Lionel Messi is battling hamstring and knee trouble and the struggling superstar will miss Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League match at RB Leipzig on Wednesday.

The Argentine forward was omitted from PSG's 21-man squad for the Group A game, as Mauricio Pochettino's side aim to move a step closer to the last-16 stage.

Messi played only the first half of Friday's Ligue 1 game against Lille, with Mauro Icardi taking his place after the break.

Former Barcelona captain Messi had been a doubt for the Lille game and delivered a disappointing display after being given the nod to start.

He has now had 15 shots without finding the net for PSG in Ligue 1 this season – the joint-second most attempts of any player yet to score in the division (Troyes' Renaud Ripart has had the most: 18).

Messi's three goals for PSG in eight games since arriving from Barcelona have all come in the Champions League. He got his first for his new club against Manchester City, before scoring twice in a 3-2 comeback win against Leipzig two weeks ago. That was his 34th brace in the Champions League – a record only beaten by Cristiano Ronaldo (37).

The 34-year-old's feats in Europe mean Messi has matched a PSG record of scoring three goals in his first three Champions League appearances for the team, equalling Neymar and Icardi in that regard.

PSG named a strong party for the trip to Germany, with the likes of Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe selected – the latter missed the Lille game due to an ear, nose and throat infection.

But the French club said in a medical bulletin published on their official website: "Leo Messi has discomfort in his left hamstring and pain in his knee following a contusion."

It remains to be seen whether Messi can recover to be involved in the Ligue 1 match at Bordeaux on Saturday.

PSG said former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, who has been injury-hit and has yet to feature since arriving in the close season, "is continuing his individual training programme and will join up with the rest of the squad in the next few days".

With seven points from three games, PSG lead the way in Champions League Group A, a point ahead of Manchester City. Leipzig have lost each of their opening three games.

Lionel Messi felt "hurt" when it emerged Barcelona president Joan Laporta had hoped the six-time Ballon d'Or winner would play for free in order to stay at Camp Nou.

Messi left Barcelona in August after spending his entire professional career to that point with the club, his contract having expired at the end of June.

Barca expected Messi to be re-signed after they agreed a new contract with him, but LaLiga ultimately blocked them from doing so as the league refused to let the Blaugrana circumvent salary cap rules.

Due to suffering €480million in losses over the previous financial year, during which their debts increased to €1.4billion, Barca saw their salary cap reduced by €280m for 2021-22.

That left them with a spending limit of €97m, less than a seventh of Real Madrid's cap (€739m), and a smaller budget than five other clubs.

As such, Barca had to reduce wage spending significantly, but even Messi's agreed contract being worth only 50 per cent of his previous deal was not going to be enough and the club eventually accepted retaining him was an impossibility, allowing Paris Saint-Germain to make their move.

Laporta said last month that, while he bears no anger towards Messi, he hoped there would be a last-minute change "and Messi would say that he would play for free", comments that seemingly did not sit well with the Argentinian.

 

"The truth is that, as I explained on my way out, I did everything possible to stay," Messi told Sport. "Never at any time was I asked to play for free.

"I was asked to cut my salary by 50 per cent and I did it without any problem. We were in a position to help the club more. The desire and desire of me and my family was to stay in Barcelona.

"Nobody asked me to play for free, but at the same time it seems to me that the words said by the president are out of place.

"They hurt me because I think he doesn't need to say it, it's like getting the ball off you and not assuming its consequences, or taking charge of things.

"This makes people think or generates a type of doubt that I think I don't deserve."

Messi signed a two-year contact with Paris Saint-Germain, at the end of which he will be 36 years old.

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Lionel Messi wants to return to Barcelona after his playing days in an off-field role as technical secretary.

Messi spent two decades at Barcelona, becoming the club's all-time leading scorer and appearance maker, before joining PSG ahead of the 2021-22 season after the embattled LaLiga giants were unable to re-sign the six-time Ballon d'Or winner due to their financial situation.

But Messi expressed his passion for Barca, where he won a club-record 35 trophies, including 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns.

"Yes, I always said that I would like to come back to help the club in whatever way," Messi, who is yet to score a Ligue 1 goal for PSG, told Sport.

"I want to be useful and help so that the club is doing well. I would love to be a technical secretary, but I don't know if it will be at Barcelona.

"I would like to return to the club to contribute what I can because I love [Barcelona] and I would love them to keep doing well, to continue growing and to continue to be among the best in the world."

Messi had come close to leaving Barca in 2020 amid links with Manchester City, PSG and Inter, growing dissatisfied with the direction of the club, with a release clause in his contract leading to him staying.

Barcelona have endured a difficult campaign since Messi's departure sitting ninth in LaLiga, leading to the sacking of head coach Ronald Koeman.

Spanish side Barca have taken 16 points from 11 games in LaLiga this season (W4 D4 L3) – equalling their worst start at this stage in the three points for a win era (also 16 in the 2000-2001 and 2002-03 campaigns).

Leonardo defended Lionel Messi, Neymar and Mauricio Pochettino, among others, as he said criticism of Paris Saint-Germain has been unfair this season, even if their performances have been below par.

PSG are 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 after beating defending champions Lille on Friday – a fact sporting director Leonardo was keen to reiterate – and also lead their Champions League group.

