Messi close to debut but PSG preoccupied by Mbappe future


Paris (AFP) – Lionel Messi could make his hotly anticipated debut for Paris Saint-Germain against Reims in Champagne country on Sunday but it is Kylian Mbappe who is the centre of all the attention just now amid ongoing speculation about his future.

Messi has not featured in either of PSG’s two Ligue 1 games since arriving in the French capital as he continues to work up his fitness having returned to training late after captaining Argentina to Copa America glory last month.

“It will be a long week, but if everything goes well we hope he can be in the squad and feature in the team,” Pochettino told ESPN after the Qatar-owned club beat Brest 4-2 last time out.

There is logic in giving Messi a run-out against Reims, so that he is not completely lacking in match sharpness before joining up with the Argentina squad for a series of World Cup qualifiers at the start of September.

The same applies to Neymar, who has also not featured for his club this season after playing against Argentina in the Copa America final and then enjoying an extended summer break.

Neymar and Messi could come up against each other again with Brazil due to host Argentina in Sao Paulo on September 5, although the international window is under threat with clubs elsewhere in Europe refusing to release players to travel to represent their countries.

The match at the 21,000-capacity Stade Auguste-Delaune — with its statue of former Ballon d’Or winner Raymond Kopa, the ex-Reims and Real Madrid great, outside — is a sell-out, and the Champagne region is fizzing with excitement at the prospect of welcoming Messi.

In Paris, though, they are more concerned about Mbappe, after a week which saw Madrid put in an offer of 160 million euros ($188m) for the 22-year-old World Cup winner.

Mbappe, in the final year of his contract, has already been starring for PSG this season and scored his first goal of the campaign last week in Brest.

But with time running out before the transfer window closes on August 31, it remains to be seen if Mbappe will feature in Reims, if the game could be his last in Ligue 1, or if he might already have left by then.

“If a player wants to leave, he will leave. The club, the project is bigger than any one person,” admitted PSG sporting director Leonardo.

Losing Mbappe would be a hammer blow to PSG’s prestige, but then again having Messi and Neymar ready to step in suggests they might cope without the France forward.

Player to watch: Aurelien Tchouameni

A rolls royce of a footballer, 21-year-old midfielder Tchouameni has just been called up to the full France squad for the first time for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

It is the reward for an outstanding last season at Monaco, and the ex-Bordeaux player has started this campaign in the same manner, although he could not prevent the principality side suffering a painful exit from the Champions League in midweek as they lost to Shakhtar Donetsk in the play-off round.

Tchouameni and Monaco head to Troyes on Sunday looking to bounce back from their European disappointment.

Key stats

108 – The number of goals Mbappe has scored in 151 appearances in Ligue 1 since starting out at Monaco. He has been the top scorer in France’s top flight in each of the last three seasons.

7 – The number of weeks since Messi last played, winning the Copa America final for Argentina against Brazil on July 11.

11 – Reims have not won any of their last 11 Ligue 1 games, a run that looks likely to be extended this weekend.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Nantes v Lyon (1900)

Saturday

Nice v Bordeaux (1500), Marseille v Saint-Etienne (1900)

Sunday

Troyes v Monaco (1100), Angers v Rennes, Clermont v Metz, Lens v Lorient, Strasbourg v Brest (all 1300), Lille v Montpellier (1500), Reims v Paris Saint-Germain (1900)

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