Lionel Messi's much-publicised move to Paris Saint-Germain has not gone as planned.

Messi's departure from Barcelona to join Kylian Mbappe and Neymar has not translated into European silverware despite lofty expectations in the French capital.

While the 34-year-old's future at PSG might be in doubt, he reportedly appears to be setting himself up for life post-football.

TOP STORY – MESSI TO BUY INTO INTER MIAMI   

Messi will acquire 35 per cent of shares in Inter Miami and the join the MLS franchise when his contract expires at PSG, according to DIRECTV.

The Argentina international made a very public and emotional departure from Barcelona last year, before signing a two-year deal at PSG.

Despite six goals and 13 assists in 25 Ligue 1 appearances this season, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner has not propelled PSG to European success.

While Messi has previously confirmed his desire to play in the MLS and live in the United States, it will reportedly eventuate after his deal expires at the end of the 2022-23 season.

However, Sport has disputed the report, saying Messi's camp insist "the player has not defined his future".

ROUND-UP

– The Mirror is reporting 20-year-old Ajax defender Jurrien Timber is a target for Manchester United, with talks already believed to have taken place over his transfer.

– Juventus have offered Paul Pogba, who will be available on a free transfer when his United deal expires, a three-year-deal and a €7.5million annual salary, according to Goal.

– In further anticipated player turnover at Old Trafford, Roma coach Jose Mourinho wants to bring in 33-year-old Nemanja Matic on a free transfer, per Calciomercato.

– Manchester City are preparing a £30m move for Brighton and Hove Albion's Marc Cucurella, the Daily Mail reports.

Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi put poor Montpellier to the sword in a 4-0 Paris Saint-Germain win, their first since being confirmed as Ligue 1 champions.

Champions League failure this season had dampened PSG's title celebrations even before three consecutive draws – the first of which secured top spot against Lens.

Mauricio Pochettino's men lost the lead in all three matches, but there was never any danger of a repeat on Saturday.

Mbappe, whose future is perhaps of more interest than PSG's results right now, was typically influential, scoring the fourth after having a hand in two goals for Messi and one for Angel Di Maria.

That front three quickly had Montpellier on the back foot, with just six minutes played when Mbappe's square pass was dummied by Di Maria for Messi to aim a left-footed finish into the bottom-right corner.

Dimitry Bertaud had saved well from Messi moments before that goal and soon would again from Mbappe, but he was helpless in the face of an onslaught.

Mbappe's sublime outside-of-the-boot pass set Messi away to round the goalkeeper and score the second, before the pair attempted to link up a third time and Di Maria netted instead – his volley deflected beyond Bertaud after Mbappe's cross was headed only half-clear.

Mbappe hit the post from a Messi pass before the half-time whistle, which scarcely disrupted PSG's rhythm.

A rare loose Mbappe touch only invited a clumsy challenge from Arnaud Souquet, allowing the forward to coolly convert from the penalty spot.

Mbappe was just offside before he laid on another goal for Di Maria, which was ruled out, and PSG finally slowed to Montpellier's relief, settling for four.
 

What does it mean? Rare late-season success for champions

PSG's form had fallen off a cliff since the Ligue 1 title was sealed, but that is nothing new for this team.

In fact, the capital club headed into this match having won just two of their past 11 games played when they had been confirmed as champions. Their most recent such victory had come against Dijon at the end of a successful 2018-19 season.

There are worse times to lose form, of course, but this long-awaited win should now at least briefly lift the mood at PSG – and perhaps show Mbappe how fun it could be to stick around alongside Messi.

Partnership finally prospers

Although Neymar was missing through suspension, the other two members of PSG's star-studded front three finally showed off the sort of attacking combination play that was expected all along.

Mbappe has certainly not disappointed this season, having now posted a career-high 57 goal involvements, but this was a rare example of Messi matching his team-mate's exploits.

Three of the four chances Messi created were for Mbappe, who in turn teed up four attempts and two goals for the former Barcelona man.

Now the nervous wait...

It was put to Pochettino on Friday that Mbappe might provide an update on his future on Sunday, at the UNFP Trophies ceremony where in 2019 he announced a desire to "have more responsibility", prompting discussion he was unhappy at PSG.

There is no doubt Mbappe is the main man in Paris now, stealing the show even in a game in which Messi scored twice, but will that be enough to keep him at the club?

What's next?

Beyond that awards ceremony, where Pochettino insists he is not expecting any news, PSG have one game remaining at home to Metz next Saturday. Montpellier visit Angers.

Ronaldinho told Paris Saint-Germain fans they should be careful what they wish for as he mounted a defence of the club's under-fire superstars.

Neymar and Lionel Messi have faced a backlash from supporters in recent months, with Kylian Mbappe the only member of the much-vaunted forward trio seemingly immune to their criticism.

