Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino is perplexed there is any debate about Lionel Messi's effectiveness for the club this season after his starring role in the 3-1 win over Saint-Etienne on Saturday.

The former Barcelona forward did not get on the scoresheet, but he was instrumental in his side fighting back from Denis Bouanga's early opener for Saint-Etienne at the Parc des Princes.

Messi teed up both of Kylian Mbappe's strikes either side of half-time, the second of which came after some superb skill to round two Saint-Etienne players.

He has now racked up six assists since the turn of the year – more than any other player in the top five European leagues.

His two assists on Saturday means he has laid on four goals for Mbappe in Ligue 1 this season, which is the highest total in the competition from one player to another.

Messi has been criticised for his poor goalscoring return this campaign, with just seven across all competitions, but Pochettino is in doubt about the 34-year-old's quality.

"I can't understand how there can be a debate about Messi because he is exceptional," he told Canal+. "No, there is no debate. It's impossible. 

"Messi is incredible, magnificent. He played very well and the only thing he was missing was a goal."

 

Mbappe's second goal moved him level with Zlatan Ibrahimovic as PSG's second all-time top goalscorer on 156 goals, while he became the first player in Ligue 1 this season to reach double figures for goals and assists (14 goals, 10 assists).

Pochettino was full of praise for the forward's display and insisted he has not sustained an injury despite appearing to hold his right thigh late in the first half.  

"Kylian is fine," Pochettino added. "He had no problem. He is suspended against Nice [next Saturday] and will be able to work for a week. He will be ready to start in Madrid [for the Champions League last-16 second leg against Real Madrid on March 9].

"We are very happy with him, that he is with us. I'm proud of him. It's amazing, wonderful.

"I'm very happy because we finish the matches very well. We played the second half the way we wanted to play. Kylian is a fantastic player. Lionel and Neymar were also important for us."

PSG have now won five of their last six Ligue 1 matches after a run of just one victory in their previous five, and Pochettino believes his side are slowly moving in the right direction.

"There is progress, small steps," he added. "I'm happy with that. This is how you have to improve. The team is gaining confidence when we were still trailing. The team gains tactical richness."

Kylian Mbappe moved level with Zlatan Ibrahimovic as Paris Saint-Germain's second all-time top goalscorer after he struck a brace in Saturday's 3-1 win over Saint-Etienne.

Mauricio Pochettino's side suffered a 3-1 defeat to Nantes in their previous top-flight game last weekend and they looked like they might be on the end of another surprise loss when Denis Bouanga put the visitors ahead early on.

However, goals either side of half-time from Mbappe – the second of which moved him level with Ibrahimovic on 156 goals – and a third from Danilo Pereira sealed all three points at the Parc des Princes.

The result meant PSG moved 16 points clear at the Ligue 1 summit, while Saint-Etienne remained in 16th, just one point outside the relegation zone. 

Saint-Etienne were rewarded for a bright start in the 16th minute when Bouanga picked Pereira's pocket just outside the penalty area and superbly fired past Gianluigi Donnarumma from 15 yards.

Messi was the provider for PSG's leveller three minutes before half-time, the Argentina international threading a wonderful pass into Mbappe, whose powerful strike from 10 yards proved too hot for Paul Bernardoni to handle.

Those two players combined to devastating effect two minutes after the restart, Messi jinking inside two players before laying the ball into the path of Mbappe, who drilled across Bernardoni to put PSG ahead. 

Pereira made amends for his earlier error with PSG's third in the 52nd minute, the Portuguese rising high at the back post to head home Mbappe's sumptuous cross with the outside of his foot. 

Neymar and Georginio Wijnaldum both struck the post late on, yet it mattered little as PSG comfortably saw proceedings out to return to winning ways with the minimum of fuss. 
 

What does it mean? PSG maintain fine home form

This comeback win means PSG have not lost any of their past 16 home games in Ligue 1, which is the best current run in the league.

The result also stretched their unbeaten run over Saint-Etienne to 26 matches, equalling the longest unbeaten streak in their history against an opponent (also 26 against Angers, which is an ongoing run since December 1976).

