Messi set to return as PSG and Guardiola’s City go head to head

Published September 28, 2021
PARIS: Paris St Germain’s (L to R) Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe take part in a training session at the Camp des Loges ground on Monday. — AFP
PARIS: Paris St Germain’s (L to R) Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe take part in a training session at the Camp des Loges ground on Monday. — AFP

LONDON: Paris St Germain and Manchester City have an early chance to lay down a marker in the Champions League when they meet in a heavyweight group game at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday that sees Pep Guardiola and his old pupil Lionel Messi come face to face once again.

Qatar-owned PSG and Abu Dhabi-backed City have changed the face of European football over the last decade with their spending in pursuit of Champions League glory, something that has so far eluded both clubs.

City came agonisingly close last season when they beat PSG in the semi-finals only to lose to Chelsea in the final in Porto.

PSG, runners-up in 2020, will want a measure of revenge for that, but they have already got one over on the English champions with the signing of Messi, who at one point looked more likely to end up at the Etihad Stadium.

“Messi speaks for himself, I don’t have to describe him. What he’s done is more than exceptional and hopefully tomorrow he can play for the benefit of the game,” Guardiola said on Monday as he looked forward to coming up against the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, with whom he enjoyed so much success in Barcelona between 2008 and 2012.

Messi has recovered from a knee injury and is expected to return for PSG.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino did not reveal his lineup but said the Argentina star was fit to play.

Messi had previously been ruled out of two consecutive league games following a knock to his left knee on his home debut earlier this month.

Messi, 34, has featured in only three matches for PSG and is still chasing his first goal following his shock move.

In addition to the Olympique Lyonnais game where he got injured, Messi also made a substitute appearance on his debut against Reims and started in attack alongside Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in the 1-1 draw at Club Brugge in their opening Champions League group game.

“Let the player work, let the player adapt and start to feel at home,” Pochettino said. “He was at Barcelona for 20 years. It is normal that he feels at home in Barcelona. Now everything is new. For sure he is going to succeed.”

RB Leipzig take on Brugge in the other Group ‘A’ game.

In Group ‘B’, AC Milan play their first Champions League home match in seven years against Atletico Madrid, who are still waiting for a breakthrough performance from Antoine Griezmann in his return to the club.

Griezmann is winless in eight matches with Atletico this season. The La Liga champions have struggled recently with only one victory in their last four matches, including a 0-0 home draw against Porto in their first Champions League match.

Atletico travel to Italy after a shock defeat to Alaves on Saturday in a game in which they failed to hit the target, managing just one shot on target from 13 efforts on goal during the game.

Porto host Liverpool coming off an unbeaten start to their season with five wins and three draws.

Group ‘D’ has an intriguing encounter as 13-time record champions Real Madrid host Moldovan minnows Sheriff, who opened with a win over Shakhtar Donetsk.

Real, who opened their Champions League campaign with a 1-0 win at Inter Milan, need Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior to quickly get back in form after faltering in a 0-0 draw against Villarreal in La Liga at the weekend.

After outscoring opponents 22-8 in their first seven matches in all competitions, Real couldn’t find the net for the first time this season.

Borussia Dortmund are sweating on the fitness of star striker Erling Haaland and influential captain Marco Reus for Sporting Lisbon’s visit on Tuesday in Group ‘C’.

Dortmund slumped to a 1-0 loss at Borussia Moenchengladbach in the players’ absence on Saturday, when it was apparent how reliant the team had become on the goals that the pair provide.

Haaland scored 11 goals and set up four more in seven games so far this season, while Reus contributed one goal and five assists in his seven games across all competitions. Both were injured in training on Friday.

Dortmund won their opening Champions League match 2-1 at Besiktas and will have high hopes of qualifying from a group that also includes Ajax.

UNITED’S STRUGGLES

On Wednesday, Cristiano Ronaldo can break former goalkeeper Iker Casillas’ long-standing record of 177 Champions League appearances when Manchester United host Villarreal in a rematch of last season’s Europa League final.

But with 55 shots in the last two games, no goals and a pair of 1-0 losses, United’s attack is looking blunt. That’s even with Ronaldo back at the club, although he only played in Saturday’s defeat to Aston Villa and not the League Cup exit to West Ham United.

There will be little room for error in the Champions League if Villarreal can’t be beaten at Old Trafford in Group ‘F’ after United opened two weeks ago with a loss to Young Boys.

Villarreal beat United in last season’s Europa League final and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will want to avoid United dropping into Europe’s second-tier competition again after benefiting from so much investment in the squad.

Barcelona will look to bounce back from their Group ‘E’ humbling at home to Bayern Munich when they visit Benfica while Dynamo Kiev head to Germany.

Benfica are enjoying a great start to their season with eight wins in 10 matches and the only setbacks were draws against PSV Eindhoven in the qualifying round of the Champions League and at Dynamo in the Group ‘E’ opener.

Barca’s 3-0 La Liga win over Levante took some heat off coach Ronald Koeman after the team , who have Ansu Fati available again, had been on a three-match winless streak that started with a demoralising 3-0 loss to Bayern.

Juventus’ problems deepened as key forward Paulo Dybala sustained an injury and will miss Wednesday’s home game against Chelsea in Group ‘H’.

Dybala scored the opening goal of Juve’s 3-2 victory over Sampdoria on Sunday but left the field 10 minutes later in tears after pulling up suddenly, clutching the back of his leg.

Sevilla may also be without one of their top forwards when they visit VfL Wolfsburg in Group ‘G’.

Youssef En-Nesyri hurt a muscle and had to be substituted early in the second half of the team’s 2-0 win against Espanyol in La Liga on Saturday.

Sevilla are coming off two straight wins and are third in the league.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2021

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