It helps that Mbappe has enjoyed another spectacular season for PSG, scoring 35 goals and adding 19 assists, while Neymar and Messi have struggled to live up to their lofty reputations.

Many supporters have been unimpressed by the team's performances this season, despite a costly recruitment drive that brought a raft of big names to the Parc des Princes.

Messi, an all-time great, arrived from Barcelona, while the likes of Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum also joined, along with Inter's flying full-back Achraf Hakimi.

Despite PSG assembling a star-studded squad, there has been such a backlash against the side's performances that last month's Ligue 1 title success was barely celebrated by supporters.

Squandering a 2-0 aggregate lead to lose to Real Madrid in the Champions League's last-16 was a shattering blow, and many supporters want change to come not only on the pitch, but in the boardroom, with President Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Sporting Director Leonardo facing heavy criticism.

Ronaldinho, however, does not understand those questioning the side, telling RMC Sports: "I don't understand because there are all these great players.

"And you want to change everything? What do you want to have? The worst players in the world?

"We have to wait for them to understand this new way of living and playing football. And the rest will come slowly. This adaptation is normal, to do things well."

Neymar signed a big-money contract extension last May so appears unlikely to leave any time soon, but patience is in short supply among some fans when it comes to the Brazilian.

His compatriot Ronaldinho, who spent two years at PSG before joining Barcelona in 2003, defended the winger by declaring: "He's one of the best players in the world.

"He has had several injuries this year. When he's at 100 per cent he's a really special player for this team. Neymar, [Angel] Di Maria, Messi... the greatest players are together. If you're not happy with that, who are you going to play with?"

Mbappe, meanwhile, will reach the end of his contract next month with Madrid remaining eager to take him to the Santiago Bernabeu, although reports have suggested he could yet decide to remain in the French capital.

Ronaldinho refused to offer an opinion as to where the 2018 World Cup winner should play next term, saying the most important thing is Mbappe's happiness and predicting he will become the world's best player.

"I have no advice. I love him so much," he added. "The most important thing is that he is happy, the rest will come normally. He will become the best player in the world. The rest is up to him to decide where he will play and what he wants to do."

Gerard Pique was left in tears following Lionel Messi's Barcelona exit, but the centre-back says he can understand why his former colleague joined Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi's 21-year association with Barcelona, 16 of those spent as part of the senior squad, came to an end last August when he signed for PSG as a free agent.

The Argentina international won every trophy available with Barca and departed as the club's all-time record scorer with 672 goals across 778 appearances.

Last year's departure came as a huge shock at the time, with the Catalan giants' financial situation meaning they could not agree fresh term under LaLiga's salary restrictions.

Pique and Messi came through Barca's La Masia academy together and spent 13 seasons as first-team regulars after the defender returned from a spell at Manchester United.

In an interview with former United team-mate Gary Neville, Pique opened up on just how tough he found it seeing his close friend move to another club.

"I cried when Messi left. I cried for him," Pique said on The Overlap podcast. "For the career he had at Barca, it would have been great if he had stayed until the end of his career.

"I can understand why he couldn't renew. The club was suffering a lot economically because of the past president and how he managed the club.

"At the end of the day, these are things that happen in life. Sometimes you make a decision and things don't work out.

"For Barcelona and the fans, Messi was like a god. It would have been great if he stayed."

 

Messi was directly involved in 937 goals for Barcelona, with his most prolific season coming in 2011-12 when scoring 73 goals in all competitions and assisting a further 28.

But while the record seven-time Ballon d'Or winner was very much the poster boy for Barca's trophy-laden period, Pique insists Messi could not have done it alone.

"Lionel Messi is the best player in the history of the game," he said.

"Messi was Barcelona's best player. I've always said that we had Messi to win titles, but we also had to have a good team. A single player cannot win titles."

Lionel Messi deserves more respect from football fans in France, according to Christian Karembeu. 

Paris Saint-Germain supporters jeered Messi and Neymar during a Ligue 1 match against Bordeaux that followed their Champions League elimination at the hands of Real Madrid. 

The Argentina superstar has scored nine goals and supplied 13 assists in 32 appearances in all competitions for PSG – an underwhelming return following his blockbuster arrival from Barcelona. 

A total of 22 goal involvements is his worst output since the 2006-07 season, which was just his second full campaign at the highest level.

Messi's numbers could have been higher, with the 34-year-old having been denied by the woodwork a record 10 times in Ligue 1 alone. 

Karembeu, a World Cup and European Championship winner with France during his playing days, thinks Messi should be given an undisputed leadership role at PSG to help him flourish. 

"When Messi plays and wherever he goes, everything is always full on. It's like this in France," he told the Super Deportivo Radio show. 

"He is a sensational player, but he is also an attraction for the French league. Messi is more than a player. We have to respect this guy more in France, because he attracts people. It's very important. 