But Pochettino's side have not quite reached the standard expected of an outfit boasting three of the best players in the world in Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

PSG had to come from behind to defeat Lille 2-1, scoring an 88th-minute winner through Angel Di Maria.

It was the fifth time in this calendar year PSG have conceded first but won in Ligue 1, tying a club record, while they have now earned eight points in the final five minutes of matches this season. No other team have collected more than three.

 

Those statistics speak to the fine margins PSG are dealing with, but Leonardo expected progress would be slow and steady after a busy off-season in which Messi arrived alongside Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos, Nuno Mendes and Georginio Wijnaldum.

"That we have things to improve is obvious," Leonardo said. "But it is normal given the context. There have been players who have reached the end of their preparation, there have been significant changes.

"We are not where we want to be, but the team works a lot. This is very important."

Leonardo feels there has been too much criticism of PSG, suggesting negative press was "starting to exceed the limits".

He added: "To say that the coach does not understand anything about football, that he was born yesterday, that the great players we took suck...

"There are people who want to make their names by talking about PSG, it's a personal promotion.

"We don't play the way we want, but we have 10 wins, a draw and a loss. We are 10 points ahead.

"We don't play the way we want, okay, but we are on a path, we never lack effort, we know how to reverse scenarios. It was the fourth win in the 90th minute.

"You can't talk about Messi, Mbappe, Neymar, [Marco] Verratti, the coach, Marquinhos like that. Ramos, too? We knew Ramos had a problem. You are playing the game of the Spanish press. We knew everything. We know what is going on."

Ramos is yet to play for PSG since joining from Real Madrid in July, while Messi and Neymar have underwhelmed this term.

Messi still waits on his first Ligue 1 goal, making him the player to have had the most shots in the competition without scoring this season (15, including four on target).

 

Meanwhile, Neymar is enduring his longest Ligue 1 drought, going five games without a goal. However, his brilliant assist for Di Maria on Friday was his third in that time.

"Messi has spent more time with the national team than here," Leonardo said. "Neymar is the same thing, and he played a great game [against Lille]. They were decisive with Di Maria.

"I am not worried about anything. People think we don't know anything about the players, that the players are all partying. This does not correspond to the truth; if players do things wrong, we talk to them.

"Neymar is unfairly criticised. He played a very big game. If he's a player who parties every day, he doesn't play a game like that, it's impossible."

On Pochettino, Leonardo added: "Pochettino, before arriving here, was a top-five [coach]; now, supposedly, he doesn't understand anything anymore.

"We have changed things. Opinions will be formed at the end. We are in a hurry at PSG, it's normal. With a team like that, we want to win this year, that's for sure.

"If we're going to succeed, I don't know. That we have all the means, I am convinced. We have a coach, we have a very large squad. Why would I be worried? We can be better. If we look at what we have, why would I be worried?"

Lionel Messi was substituted at half-time against Lille as a precautionary measure and should be available for Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League clash with RB Leipzig, according to Mauricio Pochettino.

The Argentina international was a doubt heading into Friday's Ligue 1 meeting with Lille and lasted just 45 minutes before being replaced by Mauro Icardi with his side 1-0 down at the time through a Jonathan David strike.

PSG went on to win 2-1 at Parc des Princes thanks to second-half goals from Marquinhos and Angel Di Maria as they returned to winning ways and stretched their lead at the summit to 10 points on Lens, who have a game in hand.

Messi's departure on the back of another below-par display was undoubtedly the big talking point of the game, but Pochettino does not expect the six-time Ballon d'Or winner to spend any further time on the sidelines.

"We don't think he's injured. He saw the doctor as a precaution, in accordance with the medical staff," Pochettino said at his post-match news conference. "It is hoped that he will be available for the next match."

Messi has now had 15 shots without finding the net for PSG in Ligue 1 – the most of any player in the division – with his only three goals for the club in eight games since arriving from Barcelona coming in the Champions League.

 

It is the first time since October 2020 that he has gone five league games without scoring, and PSG coped in his absence on Friday as Di Maria set up Marquinhos for the leveller and then tucked in the winner himself two minutes from time.

The Parisiens have won eight points after the 85th minute in the French top flight this season – at least five more than any other side – and Pochettino put that down to the strong character of his side.

"I don't think it's any coincidence that the team responds this way to adversity," he said. "They showed a good state of mind today. We suffered but responded just as well. It's no coincidence we have won 10 out of 12 games."

PSG had lost their previous two matches to Lille, including a 1-0 loss in this corresponding fixture six months ago, with that the most recent occasion they have dropped points at home following their latest fightback.

The runaway leaders were far from their best once again, but Pochettino is pleased with what he saw from his side in an improved second-half display – notably when Messi was off the field.

"The feeling in the first half is that we didn't manage to have control," he said. "That on recoveries from Lille, they created danger too easily, that each attack ended with an opportunity. 

"In the second half we were much better. We managed to give this security to the team to engage more in attack, to play. There are always things that can be improved, but the important thing was to win."

PSG have now won 76 per cent of their Ligue 1 games in 2021 (25 out of 33), a success rate that is only bettered by Premier League champions Manchester City (79 per cent) from teams in Europe's top five leagues.