Mbappe up to joint second

Mbappe is now level with Monaco's Wissam Ben Yedder at the top of the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 14 goals after his brace here. Barring injury, he will unquestionably move clear of Ibrahimovic in PSG's all-time rankings, yet whether he breaks Edinson Cavani's record of 200 goals for the club depends on whether he moves to Real Madrid at the end of the season.

Messi in generous mood

Goals have been hard to come by for Messi since his move from Barcelona, but he is having no such problems creating them for his team-mates. He has now recorded six assists in Ligue 1 since the turn of the year, which is more than anyone else in the top five European leagues.

What's next?

PSG visit Nice next Saturday, while Saint-Etienne host Metz a day later.

Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino is unconcerned by recent wastefulness in front of goal and believes his star-studded attack will soon click.

PSG suffered just their second league loss of the season at Nantes last week, going down 3-1 despite creating plenty of chances and finishing the match with an expected goals (xG) of 3.8, with Neymar missing a second-half penalty after the Parisians had found themselves three goals down.

The Ligue 1 leaders also missed a penalty in their recent 1-0 Champions League win over Real Madrid, with Lionel Messi failing to beat Thibaut Courtois on a night where they had 1.88 xG to their opponents' 0.14.

However, Pochettino has faith that his attacking endeavours will be rewarded.

"I'm not worried when we don't score. I would worry if we didn't get chances," Pochettino told a news conference ahead of this weekend's game with Saint-Etienne.

"We have talented players, who can score at any time. 

"This week, we emphasised work. We must improve the balance in our play, the defensive transitions, controlling space. 

"With the team we have, there is no doubt in my mind that we'll find that clinical streak."

 

Although PSG boast a 13-point lead at the top of Ligue 1, they have won just five of their last 10 league games, drawing four and losing one. 

Meanwhile, with defender Sergio Ramos close to resuming training after a calf injury, Pochettino expressed his frustration at the injury woes which have blighted the Real Madrid legend this season, with Ramos making just two Ligue 1 starts since joining the club last summer.

"The person who suffers most from him not being available to play is him," the PSG boss added.

"We are trying to help him. We have great medical staff who are trying to give him the best possible treatment to deal with this type of situation. We're here to give him moral and psychological support. 

"It's always difficult for an injured player. A footballer needs to be part of the competition, of the squad too, on big days. All of that creates cohesion with the squad."

PSG are looking to defend a proud record against Saint-Etienne in their next outing, having won 42 of their 80 Ligue 1 games against them (25 draws and 13 losses). Only against Metz have they won more top-flight matches (43).

Sergio Ramos endorsed Lionel Messi for the Ballon d'Or as the Paris Saint-Germain superstar targets a record-extending seventh crown.

Messi is among the favourites for the 2021 Ballon d'Or, which will be announced during Monday's ceremony in Paris.

Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski is expected to provide stiff competition as well as Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho, who celebrated Champions League and Euro 2020 glory.

Ramos has often backed Cristiano Ronaldo for the top gong over the years, given they were Real Madrid team-mates and rivals of former Barcelona captain Messi.

But Ramos now calls PSG home and wants ex-foe Messi to succeed once more following Argentina's drought-ending Copa America triumph.

 

"Yes, of course [I hope he wins]," Spain international defender Ramos told ESPN.

"I'm going to defend the guys in my team. I wish him all the luck in the world.

"He's in good shape, and I think he's the kind of player who really makes a difference. He's a unique player and it's a privilege to have him in the team.

"I think that bit by bit, each of us is going to bring our own quality to make Paris Saint-Germain even greater and achieve the things we want to achieve."

In Sunday's 3-1 win at Saint-Etienne, Messi delivered three assists in a single league game for the third time of his career after March 2016 against Getafe and February 2020 against Betis.

Messi became the first PSG player to achieve the feat in Ligue 1 since Blaise Matuidi against Angers in January 2016.

At 35 years and 243 days, Ramos became the oldest outfield player to make his first appearance with PSG in Ligue 1 since David Beckham (37 years and 298 days against Marseille in February 2013).

Ramos attempted 101 passes against Saint-Etienne – a game-high and the best tally for a PSG player making his Ligue 1 debut since Opta started analysing this data in 2006-07.