"You can't whistle Messi because he's a star. It is a mistake by the fans, because if the crowd offers him affection he will end up standing out. 

"It wasn't easy for him to leave Barcelona. What I'm going to say depends on the coach, but for me Messi has to be appointed the leader of the group at PSG. 

"If PSG let him lead, guide and take care of the group, they will always win. But they have to let him be the leader. 

"Messi has to be the leader to show his football. We saw it for 20 years at Barcelona, so it won't change. He has to go down that path, where he is the technical and group leader. 

"He has to be the captain because he knows his role perfectly. Messi is a magician and we have to stop judging him because we know that when he touches the ball, something will always happen." 

Mauricio Pochettino was left to lament costly defensive errors after Paris Saint-Germain squandered a 2-0 lead in their frustrating 2-2 Ligue 1 draw with Troyes on Sunday.

Ligue 1 champions PSG found themselves 2-0 up inside 25 minutes at the Parc des Princes after Marquinhos and Neymar found the net, but Nuno Mendes' dire pass allowed Ike Ugbo to halve the arrears before Florian Tardieu scored a second-half penalty to ensure the points were shared.

The disappointing draw marked the first time PSG had led by two goals in a home Ligue 1 match and failed to win since February 2015 in a 2-2 draw against Caen, after Presnel Kimpembe's clumsy foul allowed Tardieu to beat Keylor Navas with an audacious Panenka. 

The Parisian giants were again booed by their own supporters at the full-time whistle, and have now thrown away a two-goal lead in consecutive games after being pegged back from 3-1 down in a 3-3 draw at Strasbourg last time out.

However, Pochettino, who is facing mounting pressure in the French capital despite PSG's title win, claimed his side were unfortunate not to win and should have been awarded a penalty when Achraf Hakimi appeared to be pushed shortly after the break.

"We started the match well, then we made two errors which cost us two goals," he said after the entertaining draw. "I think we still created more than Troyes.

"We deserved a little more luck tonight. We may have missed this tension of the competition. The objective was to win the championship, it's done. Now you have to respect the competition, and I think we did.

"I think [the lack of a penalty] was not justified. There was a penalty on Hakimi on the other side of the field. Our opponents must surely think the opposite, but that's my opinion."

PSG are now on a three-match winless streak in Ligue 1 – each of those finishing in draws – which is their longest such sequence since April 2019 (also three).

They have also failed to win back-to-back home games for the first time since suffering three consecutive home defeats between February and April last year.

Pochettino's team had numerous chances to win the game, with Lionel Messi hitting the post and the crossbar and Neymar having two goals ruled out by VAR.

Messi has now hit the woodwork 10 times in Ligue 1 this season. Since Opta began collecting such data (2006-07), no player has done so more often in a top-flight season (Bakary Sako also did so 10 times for Saint-Etienne in 2011-12), leading the forward's boss to rue his "incredible" misfortune.

"It's an incredible lack of luck," he said. "We could have won the match on his last action [when he hit the bar in the last minute]. For a player of his quality, this is the only explanation."

With PSG having wrapped up their 10th Ligue title last month, Pochettino has faced criticism from some quarters for not giving more game time to the club's young players.

But the Argentine insisted PSG's academy prospects must earn their right to play, and noted the fierce competition in his star-studded squad.

"It is important to clarify that we built a squad of more than thirty players at the start of the season. We had departures in January, but it is a team where there is not much room for young people," he added.

"They have to earn their playing time. Several have been training with us since day one. It's a first step. What is important is the composition of the squad going forward and that there is room for them to gain minutes. Little by little, young people will find their place."

Mauricio Pochettino declared it difficult to rate Paris Saint-Germain's season after a record-equalling Ligue 1 title followed Champions League disappointment.

PSG held a slender 1-0 advantage heading to Real Madrid in the Champions League last-16 second leg before doubling their advantage in the return fixture, but a Karim Benzema-inspired second-half turnaround dumped Pochettino's side out the competition.

Questions circulated and still remain over the future of Pochettino at PSG, who replaced Thomas Tuchel at the helm in January 2021.

Former Tottenham boss Pochettino may have somewhat eased the pressure by clinching PSG's 10th league title, but the Argentine admitted it is hard to judge the success of the season.

"It's very difficult to rate the season," he told reporters at a pre-match news conference on Saturday before facing Troyes. 

"When I arrived a year and a half ago, the main objective was to win the Champions League. From the moment we haven't achieved it, it's difficult.

"Despite everything, there is this satisfaction of having obtained this 10th title in the history of the club. It's always something to win a national title."

Pochettino did not make the five-man shortlist for the Ligue 1 coach award by the French players' union, UNFP, despite winning the title.