Lionel Messi was replaced at half-time in Paris Saint-Germain's clash with Lille on Friday as the superstar forward's Ligue 1 goal drought continued.

The Argentina international was a big fitness doubt for the contest at Parc des Princes after sitting out training on Thursday with a muscle injury.

He was deemed fit enough to start but was not a decisive figure in the first half, failing to find the target from his two shots.

With Kylian Mbappe also absent due to illness, Mauricio Pochettino decided to replace Messi with Mauro Icardi at the interval as PSG trailed 1-0.

 

Messi remains without a Ligue 1 goal in five matches since joining the French giants from Barcelona on a free transfer in August.

His 15 shots is the most of any player yet to score in Ligue 1 this term.

The last time Messi went five league games in a row without scoring was October 2020 in LaLiga with Barcelona.

Kylian Mbappe has been ruled out of Paris Saint-Germain's Ligue 1 clash with Lille through illness, while Lionel Messi is doubtful due to a minor injury.

Ligue 1 leaders PSG welcome reigning champions Lille to the Parc des Princes on Friday aiming to return to winning ways after last week's goalless draw with rivals Marseille.

Mauricio Pochettino's side will do so without Mbappe, who played a full part in Le Classique but has since been struck down by an ear, nose and throat infection.

Mbappe was not the only superstar forward missing from training on Thursday, with Messi also absent due to what Pochettino described as "muscle discomfort".

PSG will make a late decision on Messi's fitness and Pochettino has suggested he may field the Argentina captain through the middle, should he be fit.

"Messi missed training as a precaution," Pochettino said at his pre-match news conference. "He did an individual session instead. We will see tomorrow if he can play.

"Kylian is of course important to us. As he is absent, there are several other possibilities over who plays through the middle.

"Messi can play there, but there are other alternatives. We'll have to see what the final decision is. As Pep Guardiola says, Messi can play anywhere."

 

Since arriving at PSG from Barcelona on a shock free transfer in August, Messi has played either on the right of a 4-3-3 or behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1.

Messi is still finding his feet in the French capital, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner having scored three goals in his first seven appearances in all competitions - each of those coming in the Champions League.

He is yet to score in Ligue 1, making this the first time he has failed to score in his first four league appearances of a league season since 2005-06 with Barcelona.

And with PSG failing to find the net in two of their last three league games, Pochettino was pressed on whether it is time to use Messi as the focal point of the attack.

"The tactical disposition of the team provides us with a base that can vary," he said. "We have a reference for offensive and defensive systems.

"Each player has, in principle, certain responsibilities depending on his position and that of others. Leo is a player who can play on the right, the centre or in the number 10.

"He is a player who can play anywhere. He is the best player in the world, who positions himself where the game demands it, according to the needs of the team."

PSG are also without the suspended Achraf Hakimi for the visit of Lille, while Marco Verratti will be absent for the next month and Sergio Ramos is still not ready for his debut.

However, Neymar is available after recovering from an abductor injury to play a part against Marseille.

Neymar has just one goal and two assists in eight games this season and Pochettino admits he is after more from the Brazil international.

"The circumstances are always different. The comparisons are not fair," he said when asked if Neymar is regressing from previous seasons. 

"For me, Neymar is a player with enormous talent, one of the best players in the world. 

"When we arrived at PSG, we tried to give him everything he needed. He needs to be at his best. I'm happy with him. For me, he's a player with enormous talent. 

"We always hope that he will continue to improve. But this is not enough, because we know that we must continue to do better."

Asked if it was possible Neymar could be benched, Pochettino said: "All the players can be on the bench, or on the field. There are 33 players who think they are playing. 

"If they are not playing, they are not happy. It is not only at PSG, but in the the whole football world. I couldn't give a clearer answer."

PSG have lost their last two games against 10th-place Lille in all competitions and could lose three in a row in this fixture for the first time since a run of four between March 1987 and September 1988.

Lionel Messi is being "isolated" at Paris Saint-Germain, according to former team-mate Thierry Henry.

Messi arrived from Barcelona in a blockbuster free transfer at the start of the season, but the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner is still finding his feet with the Ligue 1 giants.

While Messi has scored three goals in three Champions League appearances for PSG, the 34-year-old is yet to score or assist a goal in Ligue 1 this term after Sunday's Le Classique stalemate at Marseille.

In the league, Messi has created one big chance to go with five opportunities created from open play as Henry – who played alongside the Argentina captain at Barcelona – highlighted his struggles.

"He [Messi] is isolated, he is on the ball less," Arsenal and France great Henry told RMC Sport.

"I wouldn't say he's sad, but he's isolated. I prefer him through the middle.

"I'm having trouble with Leo out on the right. In the middle, he can set the tempo.

"Something needs to be found in order to get Mbappe, Neymar and Messi to play together."

Henry added: "I don't think he can make the difference on the right, but then I don't have the exact details from the tactical standpoint.

"Obviously when you stay high up and you get out of the way, you won't have an impact. Then you have fewer balls going towards him."

Over the past 17 years or so, few – if any – fixtures in world football have been more synonymous with drama, chaos and, above all, the world's best players than El Clasico.