Neymar suffered a potentially serious injury as Paris Saint-Germain laboured to a 3-1 win over 10-man Saint-Etienne.

Looking for a response after their defeat to Manchester City in midweek, not to mention the speculation over Mauricio Pochettino's future, PSG fell flat for much of Sunday's game but Angel Di Maria and Marquinhos came up with the goods late on.

Marquinhos had earlier cancelled out Denis Bouanga's opener, after Timothee Kolodziejczak was sent off for the struggling hosts.

However, PSG will now hold concern over Neymar, who had to be taken off on a stretcher with an apparent ankle injury between the visitors' late goals.

Sergio Ramos claimed he can "continue playing for four or five years" if he can stay mentally strong as he expects his physical state to hold up.

Ramos moved to Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in July, but is yet to make an appearance for Mauricio Pochettino's side due to a knee injury.

The centre-back made a huge step on his road to recovery as he was an unused substitute in Wednesday's Champions League loss against Manchester City.

The former Real Madrid star could be in line for his debut away to Saint-Etienne, where PSG are unbeaten in 12 league games, with their last loss coming in September 2008.

But Ramos feels he can play on for a lot longer if his mental state can hold out, as he believes he is physically fit enough to compete for many more years.

"I think I can continue playing for four or five years," Ramos told Amazon Prime Video in an interview that will be broadcast in full on Sunday. 

"The most important thing is that my head holds. I hope I don't have any more physical problems."

 

The 35-year-old ended a 16-year association with Madrid when he left for France, but he has not played since Los Blancos' Champions League loss against Chelsea in early May.

Numerous reports have suggested an earlier return for Ramos, who signed a two-year contract at Parc des Princes, though Sunday could finally be the day he makes his bow.

When fit, Pochettino will have one of football's best defenders in terms of attacking returns to call upon, but Ramos' comeback will also be a sweet personal victory for the Spain international.

"I believed in myself and in work," he continued. "I focus on giving the club back the trust it has placed in me. I hope to reach my best level.

"At the end are difficult moments, moments of loneliness. Whole hours in the gym with the physiotherapist, with the physical trainer. You constantly have negative thoughts that sometimes make you doubt."

Mauricio Pochettino says being linked with the Manchester United job can only be a good thing as it must mean he is doing a good job with Paris Saint-Germain.

The ex-Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham boss has been persistently touted as United's top choice to succeed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on a permanent basis at Old Trafford.

He is reported to be interested in a return to the Premier League with the Red Devils, who look poised to name Ralf Rangnick as interim boss until the end of the season. 

Pochettino refused to quash the rumours after Wednesday's 2-1 Champions League loss to Manchester City, but PSG sporting director Leonardo said on Friday the Argentine has not asked to leave.

The speculation is unlikely to go away until United bring in a new full-time boss, but Pochettino insists he will not let it distract him from his duties at Parc des Princes.

"I am very focused on PSG. We are used to these rumours," he said at a news conference ahead of Sunday's Ligue 1 trip to Saint-Etienne. 

"Rumours come often, and it's a good sign that they come often, because it's a sign that we are doing a good job. 

"But we do not create these rumours. We just focus on working well. We make sure to stay calm and that it does not affect us. The players are focused, too. It doesn't affect us."

Pochettino was cheekily asked if he prefers roast beef or boeuf bourguignon, to which he replied: "Argentinian barbecue, always!"

 

PSG travel to Stade Geoffroy-Guichard aiming to bounce back from their midweek loss at the hands of City.

The Parisiens have won 12 of their 14 Ligue 1 games this term and are unbeaten in 16 league meetings with Saint-Etienne, winning 11 of those.

Sergio Ramos, an unused substitute in the defeat at the Etihad Stadium, is in line to make his first appearance for PSG after recovering from a niggling injury issue.

The Spain international has spent his entire career to date in Spain and Pochettino acknowledged it may take time for the experienced centre-back to adapt.

"He needs to play. We'll have to see how he adapts to the league, which is completely different from LaLiga," Pochettino said.

"It's hard to predict how he will get on. It's just a feeling. He'll need the time it takes.

"He's behaving professionally and wants to help the team. He's a player that we know, with a lot of experience, and is a great champion. He can bring his knowledge and values."