The list was instead made up of Christophe Galtier (Nice), Bruno Genesio (Rennes), Antoine Kombouare (Nantes), Jorge Sampaoli (Marseille) and Julien Stephan (Strasbourg).

However, Pochettino insists he has no problem with the lack of personal recognition.

"I have no opinion to give," he said when asked about the award. "I didn't have any either when I was one of the England nominees alongside Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. 

"It's a fact, I don't have much to say."

PSG will turn their focus to ending the season in strong fashion, next hosting Troyes on Sunday, though the Ligue 1 champions may be without star forward Lionel Messi.

The Argentina captain returned to individual training after feeling pain in his ribs, but another review will be conducted on Sunday morning to see if the former Barcelona star is fit to feature.

Pochettino, though, has been satisfied with PSG's preparations.

"Yesterday we had a great time together as a squad," he continued. "Everyone was there, we are a real family and it's important to spend time together like that.

"We have prepared well for tomorrow's match. We need to remain professional until the end of the season and we are ready for this penultimate home match.

"It's important to finish our work in the right way. We need to continue to work because we also need to prepare the players for the international matches that are coming soon."

Anthony Caci scored a last-gasp equaliser as Strasbourg came from behind to hold Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain to a 3-3 draw at Stade de la Meinau. 

Former PSG striker Kevin Gameiro gave Champions League-chasing Strasbourg a second-minute lead, but Kylian Mbappe put the visitors in control with a double and an assist for Achraf Hakimi. 

Strasbourg refused to give up and Marco Verratti's own goal with 15 minutes remaining gave them hope of salvaging a point to boost their top-four aspirations. 

They got it when Caci volleyed home a deep cross from Dimitri Lienard in the 92nd minute, keeping the pressure on PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino despite clinching the title last weekend. 

Mauricio Pochettino claims he and Kylian Mbappe will "100 per cent" be at Paris Saint-Germain next season.

The head coach added a caveat, however, by adding: "This is football, and we never know what might happen."

The PSG boss and star striker Mbappe have both been rumoured to be on their way out of the French capital at the end of the campaign, with Mbappe consistently linked to a move to Real Madrid with his contract about to expire.

Speaking at a media conference ahead of PSG's first game against Strasbourg, their first since winning the Ligue 1 title, Pochettino appeared to indicate both his and the France international's futures remain at the club.

Mbappe has been PSG's leading man this season, with 33 goals and 18 assists in 42 games in all competitions.

When asked what percentage he would give that himself and Mbappe would still be at PSG next year, Pochettino said: "One hundred per cent, in both cases."

In answer to a follow-up question about whether he had held talks with the club's hierarchy, the Argentine coach clarified: "There haven't been any concrete talks, beyond what is normal in terms of our plans with what we have been doing so far.

"We have a natural relationship, we communicate regarding different topics. Of course, they change depending on the circumstances at the time, but the relationship and communication are good.

"We keep working hard, not just bearing in mind the present, but also with the responsibility to think about the future, so that is what we are doing."

 

When asked to further explain his surety about Mbappe, Pochettino said: "That is how I feel today. That is what I can say to you today. I can't say anything else. That is how I feel right now.

"This is football, and we never know what might happen."

Despite clinching the title last week, recent games have seen other star players, notably Neymar and Lionel Messi, booed by the PSG fans, with neither really capturing their best form this season.

Brazilian Neymar has played just 25 games in all competitions having suffered with injury, scoring 11 goals and assisting seven more, while Messi has managed nine goals and 13 assists in 30 appearances in his first season since his sensational move from Barcelona.

Pochettino explained why it has been a tough season for Neymar, and detailed a conversation he had with Messi about fine margins dictating opinion.

"Neymar's talent is indisputable," Pochettino said. "He arrived here in a big transfer, because he is one of the best players in the world. This season he had a big injury, and it was a season preceded by the Copa America. It was therefore difficult to have the necessary regularity. He had ups and downs, like the whole team.

"I spoke about this with Lionel Messi. There was a period of progression, then there was the [Champions League] elimination against Real Madrid. The season would have been very different if we had gone through. The line between failure and success is sometimes very small.

"It can also give strength to write a different story in the future."

Riyad Mahrez could reportedly be sold by Manchester City in the upcoming transfer window, and some of the world's biggest clubs are said to be targeting the Algerian.

Mahrez, 31, has won the Premier League on three occasions, including once with Leicester City, and will make it four this season if Pep Guardiola's team can hold on.

After 38 Premier League goals for Mahrez over four campaigns with City, he could be facing a new challenge next season.


TOP STORY – MAHREZ MOVE TO MAKE WAY FOR HAALAND

Fichajes.net is reporting that Mahrez is one of the players City could part ways with to help fund the purchase of Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

The report names Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus as the three most likely landing spots.

Mahrez has scored 23 goals and dished out eight assists in 42 appearances across all club competitions this season.