In a way, we probably came to take it for granted what El Clasico meant in terms of entertainment and quality.

Of course, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo became the star attractions of the contest, El Clasico almost becoming its own side story in the wider narrative of their Ballon d'Or rivalry.

Ronaldo's 2018 departure took away one element, and some might even suggest it impacted Messi negatively as well, as he failed to have a hand in a single Clasico goal after his old nemesis moved on.

Now both are gone, with Sunday's Clasico at Camp Nou the first of an era in which neither Messi nor Ronaldo will play any part.

The last season that didn't have either Messi or Ronaldo make a Clasico appearance was 2004-05, and as such there are many people who feel LaLiga has lost some of its lustre, even with Karim Benzema showing the kind of productivity that is unrivalled across the top five European leagues.

 

That's perhaps partly – along with the slow re-establishment of the tourism industry in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic – reflected by the fact there were still 52,000 tickets available for the match as of Tuesday morning.

But that's not to say these squads aren't worth watching. El Clasico may be at the start of a transitional period itself, but there are talents in both teams who look capable of defining this fixture for the next 10 to 15 years.

AN ARCHETYPAL BARCA MIDFIELD

Would Ronald Koeman be putting so much faith in younger players were it not for Barca's financial troubles? Even when you consider the club's history with La Masia, that's debatable.

But here we are, eight matches into the 2021-22 LaLiga season and only two clubs in Spain's top flight have a younger average starting XI age than Barca (26 years, 174 days). That highlights the significance of their squad replenishment since 2017-18, when their average starting XI age was 28 years, 36 days old – the fifth oldest in the division.

 

Nowhere in the Barca team is that more noticeable than in midfield, where youngsters are being forced to mature very, very early.

Gavi had only ever played two league games for Barca's second team before this season, and despite having just five LaLiga outings under his belt, he became Spain's youngest ever international earlier this month.

But the key thing to remember is, the talent – and seemingly attitude – is there. Gavi and Nico have made the step up this season to join Pedri, which could feasibly be Barca's long-term midfield trio, such is the ability and skillset the three teenagers have so far demonstrated.

Sadly, Pedri is likely to miss the Clasico this weekend due to injury, but the remarkable ease to which he took to LaLiga last season provided every shred of evidence needed to consider him a genuine key figure already. The maturity he showed at Euro 2020 only cemented that.

 

Pedri performed an integral function in Luis Enrique's team as he complete more final-third passes (177) than any other player at the Euros, the teenager proving to be hugely dependable when it came to helping keep Spain in possession and on the front foot in those tighter areas of the pitch.

Of course, the way Spain play means their players are likely to have more passes than others, but the fact he fitted in so quickly speaks volumes. Andres Iniesta comparisons have never been far away, even while he was still at Las Palmas, and it's his excellence in this kind of facilitator role that lends further credence to it.

Pedri was involved in 4.2 shot-ending sequences per 90 minutes last season, which was only bettered by five players who ordinarily play in central midfield roles – Frenkie de Jong (5.0) ranked highest. While Iniesta averaged 5.1 each game back in his prime in 2015-16, that dropped to 2.9 in his final season, highlighting how Pedri is absolutely on the right track in terms of influencing Barca's build-up play.

But the beauty of the options Barca have coming through at the moment is that Pedri can realistically expect to have plenty of assistance when it comes to managing the side's considered, possessional style.

 

Gavi has a particularly interesting profile. While he's undoubtedly comfortable on the ball with respect to both passing and dribbling – his nifty turn to spin around Paul Pogba before getting a shot away in the Nations League final was proof of that – he's also a feisty individual.

He's engaged in 14.5 duels per match on average this season. Going back to the start of 2020-21, the only Barca players (minimum of 300 minutes played) to be more involved in that respect are Messi (14.9) and Ilaix Moriba (17.4).

Of course, it's worth pointing out he still has a lot of room for growth here. Gavi's already got four yellow cards across all competitions this season, and his tendency to go flying into tackles a little recklessly was notable during the Nations League, but if this side of his game is nurtured properly then it will be a real asset to Barca's midfield. It's easy to see why Luis Enrique said Marco Verratti is the teenager's idol.

The other potential long-term pillar of Barca's midfield is Nico, the son of former Deportivo La Coruna title-winner and Spain international Fran. Of the three of them, Nico's probably still got the furthest to go to nail down a regular spot, but the promise is there.

In Barca's B team he carried out various midfield functions but really came into his own once deployed as a pivot, the Sergio Busquets role, if you will. It's in this position that his strengths really shine through, as he is comfortable at receiving the ball under pressure because he's so good at using his physicality in conjunction with a delicate appreciation of the ball at his feet.

The similarities with Busquets in that sense are quite striking, though he still has work to do to get a prolonged chance in that position under Koeman, who called Nico out for a lack of defensive awareness in the defeat to Atletico Madrid. He was blamed for letting Thomas Lemar run clear for the first goal.

Nevertheless, there's a lot to like about Nico, particularly his satisfying comfort on the ball. Although not especially quick, his dribbling ability is going to really help him stand out. Sure, it's early days in the season and he's not played a huge amount of football, but so far he is completing 73 per cent of his dribble attempts, which won't surprise those who have been raving about him for a while now.

