Football Features

The Prince of Paris upstages the new King of France as Messi makes his PSG debut in Mbappé-inspired win over Reims

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:12, 29 August 2021 | Updated: 18:15, 10 September 2021

In an iconic night of football, PSG beat Reims 0-2 to go top of Ligue 1 as Lionel Messi made his debut.

The match itself was settled by the possibly departing Kylian Mbappé who scored a goal in each half, capitalising on two glorious crosses (from Angel Di Maria and Achraf Hakimi) to bag his second and third goals of the season.

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For just over an hour, PSG were something of a mishmash. They had a 2-0 lead courtesy of two Kylian Mbappé goals, but they hadn’t really been all that better than Reims and were lucky VAR ruled out the home side’s equaliser. Sure, they dominated the ball but it was prosaic and uninspiring, bar the two goals which were lovely in their execution.

Then on 66 minutes, French football changed forever. Lionel Messi rose from the bench and entered the field of play, coming on for good friend Neymar.

Well, eventually.

PSG had initially tried to get him on immediately after Kylian Mbappé had made it 0-2, and Neymar was even stood on the touchline ready to embrace his good friend in a photo-op for the world’s assembled press. But the game restarted with all eyes still on Messi and the Brazilian, and Neymar began to belatedly jog back into the thick of it.

Seconds later, the ball was stopped and the magic moment finally occurred. Off went Neymar, on came Messi. The moment Barcelona fans dreaded and pretty much everyone else was absolutely enthralled by. The GOAT in a new field.

The funniest thing is Messi’s introduction brought about PSG’s best spell in the game. Messi wasn’t patrolling the pitch taking dozens of touches like, say, Xavi. He was just there, but it was almost as though having his greatness on the field suddenly made all the PSG players pass the ball with a bit more maturity and patience.

We’ve seen this before, of course, where Messi lifts his team’s performance simply by being on the pitch. The most iconic example might be from the 2013 Champions League, where a clearly injured Messi came off the Camp Nou bench to inspire Barcelona to a draw against PSG (of all teams) that saw them qualify.

Now he seemed to have the same effect on PSG, albeit it wasn’t quite as heart-stopping.

When he did touch the ball; it was a crisp, clean and completed pass. In fact Messi misplaced just one of his 21 passes in an astoundingly composed display despite playing for a new team for the first time since he joined Barcelona as a 13 year-old.

There wasn’t too much of the usual Messi magic; he didn’t complete or even attempt a take-on and there were none of the devastating through-balls he became known for. But you could see how everyone was orienting around him, looking for him, Mbappé in particular seemed completely star-struck and went from trying to drive forward and score to making forward surges then getting his head up to try and find a pass to Messi and be the man who assists his first PSG goal.

Alas, there was no goal nor assist for Messi. In fact the star of the show in all truth was Kylian Mbappé, who appeared in the decisive moments to win the game for PSG. A nice run and neat header to open the scoring, and then a thundering run to the back-post and then a calm and crisp left-footed finish when found by Achraf Hakimi’s supreme low cross.

Mbappé, of course, might even upstage Messi’s arrival in Paris with a shocking late departure from PSG to Real Madrid. Although judging by the smiles on his face and the way he obsessively trying to find his new team-mate, it doesn’t seem like he’s actively pushing for an exit now and may stick around to play with the best player on the planet.

However even if he stays, allowing Messi’s move to remain the headline act of the transfer window, there’s no doubt that in Reims, the so-called “City of Kings” (as 33 of France’s kings were crowned in the city) we saw some lighthearted French royal infighting as the Prince of Paris upstaged the new King of France on his coronation day.

Of course, no one could doubt Messi’s status as the top dog. Not when opposing goalkeepers are asking him to pose with their children like he’s some visiting dignitary. But tonight belonged, on the pitch at least, to Kylian Mbappé.