ROUND-UP

Real Madrid are said to be closing in on a deal to sign Chelsea centre-back Antonio Rudiger on a free transfer. The Guardian is reporting his contract will be worth at least £200,000 per week.

– The Telegraph is reporting Manchester City are interested in making a move for West Ham's Declan Rice.

– According to Marca, Real Madrid remain favourites to land Kylian Mbappe when he is expected to leave Paris Saint-Germain in the next transfer window, but he will not make an official announcement until after the last game of his Ligue 1 season on May 21.

– Sky Sports News is reporting that Lionel Messi will remain at Paris Saint-Germain for at least one more season but that the French giants could consider letting Neymar move on.

– Barcelona would be willing to sell Frenkie de Jong for £58million, with Manchester United reportedly interested in bringing in the Dutch midfielder, according to El Chiringuito.

Rather fittingly given the underwhelming nature of Paris Saint-Germain's season, their record-equalling 10th Ligue 1 triumph was sealed with a draw at home to Lens.

So much was expected of PSG, fairly so, given their astonishing off-season recruitment, that ending 2021-22 with just one major trophy, and failing to reach the latter stages of either the Coupe de France or the Champions League, cannot be portrayed as anything but a disappointment.

One of those superstar recruits – Lionel Messi – got the goal for PSG on Saturday, though it was cancelled out by Corentin Jean late on as 10-man Lens fought back to draw 1-1.

It was just a fourth Ligue 1 goal for Messi, whose move from Barcelona has, really, not lived up to expectations, albeit the 34-year-old has provided 13 assists. The same can be said for Sergio Ramos – the former Real Madrid defender has made just five league starts in a season derailed by injury – while Gianluigi Donnarumma has had some shaky moments. Indeed, he did not play as PSG sealed the title and his 75 per cent save percentage, while impressive, does not better that of Keylor Navas (78.4).

Neymar took most of the season to get up to speed and if not for Kylian Mbappe, the title race may have been much closer. PSG might not have the France star to rely on for much longer, and doubt remains over Mauricio Pochettino's future.

Nevertheless, PSG do have a title to celebrate, one that makes them the joint-most successful team in Ligue 1 history, alongside Saint-Etienne, and an eighth of the QSI era.

Stats Perform, using Opta data, looks at the key numbers behind the success, and some records that might still be in PSG's sights.

 

Leaving it late (or later than usual)

It has always seemed like a procession to the title for PSG this season but, actually, this is the latest they have left it to get the crown secured since the 2014-15 season.

Back then, PSG were not champions until matchday 37. They got the job done on matchday 34 this time around, though that is still later than in 2018-19 (33), 2017-18 (33) and 2015-16 (30). That is not counting 2019-20, when PSG were handed the title by default due to the coronavirus pandemic.

PSG have averaged 2.29 points per game so far in 2021-22, which is their lowest total when winning the title since 2014-15 (2.18).

They are, however, the first team to be crowned French champions eight times in the space of 10 seasons (Saint-Etienne and Lyon did so on seven occasions).

PSG have collected 78 points to date. Should they win their remaining four matches, they will set the fifth-highest points total in Ligue 1 history (90).

Verratti sets Ligue 1 record

Marco Verratti starred in Italy's Euro 2020 success and the mercurial midfielder has continued that form into this season.

He has played a part in all eight of PSG's title triumphs during the QSI era, making him the first player to win Ligue 1 eight times.

Team-mate Marquinhos is joint-second on the list with seven titles to his name.

Pochettino gets his first title

This marks Pochettino's first league success as a coach, after PSG lost out to Lille last season.

The former Tottenham boss has won 39 of his 55 Ligue 1 matches in charge, with the other 16 games split equally between draws and defeats.

His win rate of 71 per cent ranks him some way behind his two predecessors, however – Thomas Tuchel (76) and Unai Emery (74).

Pochettino's PSG have scored 2.2 goals per game and collected 2.3 points per match on average, conceding 0.9 goals per game.

He is the sixth Argentine coach to win a title across Europe's big five leagues, joining Diego Simeone, Luis Carniglia, Alfredo di Stefano, Jorge Valdano and Helenio Herrera (though the latter became a French national). Carniglia, with Nice, is the only other Argentine boss to win Ligue 1.

Topping the stats

As would be expected, PSG dominate the statistics so far in Ligue 1. They have had more possession (62.9), played more passes per game (663), scored more goals per match (2.2) and had more sequences of 10+ passes (21.5 per match).

PSG have only dropped two points from winning positions all season – one of those coming on Saturday – while they have gained 21 from losing positions, more than any other team. Their 18 different goalscorers is also a league high.

The excitement around Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the 2021-22 season was palpable.

