This is the moment we never thought would come. After 149 games, 120 goals, 41 assists and four final victories with Barcelona, Lionel Messi is back in the Champions League for the 18th time, but with another club. The famous UEFA music will be the same, but that’s about it.
Wednesday in Belgium, PSG will launch its Argentine maestro for the first time since joining the club and for the first time, Mauricio Pochettino will unleash his studded star in front of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
The trip to Club Brugge has always been considered by Pochettino and his staff as the match in which the six-time Ballon d’Or winner is expected to make his first start. Messi played 25 minutes in Reims before the international break, with the club debut broadcast in 208 countries around the world and watched by millions. He missed the home game against Clermont on Saturday due to late games in the South American World Cup playoffs and the return to France. History will therefore always remember that his first departure for Paris took place in the “Venice of the North”.
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It is also an opportunity for Messi to revive his love affair with the biggest club competition in the world. It wasn’t just the tournament in which he had some of his most iconic moments – the decisive final goal against Manchester United in 2009, the slalom run-and-goal against Real Madrid in 2011, again l man of the match in the final against Man United that year – but it’s also the competition he looks forward to winning again, having not lifted the trophy since 2015. The past half-decade has been full. of disappointment and sorrow for Messi and Barcelona; will his quest for a fifth title, tied with his longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo, be more successful in Paris?
In private, Messi is said to be very excited about the prospects for his new team this season. For starters, they’re probably the best team Messi has played for since Pep Guardiola’s glory days at Barcelona. In recent seasons he has been marked by huge losses: the Liverpool remounted at Anfield, the 8-2 humiliation against Bayern Munich in Lisbon in 2020 and Mbappe’s masterclass in PSG’s 4-1 win over Messi’s Barcelona at home last season. There will be much tougher games than this – including the next three group matches, against Manchester City and RB Leipzig (twice) – but it’s a good way to start the campaign. PSG went to Club Brugge’s Jan-Breydel stadium where PSG won 5-0 in 2019 thanks in particular to an incredible 18-minute treble from Mbappe after leaving the bench in the second half.
Wednesday will obviously be an incredible moment, a chance for Pochettino to show one of the best attacking lines ever seen in this game and, arguably, the first time that PSG have started the competition as a big favorite. On paper, admittedly, Messi took this team to the next level, but is it enough? The team believes it.
While Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Chelsea will be big contenders, the summer recruiting (Georginio Wijnaldum, Messi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Nuno Mendes, Sergio Ramos), the fact that Kylian Mbappe ended up staying despite Real Madrid’s astronomical offers and Neymar’s joy to reunite with Messi have boosted confidence in Paris. There is also the mix of experience (Ramos, Messi) and young talent, the strength in depth and the fact that they are the only team to have reached the semi-finals in the last two seasons – not easy considering given the tenacity of the Champions. League beyond the round of 16.
And of course, Messi, more than Neymar or Mbappé, is the X-Factor. With him in the team, anything is possible, every goal is achievable and every game winnable.
However, Pochettino won’t have a full squad to call in midweek; Ramos and Marco Verratti are injured, while vital midfielder Idrissa Gueye is suspended. This is nothing new for the former Tottenham manager: he has been forced to turn and mix players a lot so far this season, which is nothing out of the ordinary for big clubs like Manchester City, Bayern Munich or Chelsea. With the goal of a team in great shape and available by the second day, when PSG host Man City, that’s when we can finally see what this PSG is, which formation Pochettino prefers. , where Messi adapts best, how the forward three might click and whether or not they have the right balance of defense and attack that is so often difficult for top teams to manage.
While Pochettino is under immense pressure to deliver, for Messi the fun begins now. After the best summer of his life with Argentina and the Copa America, after the sensational move to Paris and settle there with his family, it is time for him to start his season well with PSG.