If given the opportunity to progress and develop, this trio could be Barca's next iconic midfield.

TWO MESSIS?

When Messi's exit was swiftly followed by the announcement of a then injured Ansu Fati taking the number 10 jersey, there were surely plenty of people wondering if it was too much, too soon for him.

Those doubts will not have stemmed from his ability, but rather concern for the mental toll such expectation could have on someone who – let's not forget – is still only 18.

But after 10 months out with a serious knee injury, he returned to the pitch against Levante last month and dazzled in a brief cameo, which included an excellent goal as he spun away from a defender and fired home from distance. It was the kind of reintroduction that suggested he was going to relish his new senior role rather than be cowed by it.

He made his first start of the season last weekend at home to Valencia and only needed 13 minutes to get Barca on the scoresheet. He came off the left flank, played a one-two with Memphis Depay and whipped a clinical effort into the bottom corner from 20 yards. Had it been off his left foot, there would have been more than a hint of Messi to it.

That took him to 11 LaLiga goals in 1,059 minutes since the start of February 2020. In that time, only Alex Fernandez (37.5 per cent) boasts a better conversion rate among LaLiga players with at least five goals than Fati (29 per cent).

Those 11 efforts come from a 4.5 expected goals (xG) value, which is of course a massive overperformance. Ordinarily one would be inclined to think such form is unsustainable, but Fati is clearly special. After missing the best part of a year, he's come back and looked extremely sharp.

One area Barca will hope for improvement is his ability to fashion chances for others because, not only did Messi score more than anyone else at Barca, he also created the most chances.

Fati's 1.7 key passes per 90 mins since the start of last season isn't bad, but Messi was at 2.6 in 2020-21. Of course, it would be unfair to expect anyone to rival Messi's output in terms of goals and creativity, but in an ideal world, Barca will pick up the slack somehow and Fati looks likely to be their next big hope, hence the new six-year contract with a €1billion release clause.

 

But perhaps Yusuf Demir can share some of the burden in future as well – after all, he was nicknamed the 'Austrian Messi' prior to joining Barca on an initial loan back in July.

The 18-year-old has been used sparingly since starting successive league games last month, but hopes for him are high. The Messi comparisons, perhaps rather obviously, come from the fact he's fairly small, left-footed and likes to dribble in off the right flank.

He's only five games into his Camp Nou career and undoubtedly raw, but Demir had been highly rated long before Barca took their opportunity to bring him in during pre-season.

At Rapid Vienna last season, Demir may have started in just six of his 25 Austrian Bundesliga outings (825 minutes), yet he amassed a respectable seven goal involvements, which averaged out at one every 117.9 minutes – of the players to feature for at least 825 minutes, only 10 had a better record.

 

Only one of those involvements was an assist, but that doesn't quite tell the whole story about his creativity as Demir was a regular creator when he did play, which is evidenced by the fact his 2.7 key passes per 90 was the sixth best among those to play at least 825 minutes.

But probably his most notable skill, and the one that inspires some of the Messi comparisons, is his dribbling. A dynamic and explosive player, Demir attempted 6.3 dribbles every game on average last term. No player (minimum 108 minutes) matched that. His 3.8 successful dribbles was also a league high, and it's that flair that has seen him find his way to Catalonia.

It remains to be seen what kind of an impact Demir can have at Barca this season, but there's every chance he and Fati could be terrorising LaLiga full-backs together for years.

FUTURE IS BRIGHT FOR LOS BLANCO

Barcelona's reliance on youth this season has been greater than Real Madrid's, for obvious reasons. But in Vinicius Junior they have one of most in-form players aged 21 or younger in world football, and Eduardo Camavinga joined in pre-season after developing into a serious talent at Rennes.

Camavinga remains something of a mystery regarding his long-term role and even suitability at Madrid, given he has only played five league games, but his promising beginning at Rennes offers plenty to be optimistic about.

For starters, he regularly featured in a midfield trio for Rennes and at least for the time being that will be the case in Madrid, but he also offers a nice blend of explosive flair and defensive work rate.

Only five players in Ligue 1 last season won more tackles than Camavinga (59) and all of them played at least 492 minutes more than him across the course of the season, while he also completed 66.2 per cent of his 65 attempted dribbles. Of the players to try at least 45, only six boasted a better success rate.

Obviously at a club like Madrid, Camavinga will expect to do less defensive work because they'll spend more time on the ball, but knowing they have someone in that number 8 role who is both effective in possession and without it can only be a good thing.

But while we wait for Camavinga to truly make his mark (he has only played 197 minutes in LaLiga), Vinicius is enjoying something of a coming-of-age campaign.

 

He's always looked exciting but so often there have been doubts over his decision making and decisiveness. For example, he only scored three goals in LaLiga last season from an xG value of 6.5 – he couldn't be counted on to make the difference.

But the strides he has made this season have been significant. The Brazilian is attempting more than twice as many dribbles each game (7.0) compared to 2020-21 (3.1), yet his success rate has improved (41.1 per cent to 44.6) as well.

In front of goal he's no longer wasting chances he should be converting – in fact, he's actually been clinical with five goals from 3.5 xG, his shot conversion rate going up from 7.5 per cent to 23.8.

