Paris Saint-Germain are set to hand Lionel Messi his first Ligue 1 Uber Eats start when they travel to French wine country to take on Stade de Reims on Sunday evening.
Stade de Reims - Paris Saint-Germain
- kick-off: 19:45 GMT
PSG sent shockwaves through world football with the acquisition of Messi from Barcelona, the six-time world player of the year joining Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Gini Wijnaldum at an already star-studded Parc des Princes.
Whilst Hakimi and Wijnaldum have played in each of the opening three games of the 2021/22 campaign which have sent Paris to the top of the table, Messi is among those who is yet to turn out in a Rouge et Bleu jersey.
That should change on Sunday according to coach Mauricio Pochettino.
'A good week'
"It's been a very good week for Leo," the Argentine said of his illustrious compatriot following last Friday's 4-2 win over Stade Brestois 29. "The next week will be a long one, but if all goes well, we hope he can be in the squad and start at a competitive level."
Watch: Highlights of PSG's 4-2 win over Brest
Ander Herrera - nominally a box-to-box midfielder tasked with doing the dirty work in a galaxy of stars - added a goal and an assist against Brest to pull alongside Kylian Mbappé as the club's most prolific player this season.
The Spaniard's place in the side is assured, but whom he has for company with Messi's presence likely to result in a 4-3-3 remains to be seen. Wijnaldum and Julian Draxler might be the most likely given minutes played so far this term, but Pochettino is giving little away.
"We have a lot of names of players that shine, but we have to build a team, that's the challenge," he said. "It won't be easy. We have to find a balance between the talents that we have. It'll take time."
Ramos is still sidelined with a calf injury which has been troubling him since June, while Donnarumma and Messi's former Barcelona teammate Neymar Jr. are among those still rested following international duty this summer. Abdou Diallo will get a clean run at left-back, meanwhile, with Juan Bernat (torn ACL) and Layvin Kurzawa (calf) still injured.
Regardless of who lines up at the Stade Auguste-Delaune, Reims figure to have their work cut out, even if Oscar Garcia's men are yet to taste defeat this season after holding each of OGC Nice, Montpellier Hérault SC and FC Metz in their opening three games.
Oscar was previously a Barcelona player and later an academy coach, and he is under no illusions about the danger Messi carries having seen him at close quarters over the years.
Watch: Highlights of Reims' 1-1 draw with Metz
"Nobody's ever found the formula or the way to stop him as an individual," said the coach, who remains a Barca club member. "I'd have preferred not to face him, because it would mean that he is still at Barcelona!
Attracting the best
"But for the French league it's a very positive sign that the best players in the world, or the best in the world in this case, can come to this league. For me and my players it's a challenge to play against the best team in Europe and I would say in the world."
Forwards Tasos Donis and Fraser Hornby are out with thigh injuries, although their absence would perhaps not have been felt too hard with Reims likely to line up with hard runners Nathanaël Mbuku and Mathieu Cafaro tasked with defending from the front.
Reims: Rajkovic; Gravillon, Faes, Abdelhamid; Foket, Munetsi, Cassama, Konan; Chavalerin; Mbuku, Cafaro
PSG: Navas; Hakimi, Kehrer, Kimpembe, Diallo; Wijnaldum, Herrera, Draxler; Messi, Icardi, Mbappé