Soccer

Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar: PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino coy as big guns make Reims trip

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino held his pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s Ligue 1 clash with Stade de Reims and although he did not confirm that Lionel Messi will make his full debut, he hinted that his legendary fellow Argentine will be involved.

Messi, 34, has so far been unable to feature against RC Strasbourg Alsace and Stade Brestois 29 after signing as a free agent after his emotional Barcelona exit but he has now had a few weeks to condition himself after declaring upon his unveiling that he needed a “preseason.”

Kylian Mbappe was also present at PSG training as speculation continues to swirl that the French superstar could join Real Madrid before the end of this summer transfer window, but he is in the travelling party bound for Reims on Sunday along with Messi and Neymar.

Although Pochettino tiptoed around the topic at Camp des Loges on Saturday, all eyes will be on him and his star men at Stade Auguste Delaune.

Will we see Messi, Mbappe and Neymar (also yet to play this season) in Reims?

“They have trained well, and we will assess things,” said the Argentine tactician. “They will surely be included but we do not know if they will start.” However, we now know that all three of the big guns in attack will make the trip to Reims, so the question now is how many of them — if not all of them — start.

Considering that Mbappe has already featured this campaign, he will almost certainly start in Grand Est which dampens the Real Madrid speculation a touch. Neymar has also been back in training longer than Messi and is probably closer to full fitness than his former Barcelona teammate with the Brazilian clearly very excited about the prospect of this fearsome trio playing together.

All signs point towards Messi coming off the bench at some point during the game, perhaps in the second half.

Will Messi make his full PSG debut in Reims?

“We need to assess whether or not he can be part of the team and then publish the squad,” said Pochettino. “It is normal that there are some doubts. Expectations are not too high early on with a new player as they adapt to the club, teammates, league, and lifestyle.

“Ligue 1 is open with more space and greater physicality than La Liga. We have a team that can keep possession. We have the best player in the world. He is a great professional. He knows this sort of game and can adapt to any situation.”

From this, Pochettino seems to suggest that Messi is close to being involved but again it makes most sense that his first appearance will come from the bench, making a full debut at home to Clermont Foot 63 a stronger possibility.

“Like the others, I feel very happy to play with someone of his quality,” added fellow summer arrival Georginio Wijnaldum before his press conference was abandoned due to sound issues. “He is humble and tries to help everyone. We all feel that, and it makes us want to play with him. As a person, he is really sweet.”

Wijnaldum is one of the players who could find himself with less game time in Reims the more heavily Messi features before both head off for international duty. 

Has Mbappe played his last PSG game?

“Kylian is working well, and he has prepared for the game,” said Pochettino. “As for our communication, the leadership have already done so. Kylian has not told me that he wants to leave.”

Clearly, PSG do not consider an Mbappe departure to be in the offing and the intention to use him in Reims is reflected in his presence in the squad. The 22-year-old’s embrace with sporting director Leonardo at the start of training also suggested a thawing in tension between the two.

Based on Saturday’s goings-on, Mbappe starting with Neymar is probable with Messi set to play some part — even if it is only from the bench this time. 

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