For starters, this suggests he's picking his opportunities better, but the fact he's already at 3.5 xG highlights that he's getting himself into better positions as well.

Vinicius has rarely appeared to lack confidence, but now that seems to be translating into extra attacking responsibility and he's embracing it. He's carrying the ball more and across greater distances, but more importantly than that, it's leading to an increase in Madrid's output in the final third, with Vinicius' shot involvements from ball carries improving to 2.9 this term from 1.1 (per 90 minutes) in 2020-21.

Suddenly he's looking like the future superstar many thought he was destined to be when he left Flamengo, with his wonderful brace against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday a prime example of his new-found clinical nature.

Few would bet against him having a similarly decisive impact in El Clasico, but even if he doesn't, there will be enough young talent on display to highlight why this could be the start of an exciting new era in Spanish football's most watched fixture.

Lionel Messi has Le Classique on his mind, not El Clasico. Cristiano Ronaldo faces the daunting challenge of trying to out-match Mohamed Salah, arguably the best forward in the world at this moment.

This Sunday is one of those remarkable days in European football, with Messi and PSG heading to Marseille for a Velodrome battle, while Ronaldo and Manchester United tackle Liverpool.

Sunday also sees Barcelona and Real Madrid clash at Camp Nou, in LaLiga's first Clasico since Messi followed Ronaldo by bidding Spain farewell.

It is one of those quietly momentous moments in sport. The recent US Open tennis tournament happened without Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and now a Clasico in Spain's post Messi and Ronaldo era is upon us.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform looked at the impact Messi and Ronaldo have had on world football's biggest club game.

Messi and Ronaldo were Clasico mainstays

For the duration of Ronaldo's nine-year stint with Madrid, neither he nor Messi missed a Clasico in LaLiga. Both started 17 games and appeared as a substitute once each.

And the raw facts tell us Messi had far more to celebrate in the league series, with Barcelona winning 10 times and Madrid notching just four victories, with four games drawn, an aggregate scoreline of 39-23 going in the Blaugrana's favour.

Madrid had an average of 14.1 shots per game to 13.0 by Barcelona, but the capital side could not make that slight advantage count in the overall reckoning.

Taking all competitions into account, Madrid's overall Clasico record in the Ronaldo era perked up slightly (W10 D8 L14). They had two Copa del Rey final wins over Barcelona in this time, with Jose Mourinho's side snatching a 1-0 win thanks to Ronaldo's extra-time header in 2011. Ronaldo was then absent through injury for the 2014 final, Madrid winning 2-1 after a late golazo from Gareth Bale.

A Champions League semi-final success for Barcelona in 2011, however, was a sweet knockout blow, delivered after a swift double jab from Messi, his double in a 2-0 win at the Bernabeu being the telling contribution. Messi's goals that night, from a personal expected goals (xG) total of 0.8, were a blow from which Ronaldo and Madrid could not recover in the second leg at Camp Nou. Barcelona went on to beat Manchester United 3-1 in the final, Messi scoring the second goal and being named man of the match.

 

Who was Clasico goal king of the record breakers?

Messi hit an all-time record of 474 goals in LaLiga and Ronaldo grabbed a sensational 311 in nine seasons, but who saved their best finishing form for El Clasico?

The data tells us Messi wins this one, with both players deadlier away from home during their head-to-head rivalry.

Ronaldo hit six goals in nine LaLiga games at Camp Nou, but he only managed three at the Bernabeu against Barca, and they were all penalties. In Madrid's home league tussles with Barcelona, Ronaldo's shot conversion rate was just 6.4 per cent, but it would have been 0.0 per cent without those spot-kicks. The 6.4 per cent conversion rate ranked, of all the fixtures in which he scored in LaLiga, as Ronaldo's fourth worst.

Messi, during that same 2009-18 period, grabbed nine goals in nine league games at the Santiago Bernabeu, four of them penalties, and also scored three in nine home games against Madrid, a free-kick and two from open play. His shot conversion rate of 11.1 per cent at home was balanced out nicely by a sharp-shooting 27.3 per cent away to Los Blancos.

Six assists from Messi to just one from Ronaldo in the nine-season rivalry further underlined the Argentine forward's upper hand in these games.

Across his entire Barcelona career, which spanned 17 years at first-team level, Messi scored 18 LaLiga goals in Clasico battles.

 

What more can we learn from the Leo v CR7 LaLiga years?

Madrid targeted Messi, or at least the numbers suggest they tried to stop him through fair means or foul, albeit with limited success.

He was fouled 30 times at Camp Nou and 26 times at the Bernabeu during Clasico league games. No LaLiga opponent fouled Messi more than that combined total of 56 during the nine-year spell of the Ronaldo rivalry (Atletico Madrid - 47, Espanyol - 46).

Madrid conceded an average of 18.2 fouls per Clasico during that era, and won 12.6, and such margins can be significant.

Barcelona had a string of pass masters in their ranks, with the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets bossing the midfield for much of this vaunted period, and in the LaLiga Clasico games their precision was noticeable.

Passing accuracy of 84.2 per cent in the opposition half during games against Madrid during the Ronaldo years showed where they excelled, and Madrid's 74 per cent mark in this category showed they were often losing possession.

