The day is upon us where Lionel Messi will take to a soccer field for a domestic match wearing a jersey that is not Barcelona’s and in a country that is not Spain with the Argentina international set to debut with Paris Saint-Germain against Stade de Reims this Sunday.
The French giants have confirmed that Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are all in Mauricio Pochettino’s squad for the clash at Stade Auguste Delaune and now the only question which remains to be answered is whether the Argentine tactician can resist the temptation to start all three.
Messi’s potential debut is not the only major talking point coming into this one as there is also the question of Mbappe’s future with Real Madrid pushing hard to secure him in a big money move before this summer’s transfer window closes.
As if that was not enough, Neymar is also in line for his first minutes of the 2021-22 season having not featured in any of PSG’s wins over ESTAC Troyes, RC Strasbourg Alsace and Stade Brestois 29 with his last involvement the Copa America final which saw Messi’s Argentina beat Brazil.
We look at the possible combinations ahead of PSG’s trip to Reims.
Messi, Mbappe & Neymar all start
Major French publications L’Equipe and Le Parisien offer up their probable starting XIs on the day of each PSG fixture and both are unanimous that Messi and Mbappe will start in Reims with the former predicting a 4-3-3 shape and the latter a 4-2-3-1.
While Pochettino has relied on the second system most since his arrival at Parc des Princes at the start of this year, he has also used the first at times and it might make sense given that Mbappe, Neymar and Angel Di Maria are all top quality options capable of playing out wide.
The major difference between the two interpretations is that L’Equipe have Messi as PSG’s main attacking threat and Le Parisien have gone for Mbappe with Messi just behind him and Neymar as well as Di Maria on either side.
Judging by Pochettino’s comments, as discussed on Saturday after his pre-match press conference, there was some doubt that Messi will be able to go the full 90 minutes immediately so there is still a possibility that he starts the encounter as a substitute before coming off the bench.
One of Messi, Mbappe or Neymar is a substitute
Another interesting possibility raised by L’Equipe is that Neymar starts on the bench instead of Messi with the Argentine leading the attack and flanked by Mbappe and Di Maria which would allow for a more substantial midfield comprised of Marco Verratti, Georginio Wijnaldum and Idrissa Gueye.
Going with Messi, Mbappe, Neymar and Di Maria from the off, as reported by Le Parisien, would be a bold move by Pochettino, if it proves to be accurate, but the former Tottenham Hotspur boss equally has little time to get his troops in order before the UEFA Champions League gets underway.
Considering that the timing of the Ligue 1 clash with Clermont Foot 63 could prevent any of PSG’s South Americans from featuring at Parc des Princes, there is a very real possibility that Messi’s home debut might not come until Olympique Lyonnais visit later in September.
Obviously, that being a subject could tempt Pochettino into giving his star men the maximum amount of time possible together before the international break so that the pre-existing chemistry between Messi, Neymar, Mbappe and Di Maria can start to fuse together.
Icardi absence creates opportunity
The other influencing factor here is that Mauro Icardi’s injury sustained against Brest has made this all possible as the Argentina international was on the verge of an Albiceleste recall after two goals from PSG’s opening three games.
With Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Juventus for Manchester United, there remains a possibility that the Italians make one final push to bring Icardi back to Serie A, but his shoulder injury will keep him out of action for around a month regardless of where he is.
Not having Icardi as an option means that the only other option off the bench will likely be Arnaud Kalimuendo who is also attracting interest from Italy with Atalanta BC taking a fancy to the talented young Frenchman who was out on loan at RC Lens last term.
With no Pablo Sarabia in the squad, Jualian Draxler is the other possibility to add some sort of attacking impetus outside of the fantastic four of Messi, Mbappe, Neymar and Di Maria — especially if Pochettino does go with the 4-2-3-1 formation.
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