It is the moment we never thought would happen. After 149 games, 120 goals, 41 assists and four finals won with Barcelona, Lionel Messi returns to the UEFA Champions League for the 18th time, but with another club. The famous UEFA music will be the same, but that’s it.
On Wednesday in Belgium, PSG will play with the Argentine starting star for the first time since his arrival at the club and, for the first time, Mauricio Pochettino will unleash his star forward trident of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé.
The trip to Club Brujas was always considered by Pochettino and his team as the match in which the winner of six Ballons d’Or had to start for the first time. Messi played 25 minutes away in Reims before the international window, and that debut was broadcast in 208 countries around the world and watched by millions of people. On Saturday he missed the home game against Clermont due to his commitments in the South American qualifying rounds for the World Cup and his return to France, so that it will be recorded in history that his first starting game with Paris took place in the “Venice of the North” .
It is also an opportunity for Messi to relive his love story with the most important club tournament in the world. Not only is it the tournament in which he has enjoyed some of his most iconic moments – the decisive goal in the final against Manchester United in 2009, his dribble and goal against Real Madrid in 2011, figure of the match again in the final against Manchester United that year – but it is also the competition that he is looking forward to winning again, since he has not lifted the trophy since 2015. The last five years were full of disappointments and disappointments for Messi and Barcelona; Will his quest for a fifth title, which would equal him to his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo, be more successful in Paris?
Privately, Messi is said to be very excited about the prospects for his new team this season. For starters, it’s probably the best squad Messi has played with since Pep Guardiola’s glory days in Barcelona.. The last few seasons have marked him some huge defeats: Liverpool’s comeback at Anfield, the 8-2 humiliation against Bayern Munich in Lisbon in 2020 and Mbappé’s masterclass in PSG’s 4-1 beating of Barcelona from Messi at home last season. There will be much tougher matches than this one – including the next three in the group stage against Manchester City and RB Leipzig (twice) – but this is a good way to start the campaign. PSG visited Club Brugge’s Jan-Breydel stadium where PSG won 5-0 in 2019 thanks in particular to an incredible hat-trick by Mbappé in 18 minutes after coming on as a substitute in the second half.
Wednesday will undoubtedly be an incredible moment, an opportunity for Pochettino to show off one of the best attacking lines in this sport and it will also be, perhaps, the first time that PSG is the wide favorite of the competition. On paper, in fact, Messi has taken this team to the next level, but will that be enough? The team thinks so.
While teams like Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Chelsea will also be candidates, the signings in the summer (Georginio Wijnaldum, Messi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Nuno Mendes, Sergio Ramos), the fact that Kylian Mbappé ended up staying despite Real Madrid’s attempts and Neymar’s joy to play with Messi again have boosted confidence in Paris. They also have a very good mix of experience (Ramos, Messi) and young talent, the strength in depth and the fact that they are the only team that has reached the semi-finals in the last two seasons – not an easy achievement to achieve having take into account how difficult the Champions League is in the elimination stages.
And of course, Messi, more than Neymar or Mbappé, is the X Factor. With him in the team, anything is possible, any goal is achievable and every game is winnable.
In any case, Pochettino will not have the complete team in the middle of the week; Ramos and Marco Verratti are injured, while vital midfielder Idrissa Gueye is suspended. This is not a new issue for the former Tottenham manager: he has been forced to rotate and mix players on many occasions so far this season, which is nothing unusual for big clubs like Manchester City, Bayern Munich or Chelsea. With the aim of having the complete team for date 2, when PSG receives Man City, at that moment will be when we can finally see the true potential of this PSG, what is the formation that Pochettino prefers, what is the best place for Messi , how this front of three merges and if they strike the right balance between defense and attack that is usually so difficult for top teams to achieve.
While Pochettino is under immense pressure to deliver good results; As for Messi, the fun starts now. After the best summer of his life with Argentina and the Copa América, after his sensational move to Paris and after settling in with his family in his new city, it is time to start his season with PSG in earnest.