Giving the ball away to any team can spell trouble, and being inaccurate with more than a quarter of passes in the Barcelona half pointed to problems. Only against Rayo Vallecano (71.7 per cent) did Madrid have worse accuracy in that area of the field while Ronaldo was at the club, and that hardly mattered as they won all 10 of their LaLiga games against the side from nearby Vallecas.

Ronaldo's 73.6 per cent passing accuracy against Barcelona was his third worst against any LaLiga opponent, while Messi soared above him with 83.7 per cent, his sixth highest against all league opposition for the seasons from 2009-10 to 2017-18.

The fact he pulled off such consistency while targeting high-tariff manoeuvres in enemy territory further served to underline Messi's dominance of perhaps the greatest LaLiga Clasico head-to-head of them all.

 

Former Paris Saint-Germain boss Laurent Blanc is backing Kylian Mbappe to step up and fill the void after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo hang up their boots.

One of the most exciting talents in the game, the France international has scored 138 goals in 184 appearances for PSG since arriving in 2017, while supplying a further 62 assists.

The World Cup winner's contract is due to expire at the end of the season, with Real Madrid widely expected to sign him on a free transfer.

After 42 goals in 47 appearances last term, Mbappe has been included on the 30-man shortlist for this year's Ballon d'Or – an award won by either Messi or Ronaldo in 11 of the past 12 years.

Now in their mid-30s, the decorated duo have set the standard for well over a decade.

But with their days at the summit of the game arguably numbered, Blanc is confident Mbappe can be one of the players to pick up the baton.

"He is very young but has already achieved a lot, and I think he can still progress," said the former PSG head coach, who guided them to three successive Ligue 1 titles between 2014 to 2016.

"Everyone agrees that he still needs to develop, even if he is already doing so well. 

"I believe that two players have marked the last decades of football: Messi and Ronaldo. 

“Unfortunately, time passes. But I think Kylian is one of the players who can replace them."

 

Mbappe has teamed up with Messi for Mauricio Pochettino's side this season, with the former Barcelona forward joining the French giants on a free transfer in August.

Blanc says the Argentina skipper's arrival not only provided a timely boost for PSG, but to French football as a whole.

"It is vital for the club because it has the best player in the world now," added the 1998 World Cup winner.

"Along with Ronaldo – these two are on another planet. 

"So, it's an excellent thing for the club and for French football. 

"It's a great opportunity for Messi to play in the French championship because it will also allow young players to learn and play by his side."

Paris Saint-Germain will go backwards if Kylian Mbappe leaves for free, according to former midfielder Jerome Rothen. 

Mbappe's contract is due to expire at the end of the season and he has been heavily linked with a free transfer to Real Madrid, whose president Florentino Perez this month said he would have news about the 22-year-old in January. 

The World Cup-winning attacker has scored 138 goals and supplied 62 assists in 184 appearances since joining PSG in 2017, developing into one of the most exciting talents in world football. 

He scored the opening goal in the 3-2 Champions League win over RB Leipzig on Tuesday but blazed a penalty over in second-half stoppage time following a Lionel Messi double.

Still, Rothen believes it is Mbappe, not Messi or Neymar, who is essential to PSG's future.

Their win percentage in all competitions drops by 5.7 per cent to 69.8 per cent when Mbappe does not feature, while their average goals scored slips from 2.7 to 2.3 in his absence. 

"If Mbappe leaves for free, PSG will go backwards I am sure," Rothen said on RMC Sport. 

"It's a chance to have one of the best players in the world. He is the player who best represents Paris Saint-Germain today, the player who often makes the difference and makes you win the big games. 

"It must be shown to Mbappe and his entourage, that the project is around Mbappe, not anyone else. It's not around Lionel Messi or Neymar. 

"Of course, Lionel Messi remains Lionel Messi. Except that today, we see he can disappear for 20 or 30 minutes." 

Mbappe revealed this month that he asked to leave PSG in the close season so they could get money from selling him and find a replacement. 

Messi has a contract at the Parc des Princes until June 2023, with the option for another year, while Neymar's deal runs until 2025. 

Former Argentina head coach Alfio Basile has criticised "messy" Paris Saint-Germain's use of Lionel Messi and says the Ligue 1 side have "a weak defence".

Barcelona's financial difficulties forced Messi to find a new club, eventually joining PSG on a free transfer in August. 

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner got off to a slow start in France, scoring just once in his first four appearances across all competitions and missing several games due to injury.

Basile, who had two spells in charge of Argentina (1991-1994 and 2006-2008), winning two Copa Americas and a FIFA Confederations Cup in a successful first stint, hit out at how PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino was deploying Messi.

"The problem that Messi has is that at PSG, he is playing on the right and with Argentina, he plays everywhere, he makes everyone play." Basile said to SuperMitre.

The former Barca superstar, who won the Copa America with Argentina in July and was named the player of the tournament after registering the most goals and assists, enjoyed a breakthrough evening for his new club as PSG beat RB Leipzig 3-2 on Tuesday, scoring twice.

Basile was scathing in his assessment of the Ligue 1 giants as a team, however, pointing out their defensive organisation as a particular problem.

"PSG have a very weak defence and are very messy," Basile added.