In scenes reminiscent of the 'Galactico' era at Real Madrid, PSG appeared to be attempting to build their very own version of the Harlem Globetrotters.

The signing of right-back Achraf Hakimi from Inter early in the transfer window not only filled a problem position, but also brought in one the world's leading young defenders.

Nuno Mendes, albeit on loan, followed to fill the left-back slot later in the window, but between those signings, PSG made three sensational free transfers.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and, to top it all off, Lionel Messi joined. Their joint presentation at the Parc des Princes was the main event ahead of a match against Strasbourg in August.

Funnily enough, Kylian Mbappe's name was booed as it was read out ahead of that match, amid speculation he could be joining Real Madrid.

That might well have been the case, but PSG turned down multiple Madrid advances. For all the glitter and glamour of their new signings, Mbappe was still seen as the key to their dream: the Champions League.

But that dream of conquering all in Europe was dashed in March. Ironically enough, by Madrid. It was Mbappe who put PSG 2-0 up in the tie before a Karim Benzema-inspired comeback sent Los Blancos into the quarter-finals.

Since then, PSG's monotonous stroll to another Ligue 1 title – albeit their first since 2020 – has continued and, inevitably, they claimed it on Saturday when they drew 1-1 with Lens.

Their fearsome front three has produced some special moments, yet last week's 2-1 Classique victory over Marseille, their nearest rivals – for lack of a better term – for the title, was played in front of a crowd lacking its most vociferous supporters, who had chosen to boycott the match in order to protest against the way the club has been run.

And though an eighth league title in 11 years of Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) ownership cannot be scoffed at, it is the least PSG should expect given the grandiose nature of their expensively assembled squad of superstars.

So, what next?

Mbappe Madrid-bound?

Mbappe is the first player to score more than 20 goals in the competition in three separate seasons before his 24th birthday since Herve Revelli, who managed it on four occasions between 1967 and 1970.

Before the Lens game, Mbappe's tally of 33 goals in all competitions was bettered by only Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski among players across Europe's top five leagues, with the France star having also outperformed his expected goals (29.5).

If this is to be his PSG swansong, then Mbappe is going out in style, if not on the biggest stage. From being jeered by his own supporters back in August, the tables turned when Mbappe was applauded in the wake of PSG's Champions League exit, with the boos reserved for Messi and Neymar instead.

PSG seem intent on trying to keep their talisman, but it really does appear to be to little avail, and it looks certain Mbappe will be lighting up LaLiga next season.

Messi to move on?

Yes, you did read that right. Messi – arguably the greatest player of all time – was booed by PSG supporters. Such is the fickle nature of football fandom, they were cheering his name by the time the next game came around, but at 34, does the Barcelona great really need to risk any damage to his reputation?

The goals have not come freely for Messi at PSG, managing only nine so far. However, he has contributed creatively with 13 assists, even if his expected assists (xA) of 9.86 suggests he has benefited from some above-standard finishing (which may be expected when you're supplying Mbappe, and Neymar too).

One has to wonder if he'll be sticking around to help the bid for an 11th league title in PSG's history next season.

 

Time up for Poch?

It is not just the future of star players up for debate. Mauricio Pochettino replaced Thomas Tuchel because the latter had failed to win the Champions League, only for Tuchel to go and win the tournament with Chelsea. Pochettino, meanwhile, saw his team lose in the semi-finals to Manchester City last season and then go down to Madrid in the last 16 this time around.

His record in Ligue 1 shows 39 wins from 55 matches, with the Argentine coach having overseen eight defeats and eight draws to register a win percentage of 70.9. Pochettino's team have scored 123 goals and conceded way less than half that amount (49).

Pochettino's 2.27 points per game ranks below his three predecessors, however; Tuchel took 2.37, as did Unai Emery, and Laurent Blanc recorded 2.35. Carlo Ancelotti (2.14) was the last PSG coach to have taken fewer points per game.

The former Tottenham boss might have been expecting a call from Manchester United, yet they have chosen Ajax's Erik ten Hag. Given the Champions League is the be-all and end-all for PSG, will Pochettino get another shot?

More, more, more?

Regardless of what happens with Mbappe, Pochettino or Messi, one thing is certain: PSG will be linked with the biggest stars on the market again.

Should Mbappe decide to pledge more of his career to PSG, will they go out and look to further bolster their chances of Champions League glory? If he leaves, how do they replace his goals?

Backing Messi and Neymar to come up with the difference should not be out of the question, yet it seems unlikely QSI would want a star player to leave and not replace him.

Paul Pogba is set to be available on a free, and it is not difficult to imagine the France star strutting his stuff in the blue of PSG. Georginio Wijnaldum's move has not been a success and the Dutchman's former club Newcastle United – now cash-rich of course – have been linked.

