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Lionel Messi’s transfer to PSG set to give rise to tactical headaches for coach

Lionel Messi's arrival at PSG would surpass the fanfare of Neymar's world-record signing from Barcelona in 2017 or Zlatan Ibrahimovic's self-promoting presentation by the Eiffel Tower in 2012.

By: AP |
Updated: August 9, 2021 12:41:04 pm
Lionel Messi, who scored 672 goals in 778 appearances for Barcelona, won a staggering 35 titles and record-breaking six Ballon d'Or awards during his 17-year stay at the La Liga club. (Reuters)

If Lionel Messi does become the latest star to help Paris Saint-Germain’s quest to win the elusive Champions League, coach Mauricio Pochettino must work out the best way to accommodate him in a top-heavy attack.

Messi bid a tearful farewell to Barcelona on Sunday. At the same time, PSG was in talks with his team trying to finalise a deal to sign him amid reports Messi had flown to Paris on Sunday for a meeting.

Talk of Messi’s imminent arrival led several hundred PSG fans to wait outside Le Bourget airport, to the north of Paris, which is often used by PSG and the national team.

Messi would become the biggest star to arrive at Parc des Princes since cash-rich Qatari owners QSI took over the club 10 years ago.

Messi’s arrival would surpass even the fanfare of Neymar’s world-record signing for 222 million euros ($261 million) from Barcelona in 2017, or Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s brazenly self-promoting presentation by the Eiffel Tower in 2012.

They never won a Ballon d’Or, let alone the record six Messi has.

The football great’s staggering tally of 672 goals for Barca includes an extraordinary 50-goal season in 2012; 96 league goals and a remarkable 133 overall across 2012 and 2013; eight Spanish league and six Champions League scoring titles.

Not to mention four Champions League trophies with Barcelona, a record 91 goals in a calendar year for club and country, and a Copa America title with Argentina.

Even Messi’s age — he’s 34 — will have little impact on the huge anticipation that his arrival would generate within French football and beyond.

But where is Pochettino, a fellow Argentine, going to play him in attack which includes Neymar, France’s World Cup star Kylian Mbappe, Copa America match-winner Angel Di Maria and sharpshooter Mauro Icardi?

Mbappe cost 180 million euros ($212 million) and netted a career-high 42 goals last season. The club paid 50 million euros ($59 million) for Icardi. He showed his finishing skills on Saturday night in PSG’s league-opener — a 2-1 win at Troyes — and has 34 goals in 64 games for PSG.

Icardi looks certain to fall behind in the pecking order and could even be sold or loaned to take some weight off the club’s huge wage bill.

Pochettino needs to decide whether to use Di Maria in a four-man attack at the risk of unbalancing the midfield. PSG showed last season — and in the way it conceded a soft goal from a corner against Troyes — that it needs protection at the back.

EXPLAINED | Why Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona

Here’s a look at possible PSG tactical formations with Messi in the side:

4-3-3 — Messi on the right of attack, Neymar on the left and Mbappe playing through the middle in his preferred center forward’s role. Messi has played in this role many times at Barca. But while the 4-3-3 also offers greater security in midfield, there’s no place for Di Maria.

4-2-3-1 — This time Di Maria takes his place on the right flank with Messi playing behind Mbappe in a playmaker’s role and Neymar again attacking from the left side. Great on the eye but a two-man midfield — likely Marco Verratti and new signing Georginio Wijnaldum — would make PSG vulnerable to counterattacks.

3-5-2 —Possibly the best option with Messi pushing up front alongside Mbappe, and Neymar using his slick probing and passing playing behind them. Verratti and Wijnaldum would get welcome support in the middle. But this formation would once again be at the expense of Di Maria, who was arguably PSG’s best player last season along with Mbappe and goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

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