champions League semi-finals last season.

One of the best teams in Europe just got better – Lionel Messi has signed for Paris Saint-Germain.

Following his shock exit from Barcelona as a free agent, Messi becomes the Ligue 1 giants' fifth signing of the transfer window, joining the superstars Mauricio Pochettino already had at his disposal.

After coming so close in recent seasons, PSG will hope this move can bring an end to their wait for a first Champions League triumph.

But how will all these players fit in the same XI? Stats Perform attempts to work that out...

 

GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma

Keylor 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. But 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.

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).

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.

CB: Sergio Ramos

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. Over the previous three seasons, Madrid won 10 of the 15 Champions League games Ramos featured in and only four of the 13 he missed.

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 Presnel 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: Marco Verratti

At the end of a season in which 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. Now imagine those passes are being played to Messi...

CM: Leandro Paredes

Paredes, Messi's international colleague, also made just 16 league starts for PSG last term, but he was still trusted for the big occasions in the Champions League. That included a dominant display against a Barca midfield of Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Pedri, as Paredes played the second most passes on the pitch (73) and assisted one of four PSG goals.

CM: Georginio Wijnaldum

Angel Di Maria is very unfortunate to miss out on this XI and undoubtedly still has a part to play, but Wijnaldum perhaps offers a better balance in a midfield three with the attacking talent ahead of him. Across his Liverpool Premier League career, Wijnaldum 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.

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. 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.

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.

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