Soccer

Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar: PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino coy on who’s available ahead of 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 and his inclusion against Reims will also be a major talking point.

These are the three main questions that Pochettino tiptoed around at Camp des loges on Saturday.

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.” From that, we can gather that Messi, Mbappe and Neymar will all travel to Reims but that one or more of them might only feature as a substitute.

Considering that Mbappe has already featured this campaign, he will likely start if he makes the trip to the Champagne region in France’s Grand Est. Neymar has also been back in training longer than Messi so is probably closer to full fitness than his former Barcelona teammate.

All signs point towards Messi coming off the bench at some point during the game.

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 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.”

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 is to use him in Reims and likely from the start. 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 is the most likely to start with Neymar also seemingly in line for his return and Messi set to play some part — even if it is only from the bench this time. 

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