PSG have the seventh-worst expected goals against total in the Champions League so far this season (5.39) but have only conceded three goals, keeping one clean sheet.

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino said his "under construction" team can count on Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe's individual talent after the pair starred in Tuesday's 3-2 Champions League win over RB Leipzig.

Leipzig had six more shots (18-12) as they came from behind to grab a 2-1 lead early in the second half after Mbappe opened the scoring for PSG following a swift counter-attack in the ninth minute of the Group A fixture.

PSG regained control, with Mbappe setting up Messi for a 67th-minute equaliser, before the Argentine superstar coolly dinked home from the spot after the French forward was brought down.

The Parisians had more possession (64.5 per cent) but Pochettino acknowledged too much was in their own half, forcing them to play on the break, rather than force the game.

"It takes time, we are a team under construction," Pochettino said during the news conference. "We had the possession, but we prefer to have it more high on the pitch. But I have also seen good things offensively, which are improving, and which will work better over time.

"Messi and Mbappe? It is difficult to find collective solutions, this is where we can count on players like them. Talents are easily found, there is no time for these automatisms to come back more easily."

Messi became the fourth player to score in their first two home Champions League matches for PSG after Neymar (2017), Alex (2012) and George Weah (1994), while he has now scored 19 goals in 18 games against German opposition in the competition.

Mbappe, who does not turn 23 until December, has already scored 28 Champions League goals – it is the most by any player in the competition before their 23rd birthday, ahead of Messi (25).

Pochettino added that while utilising six-time Ballon d'Or Messi and Mbappe's qualities on the break was effective, he still was aiming to dominate games more in the opposition's half yet needed more time.

"Kylian's qualities are perfect for playing in transition," he told RMC Sport. "When you have Leo, with his passing quality, [Achraf] Hakimi and [Nuno] Mendes on the sides capable of attacking spaces … You can play that way. But we can also progress in the positional game, but that takes time."

PSG, who were also missing Neymar to injury, had 72 per cent possession in the first half, however. Pochettino said his side turned over the ball too much.

Leipzig may have capitalised more with Andre Silva, who equalised in the 28th minute, also hitting the woodwork, while Christopher Nkunku went close on a few occasions before Nordi Mukiele put the German visitors ahead in Paris.

"We have to correct things, we lost too many balls in the first half under the pressure from Leipzig, our midfielders were down," Pochettino said.

"We had trouble connecting with our attackers. In difficult times, we conceded two goals in the counterattack where we had the numerical superiority, we have to improve.

"But we have the satisfaction of having shown character to get back from 2-1."

PSG have been defeated only four times in 44 home matches in the group stages of the Champions League (W34 D6), winning all six of their games against German sides (Bayern Munich on four occasions and Leipzig twice).

Playing with Lionel Messi is "easy" for Kylian Mbappe, who knows Paris Saint-Germain must find a higher level than they did against RB Leipzig on Tuesday.

Messi scored twice to take his tally of Champions League goals to 123 as PSG came out on top 3-2 in a thrilling encounter at Parc des Princes.

While he is yet to find the net in Ligue 1, Messi has now scored three times in UEFA's flagship competition for his new club, taking him level with Mauro Icardi and Neymar for the most goals inside three Champions League appearances for PSG.

With the injured Neymar watching from the stands, Mbappe played a crucial part in both of Messi's goals, first teeing up the 34-year-old to restore parity after Nordi Mukiele made it 2-1 to Leipzig, before winning the penalty from which the Argentine coolly chipped home the winner.

Mbappe opened the scoring in a frantic match, finishing brilliantly in the ninth minute to take his number of direct goal contributions for PSG in the Champions League to 40.

The youngster has already scored 28 goals in the Champions League; the most by any player in the competition before their 23rd birthday, ahead of Messi (25). Mbappe did, however, pull rank over Messi late on to take a second penalty, denying his team-mate the chance of a hat-trick, only to send his effort into the stands.

"We found each other tonight, it was good," Mbappe told RMC Sport when asked about Messi.

"Now, Neymar will come back. We will have to be good together, all three of us. We will need to be efficient. But, it's easy to play with Messi."

While Mbappe and Messi got PSG out of trouble and sent Mauricio Pochettino's side back to the top of Group A, it was another performance largely lacking in control, with Leipzig having 18 attempts in total, eight more than their hosts managed.

Andre Silva, who cancelled out Mbappe's opener, had previously hit the woodwork, while former PSG midfielder Christopher Nkunku also went close on several occasions. 

Though he is revelling in his growing relationship with Messi, Mbappe insisted the trend of performances cannot continue.

"In the league, we may be a bit laborious, but we have nine wins in ten games," he said. "We have to do better, it's true. For the moment, we are not playing well, [but] we are winning. But I think we have to play better to win more calmly."

It was a sentiment echoed by Marquinhos, who was also full of praise for Mbappe's display.

"Paris won, that's the most important thing," he said. "You have to suffer, there is no gift in football. We knew that there would be no easy matches. The main thing is to win, to gain confidence and experience.

"It's great to have a player like [Mbappe]. He's a very important player in the team. He plays great matches. It's very important to have him fresh, with confidence. He helps us on the field, it is very good for us that he is there."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.