What of Keylor Navas? Donnarumma, despite some rash mistakes, seems to be the number one pick as goalkeeper now. Surely the Costa Rican will want to be a first choice elsewhere? Ramos has hardly been able to keep fit and PSG do lack a world-class partner for Marquinhos.

PSG may have to take a step back to finally move forward and become a dominant force in Europe, not just France. Perhaps sticking with Pochettino is the correct route, and they should forget about star signings for now and let the coach build something as he did in north London, using younger players and adding in the stardust with the talent that he already has at his disposal.

Based on the last decade, however, that does not seem likely.

Barcelona boss Xavi has highlighted the difficulties of competing for trophies after Lionel Messi's departure, but says the Catalan giants cannot afford to replicate the recent struggles of Manchester United.

The Blaugrana head into Sunday's match against Rayo Vallecano 15 points behind LaLiga leaders Real Madrid with just 18 points to play for, albeit the buffer to Real Betis in fourth is six.

After previous boss Ronald Koeman left the Catalan giants in ninth position, Xavi has overseen a revival of the team's fortunes and is looking to secure a top-four finish at the end of a transitional season for the club.

Although Xavi acknowledged Barcelona will need to be patient in their pursuit of trophies after losing legendary forward Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, he said the club cannot afford to miss out on Champions League football, highlighting the Red Devils as an example of a household name to have struggled to qualify for the competition.

"It's our reality. This is the post-[Lionel] Messi era, that's difficult in itself," Xavi told a news conference ahead of Sunday's clash with Rayo Vallecano. "He used to win games on his own. We have to be patient. I'm excited to win trophies, but we have to strengthen. We have to be realistic.

"We're in the first year of the post-Messi era, we have to be patient. We've seen a lot of great teams, like at Manchester United, [where] it's been hard for them to come back, to qualify for the Champions League. 

"Barca can't allow that. We have to fight for trophies, we want to compete."

Xavi's arrival has had a positive impact on the Camp Nou outfit, who had briefly threatened to challenge runaway leaders Madrid. 

Among the players to look rejuvenated under Xavi is Ousmane Dembele, whose nine league assists in 2022 place him level with former team-mate Messi as the most creative players in the top five European Leagues this calendar year.

Meanwhile, another of Xavi's trusted first-teamers, Frenkie de Jong, has been linked with a move to Old Trafford after his former Ajax coach Erik ten Hag was confirmed to be taking over from Ralf Rangnick at the end of this season.

Xavi, however, is desperate to keep hold of the midfielder "for many years", saying he has the talent to "mark an era" at Camp Nou.

"Frenkie is very important for me, for the club and for the team," Xavi added. "He is a footballer who has to mark an era, for his quality and personality.

"He is at a very good level since I arrived, and he has to continue scoring goals, [making] assists ... and being a protagonist in the games. He could be one of the best midfielders in the world in the coming years. 

"We have not commented on it [De Jong's future], but if it is up to me, he would continue for many years."

Lionel Messi will be absent when Paris Saint-Germain attempt to wrap up the Ligue 1 title during Wednesday's trip to Angers, Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed.

Messi, who has recorded eight goals and 13 assists in 29 games since moving to the French capital last summer, is receiving treatment for inflammation in his left achilles tendon, and will sit out PSG's potentially decisive match.

Pochettino's men will seal the 10th Ligue 1 title in the club's history by bettering Marseille's result against Nantes, equalling St Etienne as the competition's most successful club.

However, having already lost Neymar to suspension, Pochettino confirmed Messi is among several players who will miss the match, potentially handing an opportunity to some of PSG's younger players.

"Some players like Leo Messi, Marco Verratti and Presnel Kimpembe will be missing tomorrow because they are still undergoing treatment," Pochettino said. "Neymar will be suspended. 

"It will be an opportunity for the players who don't play much to get some game time and it will allow the youngsters to gain experience.

"Players such as Xavi Simons and Edouard Michut, they have been gaining experience. They are the ones who could really play a key role in the club's future."

PSG beat Marseille 2-1 last time out to inch closer to regaining the French crown, and are seeking to confirm top spot by recording a 12th consecutive league win over Angers.

 

Despite boasting a 15-point lead at the Ligue 1 summit with just six games remaining, Pochettino refuted suggestions that PSG's dominance of the competition would mean they struggled to motivate themselves on Wednesday, saying their aim was to seal the title "as soon as possible".

"This match will be important because it could allow us to win a 10th title if we win," he added. "The goal is to continue the momentum from our last few games. We've had a string of successes and we want to continue that momentum.

"For the moment, the title is not secured yet, we are focused on the trip to Angers and on winning. The sooner the better. Personally, it would be an immense joy to win this 10th French championship title for Paris Saint-Germain. 

"Motivation is always there because it is necessary to win. We have to respect football and our opponents until the last day because that is the best way to perform well. We hope to win the title as soon as possible!"

