Lionel Messi has left a glaring hole at Barcelona and it will prove to be an extremely difficult void to fill as former team-mate Victor Sanchez discussed the shock and tearful Camp Nou exit.

Messi had been tipped to re-sign at Barcelona but the LaLiga club's dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under the league's salary restrictions, paving the way for a blockbuster switch to Ligue 1 powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.

Instead of extending his time at Barca, dating back to 2000 during his youth, Messi now forms a frightening attack alongside old friend Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in Paris.

Sanchez played alongside Messi in Barca, where he emerged from the club's youth system in 2005 and made his first-team debut in 2008 before joining and captaining rivals Espanyol, and he spoke to Stats Perform about the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's stunning departure.

"I was shocked, but everyone too because after last year when he wanted to leave, and he finally didn't, I looked like he would end his career at Barcelona," said Sanchez, who now plays for Western United in Australia.

"So, leaving this year and joining PSG, it is tough to understand on his side, but also on the Barcelona side. I have spoken with former team-mates of his and they think same as me: they thought it was done and he would continue playing for Barca, and everything changed at the very last moment.

"We won't know why it did not happen, but it is a big shame for Barcelona and for Spanish football. On the other hand, it is a big joy for French football and PSG as I think they are building a spectacular team."

Messi played 778 games for Barcelona in all competitions, scoring 672 goals and providing 265 assists across those games. That amounts to 937 goal involvements during his Barca career, which began as a 17-year-old.

Messi's goals for Barca were scored against 82 different teams. Sevilla were his favourite opponent, finding the net against them 38 times in 43 appearances.

The 34-year-old's most prolific season as a Barcelona player was in 2011-12 when scoring a remarkable 73 goals in all competitions, as well as providing a further 28 assists, setting a personal record in both categories.

Messi netted 79 goals for his club across the calendar year in 2012, which is a record amount by a single player. His next most prolific year was 2010 when registering 58 times.

 

He is the only player to have scored 10 or more goals in LaLiga in 15 consecutive seasons.

Messi is the all-time LaLiga top scorer with 474 goals and is the second-highest scorer ever in Europe's top five leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (476), while he scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013 - a record for a player in the competition's history.

"It is very tough to replace Messi. You get a player like this every 20-30-40 years," Sanchez said before Barca's season-opening 4-2 win over Real Sociedad on Sunday. "It is so hard. However, Barca's academy works in the same way with every team, so they can get three-four-five players and build a strong team who can win titles and bid for all, something difficult right now in Barcelona.

"It is the same what happened with [Andres] Iniesta, Xavi… probably will happen with [Sergio] Busquets too. It is not easy to replace them with other players because they have been the best in their position.

"Barcelona will get other good players, but it won't be easy to get someone like Messi who has given that much to the team."

Under the leadership of Pep Guardiola, Sanchez was part of the star-studded Barca squad that won the Champions League, LaLiga and Copa del Rey in 2008-09 – playing alongside Messi as well as Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Yaya Toure, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Samuel Eto'o.

"I read a lot of comments when I was younger," Sanchez said when asked if he remembered some of the reaction and comments to Messi's emergence at Barca. "I am the same age as Messi, and I read a lot about a player of 16-17 who was superb in the academy. The thing is when I reached the first team, he was playing for three years in the first team.

"I was 20-21 at that time and he was already a star in the first team. However, it is true there were comments on a player in the second team who was going to be a big player and he has become it.

"You could see he was different since he was a child. As you see in others, you could also see on him."

Is Kylian Mbappe's future nearing a resolution?

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

Real Madrid are reportedly poised to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID NEARING MBAPPE DEAL?

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

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

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

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

 

ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lionel Messi is a Paris Saint-Germain player. Even though we've had a few days to let that sink in, it still seems such a perplexing scenario.

Messi has signed a two-year deal at the Parc des Princes and will form probably the most-feared front three in world football alongside Kylian Mbappe and his old friend Neymar.

Barcelona's dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under LaLiga's salary restrictions, meaning they begin their 2021-22 campaign on Sunday against Real Sociedad with a gaping void in their team.

This will be the first season since 2003-04 that Barca haven't been able to call upon the Argentina superstar, and his absence is sure to leave a lingering sense of astonishment that won't clear for a while, particularly if the Blaugrana endure a difficult start to the campaign.

