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Can Messi finish debut PSG season on a high?

Can Messi finish debut PSG season on a high?

Publish on 03/17 at 12:39


After being unthinkably jeered last weekend, Lionel Messi now has 10 Ligue 1 Uber Eats games left to finish his first season with Paris Saint-Germain on a high.

Messi never hid his main aim when he arrived in Paris last August. At his unveiling to the world’s press in a packed Parc des Princes auditorium following his stunning move from Barcelona, the 34-year-old declared that he had joined PSG in order to win another Champions League.

“My dream is to win another Champions League and I think I am in the ideal place to have that chance and to do it,” Messi said on that feverish day last summer when crowds gathered outside the stadium to catch a glimpse of arguably the greatest player of all time.

Yet Messi also admitted something else that day. “Sometimes you can have the best team in the world and not win,” he added. And PSG, despite apparently boasting one of the best squads in the history of the game, were dumped out of Europe’s elite club competition in the last 16 last week, throwing away a two-goal aggregate lead against Real Madrid in a chaotic 18-minute spell in the second half of the second leg.

The Champions League is the ultimate goal for Paris, a prize their Qatari owners remain desperate to get their hands on 11 years after arriving in the French capital. But they will have to wait at least another year and time is running out for Messi, who will be 35 in June and won the last of his four European Cups with Barcelona in 2015.

Messi's debut Ligue 1 goal...

Seven Ballons d’Or but just seven goals

For now, he will have to focus on Ligue 1 and adding to his statistics that have so far been underwhelming when compared with his extraordinary record in his years in Spain.

A player who won his seventh Ballon d’Or in November hardly deserves to be on the receiving end of boos from his own supporters, even if PSG fans could be forgiven for venting their frustration in the wake of their European exit. “We understand the disappointment and frustration,” said coach Mauricio Pochettino last weekend.

Messi recently spoke of his admiration for those same supporters. In an interview with the club’s magazine, he said: “The atmosphere in every home match is incredible. You can feel the fervour of the fans, and the explosion of noise that follows a goal is magnificent.”

Far less prolific

Yet those supporters did understandably expect more from Messi when he signed his two-year contract, which carries the option of a third season.

Before this weekend’s visit to AS Monaco, Messi has scored just seven goals this season in 26 games in all competitions. Five of those goals came in the Champions League, including two in a final group game against Club Brugge when Pochettino’s team were already through to the last 16. He missed a penalty in the first leg of the Real Madrid tie and has found the net just twice in 18 appearances in Ligue 1.

Messi scores against Lille

He is PSG’s second-top scorer but sits way behind Kylian Mbappé, who has 26 goals this season. Messi’s figures are also remarkable when set against his scoring record in previous years at Barcelona. He netted 38 times for his club last season, including top-scoring in La Liga with 30. Messi has not finished a campaign with fewer than 30 club goals since 2007-08 when, still aged just 20, he scored a total of 16 times.

Adapting his game and bad luck

Those numbers suggest that something has not quite been right, although in any case it is not as simple as pointing out his comparative lack of goals. For a start, there have been signs in recent weeks that Messi has adapted his game to play more for Mbappé, possibly the best player in the world right now. He ended last weekend as the leading assist provider in Ligue 1 with 10, level with Mbappé. Four of those assists have been for Mbappé. Six have come since late January and his return from a spell out with Covid-19.

He has also, at times, been unlucky, plain and simple -- by early February he had already been denied seven times this season by the woodwork, more than any other player in Europe’s so-called big five leagues.

While PSG march towards the Ligue 1 title, between now and the season’s end on May 21 Messi has the chance to improve his statistics in front of goal and put his crushing Champions League disappointment behind him before preparing for another assault on European club football’s biggest prize next year.

>> PLAYER PROFILE: Lionel Messi

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