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20 Sep, 2021 13:18

Pochettino claims Messi told him he was ‘OK’ after being subbed – but the cracks are already showing in PSG’s vanity project

Pochettino claims Messi told him he was ‘OK’ after being subbed – but the cracks are already showing in PSG’s vanity project

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino has revealed what happened after Lionel Messi appeared to snub him when he substituted the new signing, with cracks beginning to show in the Ligue 1 club's Qatari-backed vanity project.

The Argentine brought his compatriot superstar off after 75 minutes of his first start at PSG's Parc des Princes home since joining from Barcelona as a free agent last month.

With the score level at 1-1 against Lyon, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner appeared furious at being hooked and refused to greet Pochettino before taking a seat on the bench looking sullen-faced alongside fellow La Albiceleste squad member Leandro Paredes.

Pochettino attempted to defuse the row following the eventual 2-1 win, secured via a last-gasp winner from Mauro Icardi deep into injury time.

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"Everyone knows we have great players on the team," said Pochettino in his post-match interview.

"We have a very rich squad of 35 players. Then we have to make choices. With the 11 who must start. And then we have to make decisions during the game.

"Sometimes these choices pay off and sometimes they don't. But that's why we're standing in front of the bench thinking about what to do. And those decisions that you have to make, whether things go well or not. Whether you like it or not.

"As for [Messi's] reaction – I asked him how he was, he said he was OK. That was it. That was our exchange."

The incident, along with sub-par performances on the pitch, suggest that problems are already showing in PSG's squad.

Lyon, granted, are tough customers, with goalscorer Lucas Paqueta leading Neymar as the most prolific Brazilian in Ligue 1 since the start of last season. 

His seven dribbles were also the most completed in a French top-flight match this campaign.

Yet the Parisians have hardly convinced since Messi arrived, with the 2-0 away win at Reims, in which he made a late debut, not telling the full story of that particular Sunday evening.

The truth is that after Kylian Mbappe put them up inside 16 minutes, PSG were stretched by their minnow opponents until the France wonderkid added a second around the hour mark.

That paved the way for Messi's late cameo, which was unremarkable save for one good passing exchange with Mbappe that led to nothing. 

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With Neymar replaced on that occasion, fans were made to wait to see the trident with Mbappe that was already being heralded as the greatest of all time despite all three being yet to play together.

This was the ultimate show of disrespect to Barca's fabled MSN trio, which the Argie and Brazilian formed with Luis Suarez while netting no fewer than 364 goals and winning everything on offer both domestically and internationally.

Both Neymar and Messi were absent from the 4-0 away win over Clermont Foot as Mbappe scored again – and maybe there is something in that. 

Regardless, all three finally started against Club Brugge in the Champions League. 

Social media salivated over the first XI and how it looked at the front but, for all of their talent, the MNM – or whatever you want to call them – encountered great difficulty in breaking through their Belgian opponents. 

Again going ahead early through Ander Herrera, Messi hit the bar as he did against Lyon, but they then played the rest of the match on the backfoot to a side with a $105 million budget in comparison to their bottomless pockets.

Pochettino defended his charges post-match and insisted they weren't to blame for the 1-1 draw, which was sealed when Hans Vanaken equalized 12 minutes after Herrara struck.

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"We know we have to improve. That's not an issue for me," he said"I'm happy with the forwards' defensive work. We need to be tougher in other sectors of play.

"They need playing time to get to know and understand each other; to play together to succeed, but that wasn't the issue tonight.

"We weren't solid enough for a Champions League match. We're not happy with the result or the performance; we know we have to do better."

Sunday night showed that they aren't currently solid enough for Ligue 1, either.

Maybe Sergio Ramos will sturdy the defense once he finally makes his debut.

But up top, it seems that Mbappe performs better on his own than when his South American seniors are on the pitch, and the youngster clearly isn't happy, as his pre-match face while Messi and Neymar joked around appeared to show.

Booed at the Parc des Princes yesterday by the crowd that once held him up as the ultimate hometown boy done good and World Cup winner, he has become villified for flirting with Real Madrid despite his stellar performances while the Spaniards reportedly put in astronomical bids in for him that were rebuffed by Leonardo and the powers that be at Paris.

Though they did cede control of the domestic crown to Lille last term and recapturing it should be a primary concern, let's not kid ourselves: the likes of Mbappe, Neymar and Messi were brought in to win the Champions League, above all.

If they can't break down the Club Brugges and Lyons of this world, however, how will they fare against a Bayern Munich, Chelsea or Manchester City as the continental showpiece moves towards its business end?

On Twitter, one analyst said: "Watching this PSG front three is like watching Sherlock, Poirot and Morse trying to solve a crime. Plenty of talent, but no co-ordination, no direction, and no-one is particularly interested in doing any kind of legwork."

"We have to find the balance to provide strength to the team. We continue to work on it," Pochettino offered.

"We play every three days, we can't train a lot. And in this case, we have to look at a lot of videos to make adjustments. In particular, we must work to reduce the spaces between the lines."

But if he can't get it right, the 49-year-old will be fired and Mbappe will likely follow him out of the exit door. Neymar will have turned 30 and Neymar will be 35 by the start of next season, which will be the last of Messi's contract before he rides off into the sunset – most likely to Inter Miami in the MLS.

By Tom Sanderson

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