Of course, Barca's hands were ultimately tied in this shocking saga, their financial state so rocky that signing Messi up to a new contract after his previous deal expired was literally impossible. Although the two parties had an agreement, the numbers simply wouldn't work.

The world will now watch on with fascination as Messi represents a new club for the first time in his career, while back in Catalonia, Barca must carry on like nothing's happened.

That'll be difficult to do. Using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at some of the incredible feats that make Messi irreplaceable.

 

Messi played 778 games for Barcelona in all competitions, scoring 672 goals and providing 265 assists across those games. That amounts to 937 goal involvements during his Barca career, which began as a 17-year-old.

Previously a one-club man, his first appearance for Barcelona came under Frank Rijkaard against Espanyol in October 2004, while his first goal arrived seven months later with a clever lob against Albacete at Camp Nou from a Ronaldinho assist.

Brazil great Ronaldinho was the last Barcelona player to wear the famed number 10 before Messi took that shirt in 2008 and made it his own.

But Ronaldinho does not feature among the top assisters for Messi goals, a list that is led by Luis Suarez (47)Dani Alves assisted 42 of the attacker's goals and third is Andres Iniesta with 37, six more than fellow legendary midfielder Xavi.

 

Messi played under eight different coaches during his time with Barcelona. Of those, he featured most often (219 appearances) and scored the most goals (211) during Pep Guardiola's tenure.

However, the 60 goals Messi scored in 50 games under the late Tito Vilanova – an average of 1.20 goals per match – was his best goals-per-game return with a single coach.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Messi's lowest average goals-per-game ratio was during the Rijkaard era at the start of his career (0.38), followed by the 0.63 managed under Quique Setien between January and August 2020.

 

Messi's most prolific season as a Barcelona player was in 2011-12 when scoring a remarkable 73 goals in all competitions and providing a further 28 assists, setting a personal record in both categories.

Indeed, the forward netted 79 goals for his club across the calendar year in 2012, which is a record amount by a single player. His next most prolific year was 2010 when registering 58 times.

In more recent years, Messi managed 51 goals in 2016, 50 goals in 2017, 47 goals in 2018, 45 goals in 2019 and 26 goals in 2020 – a steady decline that he has already rectified this year, having scored 28 times in the first half of 2021.

He is the only player to have scored 10 or more goals in 15 consecutive LaLiga seasons.

 

Messi's 672 goals for Barcelona were scored against 82 different teams. Sevilla were his favourite opponent, finding the net against them 38 times in 43 appearances.

Atletico Madrid were next on that particular list, with Messi bagging 32 goals in that fixture, followed by Valencia (31), Athletic Bilbao (29) and bitter rivals Real Madrid (26), making him the all-time leading scorer in El Clasico.

In terms of individual goalkeepers, Diego Alves was Messi's most frequent victim, the former Almeria and Valencia man having conceded 21 goals against the Argentina superstar.

Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas was joint-third with 17 goals against, one fewer than the 18 Messi put past Gorka Iraizoz.

 

Messi is of course synonymous with Camp Nou, a ground where he has scored 394 goals in 381 games at an average of 1.03 per match. Madrid fans will be particularly sick of him as he has scored 15 times in 22 games at the Santiago Bernabeu – his second favourite venue.

That is followed by the Vicente Calderon, Atletico's old home (14 goals in 20 appearances). Deportivo La Coruna's Riazor (13 in eight) and Sevilla's Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan (13 in 18) complete the top five.

It's fair to say Barca have an almighty task on their hands in replacing him.

 

Messi's other notable records and achievements

– Messi is LaLiga's all-time leading scorer with 474 goals and is the second-highest scorer ever in Europe's top five leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (476).

– He scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013, a record for a player in the competition's history.

– Messi is one of only two players to reach 100 goals in Champions League history (120), alongside Cristiano Ronaldo (134).

– He was the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match, doing so against Bayer Leverkusen in March 2012 at Camp Nou.

– The Argentina forward is one of six players to score more than 50 goals in the Copa del Rey's history and the only one to score in six different finals in the tournament (Telmo Zarra scored in five).

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

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

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

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

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

However, Pochettino is convinced Mbappe remains utterly focused.

