Paris Saint-Germain got their Champions League campaign off to an underwhelming start with a below-par performance seeing them held to a 1-1 draw in Belgium on Messi’s first club start
Lionel Messi made his first start for Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday evening but was unable to guide his new club to victory at Club Brugge.
Les Parisiens were held to a 1-1 draw after Ander Herrera’s goal from a Kylian Mbappe assist opened the scoring but Hans Vanaken levelled to earn a deserved point for the Belgian side.
The Argentine had not previously started for his new club following his summer switch from Barcelona, although he had featured for 24 minutes at the end of their Ligue 1 win at Reims.
It was a difficult night for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, who were second best for long spells and were disappointing amid significant expectations on their potential this campaign.
In a tough Champions League group which also includes Manchester City and RB Leipzig, these dropped points could come back to cost PSG.
Here are five things we noticed on Messi’s first start for PSG.
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How long Messi played
Messi was named on the right of a three-man attack for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, with Kylian Mbappe playing through the middle and Neymar on the left.
As expected, the French side lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with an emphasis on full-backs Achraf Hakimi and Abdou Diallo relied upon to provide the width.
Messi played the full match for Pochettino’s side, a decision potentially influenced by Mbappe’s injury early in the second half – when he was replaced by Mauro Icardi.
The Parisians had already made two half-time substitutes as Georginio Wijnaldum and Leandro Paredes were replaced by Danilo Pereira and Julian Draxler respectively.
How well Messi played
This was far from a vintage Messi performance; it was not one where he ran the show and dictated the pace of his side’s attacks.
This was not a huge surprise, it was the first time he had lined up alongside both Neymar and Mbappe while it was a difficult away assignment in the Champions League.
Yet Messi was influential in the early stages, in the 22 nd minute he threaded a superb through ball for Mbappe to break through on goal while he rattled the crossbar with a long-range effort seven minutes later.
The Argentine had to wait until the 70 th minute for his next sighter at goal, but his fearsome effort at goal was saved by Simon Mignolet.
How Messi linked up with teammates
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In the opening 25 minutes, all of PSG’s attacks flowed through the Argentine as they made an imposing start to the match.
His excellent pass to find Mbappe midway through the first half could easily have led to a goal, but the Frenchman’s injury early in the second half meant that partnership was cut short.
Messi typically cut inside onto his left foot, creating space for Hakimi on the overlap – and this is likely to be a regular feature to watch over the course of the season.
Another PSG summer arrival, Nuno Mendes, replaced Diallo at left-back and the Portuguese player produced a superb driving run and cross to find Messi in space inside the opposition area with ten minutes remaining, but he disappointingly blazed over.
Perhaps strikingly, Messi failed to link-up effectively with his close friend and former Barcelona teammate Neymar, who was largely anonymous.
PSG chances of Euro success with Messi
The arrival of Messi – alongside a host of other glitzy summer signings – meant that only the Champions League trophy will constitute genuine success this season.
It is expected that PSG will sweep up the trophies domestically and the real barrier is in Europe, where they have never lifted the continent’s premier club competition.
There is little doubt that Pochettino possesses all the requisite talent to mount a challenge but Wednesday’s performances brought more questions than answers.
Club Brugge were the fourth seeds in this group yet were the superior side for much of the game, with their high pressing and energy levels outdoing that of the French team.
Despite an encouraging opening quarter of the game, the front three of Messi, Mbappe and Neymar stopped defending, meaning that the team unit was split in two and the midfield was overran.
There was plenty to ponder for Pochettino after this clash.
Where Messi will play for PSG
Whilst the 34-year-old has spent the majority of his career in an advanced playmaking role through the middle at Barcelona, he is likely to feature more on the right for his new side.
Neymar’s preference is in a left-sided role and cutting into his right foot, while Messi is the inverse of this – with Mbappe set to continue in his central role.
It will be interesting in the French side’s subsequent European games if they will switch this up to offer more defensive solidity against top sides – and perhaps sacrifice one of their three superstar attackers.
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