PSG confirmed on Saturday that Marco Verratti will miss the trip to Saint-Etienne but should be back in training next week, while Ander Herrera, Georginio Wijnaldum and Mauro Icardi are also out.

"These are things that happen in football," Pochettino said when asked about Verratti's injury setback. "He's an important player for us, but also for all the coaches who have been here. 

"He is a fundamental player. It's a pity that he cannot be counted on tomorrow. We hope that he can find this continuity with the team to play regularly. We are still positive, and we hope that this will be his last injury."

Lille head into their final Ligue 1 match of the season with a slender one-point lead after they could only draw 0-0 at home to Saint-Etienne as nearest challengers Paris Saint-Germain were victorious.

Les Dogues were three points clear at the summit heading into Sunday's fixtures, knowing they could potentially seal the title on the day.

But their performance lacked lustre almost from start to finish, with Christophe Galtier's men unable to get a single shot on target in the first half.

Out of necessity Lille were rather more forceful in their attacking after the break, though their desperation translated to Zeki Celik appearing to dive in an attempt to win a penalty.

They then thought Jonathan David had been fouled in the box a few minutes later, though replays showed the contact was minimal.

A winner almost arrived in the 90th minute as Yusuf Yazici's free-kick went all the way through a crowd of players and appeared to be heading into the bottom-left corner, but Etienne Green in the Saint-Etienne net produced a remarkable save to tip it on to the post.

That was to be their last opportunity, meaning Lille go to Angers on the final day next Sunday with the title race in the balance, just a point ahead of PSG.

It is the smallest lead held by the first-place team ahead of the final matchday of a Ligue 1 season since 2001-02, when Lens were a point clear of Lyon. The latter went on seal the title.

On the final day of the season, PSG will go to Brest while third-placed Monaco – who can still technically win the title as well – head to Lens.

Kylian Mbappe is pleased Paris Saint-Germain are involved in a title race this season as it demonstrates just how hard it is to be crowned Ligue 1 champions.

PSG closed to within a point of leaders Lille thanks to a dramatic 3-2 triumph over Saint-Etienne on Sunday, Mauro Icardi grabbing the winner deep into stoppage time at the Parc des Princes.

Mbappe underlined his importance by scoring twice in the see-saw contest, cancelling out Denis Bouanga's opener with his first before putting the hosts ahead from the penalty spot.

However, it seemed Saint-Etienne had secured a point when Romain Hamouma made it 2-2 in the second added minute.

"We got into a bit of trouble. When we lead 2-1 like that, we have to keep the score," Mbappe told Canal+. "But we didn't give up, we wanted to win.

"The championship is extremely important to us - it is a primary objective. It would be the 10th for the club and we want to participate in the history of the club.

"We want to win, we are competitors. People think it's easy to win. This year, it's good, there is a title race, it shows that it is not easy what we have done in recent years.

"We want to keep doing it. There is no secret; we have to give our all and win all the matches."

Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani have scored more goals in Ligue 1 for PSG than Mbappe. He has 23 in 28 appearances in the competition this season, as well as a further eight in the Champions League to help his side reach the semi-final stage.

Mauricio Pochettino is optimistic over the 22-year-old signing a new deal to extend his stay in the French capital, too.

"I am an optimist, and I hope that the best players at the club, in this case Kylian, will stay here," the PSG coach said.

On the game itself, Pochettino was pleased with the character shown by his players, particularly after they had seemingly let the win slip away when Hamouma equalised for the visitors.

"I don't know if it's a champion's victory, but it's the victory of a team which believes in itself, which does not surrender," Pochettino told the media.

"These are three very important points to stay in the championship race until the end. As staff, we always advocate confidence, optimism. This attitude is very important for approaching life and football.

"The team has the mentality, not just athleticism and talent, but also character. These three points give us energy, a very positive feeling to face what awaits us and which will be difficult."

Returning substitute Mauro Icardi gave Paris Saint-Germain a remarkable 3-2 win at home to Saint-Etienne on Sunday to significantly boost the champions' title hopes.

A perplexing encounter was goalless until the 77th minute when Denis Bouanga had Saint-Etienne in front and PSG, beaten in their previous three home Ligue 1 games, facing defeat again.