 

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

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

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

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

Pochettino wished he could have joined in the celebrations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean? Complacency a concern

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

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

Mbappe makes hay

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

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

Missing Marquinhos

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

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

What's next?

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

Atletico Madrid did not speak with Lionel Messi about the possibility of reuniting him with Luis Suarez at the club, according to coach Diego Simeone.

After Barca's financial difficulties forced a tearful Messi to announce his exit from the club last week, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner signed a two-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain on Monday.

Messi is now poised to form a frightening front three with former Barcelona team-mate Neymar and France star Kylian Mbappe.

There had been talk of him linking up with the other former member of Barca's fabled MSN forward line and signing for LaLiga champions Atletico.

But Simeone denied there had been any communication between the club and the Argentina international.

Simeone told a media conference ahead of Atletico's LaLiga opener at Celta Vigo: "[Messi] is a really important departure for LaLiga and for Barcelona.

"We weren't talking with him. We didn't have the slightest chance."

On the impact of Messi's exit on LaLiga, Simeone added: "I understand that not even the Premier League has Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo, and it's a very competitive league.

"It will depend on the growth of all the teams to be able to make a competitive league without having either of [those players], as England have done."

Messi's departure would appear to be a significant boost to Atletico's hopes of fending off both Barca and Real Madrid once more and retaining the title.

But Simeone clearly has little interest in talk of Atletico being title favourites.

"We will not change our path, which is game by game, to understand what the league is like," he said. 

"There is no better way to compete than how we have been doing so in the last nine and a half years."

Lionel Messi will be made to wait for his Paris Saint-Germain debut after being left out of Mauricio Pochettino's 22-man squad for Saturday's Ligue 1 clash with Strasbourg.

The Argentina international completed a shock move from to PSG on Tuesday, having left Barcelona, but has not played since the Copa America final on July 10 and has only trained twice with his new team-mates.

Pochettino suggested on the eve of the game with Strasbourg that he would not take any risks regarding Messi's fitness and it has now been confirmed the six-time Ballon d'Or winner will play no part at the Parc des Princes.

Neymar is also not included in the squad as he builds up his fitness following his own participation at the Copa America with beaten finalists Brazil, while Gianluigi Donnarumma, Leandro Paredes and Angel Di Maria are other high-profile omissions.

Meanwhile, it was announced on Friday that Sergio Ramos, signed on a free transfer from Real Madrid last month, will be out of action until after September's international break through injury.

Kylian Mbappe is in contention to play a part against Strasbourg, however, and the France star will make his 150th league appearance for PSG and Monaco should he feature.

The World Cup winner has scored 107 goals across that period – only Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted more in this first 150 appearances over the last 40 campaigns (113 goals in 122 games).

PSG kicked off their Ligue 1 campaign with a 2-1 comeback win at Troyes last week and are seeking back-to-back wins to begin a new league season for the first time in three years.

Pochettino's men are unbeaten in their 30 Ligue 1 home games against Strasbourg (W23 D7), which is a French top-flight record for one team at home against a specific opponent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lionel Messi will be given time by Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino to regain his fitness before making his debut following this week's shock switch from Barcelona.

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

Messi has not played since helping Argentina to a 1-0 win over Brazil in the Copa America final on July 10 and has had just two training sessions with his new club.

PSG host Strasbourg at the Parc des Princes in their second Ligue 1 game of the campaign on Saturday, but Pochettino is not prepared to risk using Messi too soon.

"Today was his second training session since the Copa America final," Pochettino said at a pre-match news conference on Friday. "The priority for him is to feel better and better.

"Only then will we see if he is ready to play matches."

Messi departed Barcelona having scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more in 778 appearances for the cash-strapped Catalan giants across a 17-season stay in the first team.

The 34-year-old's arrival in the French capital has understandably dominated the headlines and Pochettino is just as excited as the PSG supporters with the high-profile signing.

"We share the same feelings that the fans are experiencing, a great positive energy," he said. "Every coach in the world wants to have the best players.

"It's nice to have a roster of excellent players here to increase competition and help us achieve our targets."

 

Questions have been raised as to whether PSG can keep the likes of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe on their books without breaching financial fair play regulations.