Despite the attacking trio of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, and Messi scoring each of PSG's last 13 league goals, the latter two have been jeered by their own supporters in recent weeks after the team fell to a humiliating Champions League last-16 collapse against Real Madrid.

While Pochettino respected the right of PSG's fans to have an opinion on the state of the team, he emphasised his hope that supporters would come together to celebrate their title when it is confirmed.

"Everyone has the right to have their say," Pochettino added. "[But] I hope that we can celebrate a 10th title in the club's history together, it's important. For the future, I hope there will be a good relationship, it is crucial for any club that aspires to win all the trophies."

A Classique by name but certainly not by nature, Paris Saint-Germain took a step closer to the inevitable eighth Ligue 1 title of the QSI era thanks to goals from Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Predictably, Lionel Messi's name did not feature on the scoresheet. Predictably, Neymar's name found its way into the referee's book after a foul followed by a tantrum.

These games are not always predictable of course. Few saw the five stoppage-time red cards coming when these teams last met at the Parc des Princes in Ligue 1, back in September 2020.

All hell broke loose on that occasion when the game's simmering tension reached boiling point. Accusations were flung this way and that, with the red-carded Neymar at the centre of many of them. Marseille won that game 1-0, doling out another painful blow to a PSG side who had lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich just three weeks earlier.

PSG ridiculously failed to win Ligue 1 last season, an embarrassment considering the riches of their talent pool, but the trophy – L'Hexagoal – is heading back to the capital, and Sunday's 2-1 win over Marseille put the Parisian club 15 points clear with six rounds of games to play.

They could wrap up the title in midweek, but what would it really mean? Will it save Mauricio Pochettino's job? Probably not. Will it be the determining factor in whether Mbappe signs a new deal or heads to Madrid? Probably not. Will the PSG fans celebrate it with any great gusto? No, probably not, given many are apparently pig-sick of the club's leadership.

The Ligue 1 title has been reduced to a matter of interest only when PSG do not win it, given it should be a formality each season. And so on they plod, this gaggle of megastars and their various chums.

 

It is not quite the 'Zidanes and Pavons' policy of Real Madrid's Galacticos late period, but PSG are similarly top-heavy. While that Madrid side struggled at times in the league, they could put it together in the Champions League, the competition that remains out of reach for this PSG incarnation.

Was this Pochettino's final Classique? There are no assurances forthcoming over his future. If it is, he has nudged PSG ahead of Marseille on the all-time record between the teams in Ligue 1. This was a 33rd victory in the series, with Marseille having won 32 times and 20 of the league games having been drawn.

So one-sided has this rivalry become, however, that PSG have only lost one of the last 20 such league tussles between the sides (W15 D4).

That's a rivalry, only in the sense that Serena Williams versus Maria Sharapova was a rivalry on the tennis court. Williams lost two of their first three matches, then won the next 19 before Sharapova retired, barring one walk-over.

Sunday's encounter was certainly not a walk-over for PSG, as Marseille made a match of this Classique at times, recovering from Neymar's early strike to draw level through Duje Caleta-Car, with Gianluigi Donnarumma adding to his bloopers file as he failed to gather Dimitri Payet's corner. 

Neymar had a free-kick well saved by Pau Lopez, Messi had a couple of goals ruled out for offside calls, Mbappe smashed home a penalty after Neymar's shot was handled. William Saliba was denied a late Marseille equaliser after a VAR review showed he was narrowly offside. PSG actually finished this game having seen just 42 per cent of the ball, their lowest total in a Ligue 1 game since February 2013, also against Marseille.

And of course Neymar flapped indignantly after being booked for fouling Matteo Guendouzi. Just for a moment the combustible Brazilian looked to be risking a second yellow with his protests.

PSG can be fun to watch when they lose the plot, or when they attempt defending, but the joy that should be gleaned from seeing Neymar, Messi and Mbappe together is tempered by the sense of formality about all of this.

 

Almost 30 years have passed since it was Marseille's ownership that had critics up in arms, during the scandal-hit Bernard Tapie era, when it was OM who had the biggest stars.

In 1993, the year Marseille won the Champions League, Alen Boksic, Rudi Voller and Abedi Pele complemented a rich French contingent that included Basile Boli, Fabien Barthez, Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps.

The PSG of that era had stars too – David Ginola, George Weah and Valdo among them – and the great rivalry was ostensibly born, but the modern-day Marseille are no competition on a man-for-man basis with the current Parisian legion of luminaries.

Tycoon Tapie's substantial wealth and Marseille's financial clout had nothing on the Qatar Sports Investments money muscle behind PSG, though.

French football has been dealt the derogatory tag of a "farmer's league", a title bestowed due to a perceived lack of competition. And when the joie de vivre has been sucked out of even Le Classique, where does the game go from here?

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