Kylian Mbappe levelled just 84 seconds later, though, and then won and converted a penalty to seemingly win the match and close to within a point of leaders Lille, held by Montpellier on Friday.

Yet that was far from the end of the drama, with an awful error from stand-in goalkeeper Sergio Rico gifting Romain Hamouma a 92nd-minute equaliser.

Saint-Etienne had just three more minutes to see out to protect a point but allowed Icardi, back after a month out with a thigh strain, to reach Angel Di Maria's cross and nod in to spark jubilant celebrations.

Former France international Yohan Cabaye has announced his retirement at the age of 35.

The midfielder had not made a competitive appearance since starting for Saint-Etienne in a defeat to Lyon on March 1, 2020.

Cabaye posted on Twitter: "It is with great emotion that after more than 17 years of passionate love for football, with emotions greater than any other, memories that will remain forever and unforgettable human and sporting encounters, I announce the end of my professional football career.

"If this decision may seem obvious, logical and inevitable to some, having spent 35 years in the world of football, it remains very difficult to take and to accept because my love for football is immense."

Cabaye debuted with Lille in 2005 and won a Ligue 1 and Coupe de France double in his final season with the club in 2010-11.

His performances over his final two campaigns with Lille, in which he scored 18 goals, provided 18 assists and created 140 chances across 90 games in all competitions, earned international recognition and a move to the Premier League with Newcastle United.

Cabaye quickly found his feet in England, scoring five goals and delivering six assists in his debut season as Newcastle fell just short of Champions League qualification.

His form attracted the attention of Arsenal, but Cabaye failed to force through a move in August 2013 and instead enjoyed one of the most productive spells of his career as he scored seven times and laid on a pair of assists in 20 games before departing for Paris Saint-Germain in January 2014.

Two further Ligue 1 triumphs followed, along with success in the Coupe de France and twice in the Coupe de la Ligue, but he failed to establish himself as a regular starter in Paris.

Just 30 of his 57 PSG appearances came from the start and he soon left for Crystal Palace, spending a further three years back in the Premier League before ending his career with Al-Nasr and finally Saint-Etienne.

Cabaye played for his country on 48 occasions, scoring four times.

His first international goal came against Ukraine at Euro 2012 and he was a regular again at the World Cup two years later. France's home European Championship in 2016, where they reached the final, saw Cabaye appear only twice and once as a starter.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's double in Arsenal's first-half dismantling of Leeds United on Sunday took the Gunners forward onto 200 goals in Europe's "top five" leagues, before the star striker then rounded off a first Premier League hat-trick.

Aubameyang, making his first league start since January 18 following a leave of absence to care for his ill mother, marked his return to Arsenal's line-up in style at Emirates Stadium.

The 31-year-old opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a low shot which had the power to beat Illan Meslier, whose clumsy challenge on Bukayo Saka then gifted Aubameyang the chance to make it 2-0 from the spot.

Having sent Meslier the wrong way, Aubameyang brought up his 200th goal in Europe's 'top five' leagues, in what was his 369th appearance – he is the ninth player to reach the landmark in those divisions.

It was his 61st Arsenal goal, which is 37 shy of the total he managed during his time with Borussia Dortmund (98).

Aubameyang's first goal in Ligue 1 came for Lille in December 2009, before he then went on to have spells at Monaco, Saint-Etienne in France prior to leaving for Dortmund in 2013 and eventually joining the Gunners three years ago.

It was also the first time Aubameyang has scored in consecutive starts in the Premier League within a single season since last February, when he did so against Newcastle United and Everton, and the first time he has scored at least twice in successive starts in the English top flight.

Hector Bellerin's well-crafted goal made it 3-0 to Arsenal on the stroke of half-time – the Gunners scoring three first-half goals in a Premier League game for only the second time under Mikel Arteta, having previously done so in July 2020 against Watford.

Aubameyang headed in from Emile Smith Rowe's cross-shot just after the break to complete his maiden Premier League hat-trick.

AUBAMEYANG'S 'TOP FIVE' LEAGUE GOALS – A BREAKDOWN

Lille (2009-10) – 14 appearances, two goals.