Mbappe is into the final year of his deal and has been linked with a move to Real Madrid, but Pochettino reiterated the club's stance that the World Cup winner is not going anywhere.

"He is one of our players and will continue to be our player," Pochettino said. "Our president has already said so and this is what counts."

Messi is not the only big name to join PSG in this window, with Sergio Ramos also signing on a free alongside Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum and Achraf Hakimi.

However, ex-Real Madrid captain Ramos has yet to play for his new club due to a calf problem that will keep him out of action until after September's international break.

PSG provided the latest update on Ramos' fitness on their official website on Friday, while also confirming full-back Juan Bernat is back in full training.

Asked if integrating the former captains of rivals of Barcelona and Madrid into the same side will be a challenge, Pochettino replied: "They will be like brothers in a PSG shirt.

"It has been like the Big Brother house here this week with all the attention. But Leo has a great relationship with everyone and has had a good welcome."

 

The influx of more superstar players has only increased the pressure on Pochettino to reclaim the Ligue 1 title and win a first Champions League, a challenge that he is up for.

"It's no more or less responsibility than in other projects I've had at Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham," Pochettino said.

"The responsibility here is to win games. If you don't, you're in trouble. The challenge is to make sure the stars that shine on their own can work well as a team."

PSG kicked off their Ligue 1 campaign with a 2-1 comeback win at Troyes last week.

The Parisiens are unbeaten in their 30 Ligue 1 home games against next opponents Strasbourg (W23 D7), a French top-flight record for one team at home to a specific opponent.

With question marks over the fitness of numerous players, Pochettino is unsure how he will line up on Saturday.

"Let's take it slowly. There are still things to be resolved in terms of who will play. That's something we will establish later," he said.

"The priority tomorrow is to win the game. We need to find the right balance between concentration and the general excitement that has surrounded the club for a few days."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke says that it is "unfair" that Paris Saint-Germain have signed Lionel Messi.

PSG unveiled Messi on Wednesday following his free transfer move from Barcelona on a bumper two-year deal.

Watzke, who has had to ward off strong interest in Dortmund's prized asset Erling Haaland this off-season, said Qatari-owned PSG's economic position was unfair.

“It is a fact that PSG has more economic resources than 85 per cent of other European teams," Watzke said as reported by L'Equipe.

"It is clear that this is an unfair competition that has already been rife for too long but I am by no means jealous.

"Frankly, it wouldn't be my cup of tea to have to kneel down every fourth morning in front of the Emir of Qatar."

PSG have signed Messi along with Georginio Wijnaldum, Sergio Ramos and Gianluigi Donnarumma on free transfers this off-season, bumping up their player wages.

The Parisians also spent €60million to sign Internazionale full-back Achraf Hakimi, having purchased Mauro Icardi for the Nerazzurri 12 months ago for €50m.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has denied claims that he played a part in Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca announced last week that their greatest ever player would not be staying on at Camp Nou, despite agreeing terms for a new contract.

Messi's 21-year association with the Catalan giants formally came to an end on Tuesday when putting pen to paper on an initial two-year deal with PSG.

Barca president Joan Laporta insists the club did all that they possibly could to keep hold of the Argentina captain, but "financial and structural obstacles" stood in the way.

However, ex-Espai Barca Commission member Juame Llopis claimed this week Laporta was convinced by CEO Ferran Reverter and Madrid chief Perez to let the forward leave in order to free up funds.

The comments were made after LaLiga announced a €2.7billion deal with CVC Capital Partners to boost clubs, with 90 per cent of the investment earmarked for their use.

Llopis, who resigned from his post after Messi's departure, told Cadena SER: "The new CEO [Reverter] is in charge. 

"I know that everything has to go through the CEO, everything has to be signed by the CEO and not the president.

"The CEO threatened Joan Laporta with his resignation, and he has an ironclad contract, if he signed [LaLiga's deal] with CVC.

"Laporta was pressured by his CEO and, on the other hand, Florentino convinced him. 

"Between the two of them they convinced him that he has to kick Messi out [of Barcelona] and not sign with CVC."

Madrid and Barca have since stated their objections regarding the CVC deal due to a disagreement over audiovisual rights.

And Perez has now issued a statement in response to Llopis' remarks, insisting it was "impossible" for him to have any sway over Messi's future at Camp Nou.

