REIMS: The Lionel Messi era has begun at Paris St Germain, without a goal for the Argentine superstar but plenty of adulation and fanfare.
Messi made his debut for PSG on Sunday after coming off the bench midway through the second half but Kylian Mbappe stole the show by scoring both goals in a 2-0 win against Stade de Reims in Ligue 1.
Mbappe gave PSG a taste of what they would be missing if he left for Real Madrid, who have made bids to recruit the France striker since Messi joined on a two-year deal from Barcelona.
The win means PSG top the table with a maximum 12 points.
All 20,545 tickets available were sold at the Stade Auguste Delaune to see 34-year-old Messi play and the fans, who chanted the Argentina forward’s name, were rewarded in the 66th minute when he replaced the disappointing Neymar.
Mbappe did not disappoint though in a brilliant performance, seemingly unfazed by the transfer frenzy surrounding him.
Two days before the end of the window, the 22-year-old made the difference with his speed and sense of timing, opening the scoring with a header and rounding off with a clinical finish.
After a stuttering start, PSG got into their groove and Mbappe put them a head after 15 minutes by heading home from Angel Di Maria’s cross.
But PSG got too comfortable and Reims started to apply some pressure, with Moreto Cassama’s superb strike hitting Keylor Navas’s crossbar three minutes before the break.
Reims celebrated what they thought was a Marshall Munetsi equaliser five minutes into the second half, only for the Zimbabwean’s effort to be ruled out for offside.
Messi started to warm up after 57 minutes, drawing applause from the Reims supporters, whom he saluted.
They sang his name just when he was about to come on, shortly after Mbappe had doubled PSG’s advantage from Achraf Hakimi’s cross at the end of a sharp counter attack.
Mbappe combined with Messi, but the former Barcelona striker was not in the same condition as the Frenchman, having not played a competitive game since winning the Copa America with Argentina on July 10.
“It was important that he [Messi] started with a win,” PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino told a news conference. “He is still far away from his best form but he has been training well and he will be fit in the next two weeks, after the international break and, yes, we are waiting for the best from him. He brings serenity to the team. His energy and his optimism trickle down on the rest of the team.”
The week leading up to this game had been dominated not by Messi but by talk of Mbappe’s future, with Real reportedly having two offers for the France World Cup-winning striker rejected.
The latest of these offers was understood to be worth 180 million euros ($212m), an astronomical amount for a player whose contract expires at the end of the season and who will be free to negotiate a deal with a new club in January without PSG being able to get a transfer fee.
That amount is also equal to what PSG paid Monaco in 2017 to sign Mbappe, who was clearly eager to go out on a high if this was to be his final appearance for the club.
“Kylian is our player and you know that in football and in business there is always gossip and rumours,” Pochettino said of Mbappe. “I think our president and our sporting director were very clear and he is still here. I am really happy to have Kylian. He is one of the best, one of the most important players in the world today and for him to be with us is a gift.”
PSG are the only team in Ligue 1 with the maximum points after four games and they lie two points clear of surprise package Angers, who beat Stade Rennes 2-0.
Earlier, French champions Lille finally got their title defence going with a 2-1 home win over Montpellier. Lille celebrated their first league win of the season thanks to goals from Yusuf Yazici and Jonathan David. Montpellier ended the match with 10 men after defender Junior Sambia was sent off late in the second half.
Monaco bounced back from their elimination from the Champions League in the play-off round in midweek to win 2-1 at Troyes, Sofiane Diop’s brace securing their first victory of the league season.
Promoted Clermont Foot continued to impress as they kept their unbeaten record intact after fighting back from two goals down in a 2-2 home draw with Metz. They are third on eight points from their first four matches.
Also, it was: Lens 2, Lorient 2 and Strasbourg 3, Brest 1.
Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2021