Monaco (2010-11) – 19 appearances, two goals.

Saint-Etienne (2010-13) – 87 appearances, 37 goals.

Borussia Dortmund (2013-18) – 144 appearances, 98 goals.

Arsenal (2018-21) – 105 appearances, 62 goals.

Paris Saint-Germain will visit either Guingamp or Caen when they begin their Coupe de France defence in the round of 64.

PSG won the competition last season as former head coach Thomas Tuchel masterminded a treble triumph, beating Saint-Etienne 1-0 in the final.

That successful campaign started away to sixth-tier Linas-Montlhery and Mauricio Pochettino's PSG will be on the road again after being drawn against Guingamp or Caen.

The Ligue 2 sides are set to face one another on January 20 for the right to host the French champions in February.

PSG have won the trophy a record 13 times, including five of the past six editions.

Saint-Etienne are also away - to Nancy or Sochaux - but Ligue 1 leaders Lyon will welcome Chateauroux or Ajaccio to the Groupama Stadium.

Marseille will visit Troyes or Auxerre, while Monaco are heading for Clermont or Grenoble.

Lille face Ligue 1 opposition in the form of struggling Dijon, and fourth visit seventh as Rennes go to Angers.

Mauricio Pochettino was satisfied with the effort put in by his Paris Saint-Germain team against Saint-Etienne, but knows there are lots of improvements to make.

PSG laboured to a 1-1 draw in Pochettino's opening game in charge, with the former Tottenham boss having replaced Thomas Tuchel.

The Ligue 1 champions moved up to second thanks to Lille's defeat to Angers, but are three points behind leaders Lyon.

Saint-Etienne capitalised on Idrissa Gueye's mistake to take the lead, but Moise Kean's eighth league goal of the season cancelled out Romain Hamouma's opener.

Denis Bouanga hit the crossbar for Saint-Etienne after the break, while Kean snatched at a good chance and Angel Di Maria forced Jessy Moulin into action with what was PSG's only shot on target in the second half as the spoils were shared on Wednesday.

"I am happy with the efforts of the players," Pochettino told Telefoot. "We've been trying since our first day to set up different concepts. 

"I'm happy with their efforts, their attitude. It's only the beginning. They have to adapt to us [the staff] and we have to adapt to them. There is work to be done to get to know each other better.

"We have to improve in several situations, especially with the ball, but it was difficult because the preparation has was very short.

"I am disappointed, because we are PSG and we want to win. But we didn't have a lot of time to prepare for the match.

"We still have a lot of things to improve, to develop. This is not the result that we wanted."

Paris Saint-Germain failed to get off to a winning start under Mauricio Pochettino as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Saint-Etienne in Ligue 1.

Thomas Tuchel oversaw a 4-0 defeat of Strasbourg in PSG's final game of 2020, although it was not enough for the German to keep his job as the defending champions sat third.

And Pochettino was unable to mastermind a victory to kickstart his reign as a rather lethargic PSG struggled to build on Moise Kean's 22nd-minute equaliser.

That goal cancelled out Romain Hamouma's opener, but PSG were ultimately fortunate Saint-Etienne did not snatch a first win over the capital club since 2012, their point enough to move second but three points behind Lyon.

Both goalkeepers were called into action inside the opening 10 minutes as Keylor Navas denied Harold Moukoudi at one end before Moise Kean tested Jessy Moulin at the other.

Yet Pochettino's tenure had its first setback 19 minutes in when PSG played themselves into trouble, Idrissa Gueye's slip pounced on by Denis Bouanga, with Hamouma supplying a neat finish over Navas.

PSG hit back inside three minutes, however, as Marco Verratti played in Kean to slam in the first goal of the Pochettino era on the turn.

Mathieu Debuchy's low strike forced Navas into a smart stop before half-time, and PSG's goalkeeper came to their rescue again in the second period, blocking Bouanga's path to goal.

Navas was beaten with 20 minutes remaining, but the crossbar kept out Bouanga's header.

Kean snatched at a good chance as PSG sparked back into life, yet Angel Di Maria's low strike – well saved by Moulin – was the only shot on target the visitors managed in the second half as Pochettino was forced to settle for a point.

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