"Given the statements made by Jaume Llopis, a former member of the Espai Barca Commission, I want to state the following," the statement read. 

"It is flatly false that he has been friends for a long time with the CEO of FC Barcelona, ​​Ferran Reverter, since he is a person with whom I have only met twice in my life.

"One of those occasions was four months ago and the other last Saturday at the meeting that took place in Barcelona with President Joan Laporta and President Andrea Agnelli. 

"That was after the official communication on Messi had already taken place. 

"Therefore, it is impossible for me to have had any influence either on Messi's departure or on any other FC Barcelona decision. 

"So, I hope that Jaume Llopis rectifies these statements that do not correspond to the truth as soon as possible."

Madrid kick off their 2021-22 LaLiga campaign with a trip to Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

Xavi feels sympathy for Lionel Messi and his former club Barcelona following the superstar forward's switch to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi held a tearful news conference on Sunday to confirm the end of his 21-year stay at Camp Nou ahead of completing a move to PSG on Tuesday.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner revealed both he and Barcelona did everything possible to agree a new deal, but it was made impossible by "financial and structural obstacles".

Xavi, who won 24 trophies playing in the same side as Messi prior to departing Barca in 2015, is upset that the Argentina international was effectively forced out of the door.

"I'm just so sad for Leo," Xavi, who is now managing Qatari club Al Sadd, told The Times. "It's a pity to see he and the club couldn't find a solution.

"I know that Leo wanted to stay, but in the end it could not be sorted.

"The only thing I can say now is that I will miss him a lot. It's even hard for me to picture Messi with a shirt other than Barca's. 

"It's sad for Leo, especially for how I saw him emotionally at the Camp Nou the other day, but for FC Barcelona as well."

 

As Barcelona get set to begin a new season without Messi for the first time since 2003, there will be plenty of onus on others in Ronald Koeman's squad stepping up.

One of those who has already made big strides in his first full campaign at Camp Nou is young midfielder Pedri, who also impressed for Spain at Euro 2020 and the Olympics.

He played more passes in the opposition half (461) than any player at Euro 2020.

Pedri's 421 successful passes was bettered by only four players, with the 18-year-old completing 65 of the 66 attempted in the semi-final loss to Italy – that one misplaced pass coming in extra time.

And Xavi can see similarities between Pedri and another Barcelona icon in Andres Iniesta, who spent 16 years in Barcelona's first team.

"Pedri is unbelievable. The kid has Iniesta's profile of a player, for sure," Xavi said.

"Watching him play at his age, doing what he does, leaves you with the only answer: he'll be great. Actually, he already is so impressive, but he can be even better."

While Spain's campaign ended at the last four stage, England reached the final on home soil before suffering a cruel defeat to Italy on penalties.

Xavi was impressed by what he saw from Gareth Southgate's side and in particular a couple of their midfielders.

"I've seen England at a fantastic level. They have absolutely everything in the squad. Well, actually they were not champions just because of a penalty," he said.

"This generation is young, physically strong but also great technically. With this group of players, they'll always be competitive.

"I can see them fighting for the World Cup, without a shadow of a doubt. They are almost there.

"I think that sooner rather than later they'll have this spark of luck you need to win trophies.

"I have also been hugely impressed by the two midfielders, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips. I did not know them that well, but they were superb.

"You can see a centre-back like John Stones and how he plays the ball out from the defence.

"Next to him there's [Harry] Maguire, who drives up the ball to split the opponent's pressing. 

"How the full-backs and wing-backs behave for the team . . . there are details that speak volumes of Southgate's work."

 

Euro 2020 was a rather mixed tournament for Phil Foden, who started England's first two matches but struggled to make an impact and was largely overlooked from that point on.

"I think he is an unreal talent for a lot of reasons," Xavi said of the Manchester City midfielder. "He has an amazing work rate, but also his decision-making is ace. 

"He's strong, quick, has a sense of goal, great passer and shooter... There's everything in the pack.

"I would have loved to see more game time for Foden. When you have this number of talented players, all I can think of is putting them on the pitch. 

"I understand it's very tough to make changes with the squad Southgate had. There were a lot of options in his hands and only eleven could play. 

"But it's a pity to see so many special talents with not much playing time."

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