Lionel Messi has been back in training as Paris Saint-Germain welcome Stade de Reims to the Parc des Princes on Sunday, although with a huge lead at the top of the Ligue 1 Uber Eats table the capital club have one eye on big matches to come.
Paris Saint-Germain – Stade de Reims Sunday at 20:45 CET (1945 GMT)
Messi has not played in 2022 after coming down with Covid-19 during a trip back to Argentina over the short winter break, missing his side’s 1-1 draw away at Olympique Lyonnais and the 2-0 win at home to Stade Brestois 29 last weekend. It seems unlikely that PSG will rush back the 34-year-old Argentine although Messi will need plenty of game time to build up his sharpness ahead of the first leg of the UEFA Champions League last-16 tie against Real Madrid next month.
That game on February 15 is already dominating headlines and all talk around the capital side, who are desperate to go all the way in Europe for the first time, over a decade on from the transformative Qatari takeover at the Parc des Princes.
Before that there is a Coupe de France last-16 tie against OGC Nice to come on January 31 and three league games, with the visit of Reims being followed by a trip to Lille and a home meeting with Stade Rennais FC.
Highlights: PSG ease past Brest
This Sunday’s clash with a Reims side sitting in the bottom half of the table is on paper the easiest of all of those matches and coach Mauricio Pochettino – who is believed to be keen to bring in Tanguy Ndombélé from Tottenham Hotspur - must also decide whether to play Kylian Mbappé, who has sat out training after he strained an adductor muscle against Brest last weekend.
Ekitiké boost for Reims
Mbappé and Thilo Kehrer scored PSG’s goals against Brest as they made it 14 domestic games without defeat and stayed a huge 11 points clear of Nice at the top of the table. Given their strong position in the league, Pochettino can be forgiven for thinking ahead to the Real Madrid tie that will ultimately define their season. Having not played since late November because of an ankle injury, Neymar Jr. is targeting that game for his comeback.
“I think we have started this year very strongly, with the mentality that we want to win everything again,” Angel di Maria told PSG TV this week.
Highlights: Brest beaten by Metz
Opponents Reims head to Paris on the back of a poor start to 2022 in the league. They were held 0-0 away at struggling Clermont and then went down 1-0 at home to FC Metz last weekend, two results that laid bare their dependence on young striker Hugo Ekitiké, who has scored eight goals this season but has been suspended since being sent off in the Coupe de France against Thaon.
“At the moment we are struggling to create chances and score goals. The absence of Hugo weighed heavily because we know he is capable of making the difference,” said coach Oscar Garcia after the Metz defeat.
Ekitiké, who has been linked with a big-money move to England, can return here but Reims are still missing the likes of Ghislain Konan and El Bilal Touré to the Africa Cup of Nations.
PSG: Donnarumma; Kehrer, Marquinhos, Ramos, Mendes; Paredes, Verratti, Herrera; Messi, Icardi, Di Maria
Reims: Rajkovic; Foket, Gravillon, Faes, Abdelhamid, Locko; Lopy, Matusiwa, Cajuste; Mbuku, Ekitike