July 7, 2022

PSG give Pep Guardiola a Lionel Messi flashback in impressive Champions League display

express– If there is anyone who knows the influence Lionel Messi can have on a team, it is Pep Guardiola. Nobody thought Messi was washed up and past it after he left Barcelona to join Paris Saint-Germain in the summer, but there were legitimate questions about how Mauricio Pochettino’s side would function following his arrival.

Was Messi really what PSG needed to achieve their ultimate goal of Champions League glory?

How would he fit in alongside resident superstars Kylian Mbappe and Neymar?

How would Pochettino manage all these egos inside one dressing room?

Guardiola probably knew the questions were not worrying the PSG hierarchy. He probably knew that, even at the age of 34, Messi is still a unique talent capable of lighting up matches on the biggest stage.

Yet there is no denying that Messi’s start to life at the Parc des Princes has been stuttering.

Before Tuesday night, there had been three appearances, no goals, no assists and one yellow card.

Unfortunately for Guardiola, Messi still has his sense of timing. After three warm-up games and a frustrating injury courtesy of a bruised bone picked up on international duty, Messi was back to his best when Man City and his former boss came to town, scoring in a 2-0 win for PSG.

It must have felt strange for Guardiola, watching a masterful player he helped shape play so beautifully and effectively against his side.

After all, Guardiola was there at the start of Messi’s real purple patch – and, besides the man himself, he was the chief architect.

Messi spent four full seasons working under Guardiola at Barcelona, from 2008 to 2012. In that period the club won 14 trophies, including three La Liga trophies, two Champions Leagues and two World Club Cups.

While Barca were, of course, packed full of stars, there was no doubt who the brightest of them all was.

Messi’s first Ballon d’Or came after his first full season under Guardiola in 2008/09, and he retained it every year they worked together from that point onwards.

But despite his brilliance, Guardiola also knew the importance of providing Messi with the support he needed.

“We can’t allow Messi to bear the weight of the team,” Guardiola said after taking over the Barcelona reins in June 2008. “I don’t think it would be good for him or the club.”

That is perhaps why Messi’s arrival at PSG works: he is not bearing much weight at all. Flanked by the jet-heeled Mbappe and the trick-laden Neymar he can sit back and conduct things.

And that’s what he did on Tuesday night. PSG were 1-0 up after just eight minutes when Idrissa Gueye curled into the top corner after Neymar had scuffed Mbappe’s cut-back into his path.

Man City had their moments, with Raheem Sterling hitting the crossbar and Bernardo Silva somehow missing the rebound with the goal gaping.

However, after Ruben Dias had seen his header saved, Sterling had dragged another effort wide and Kevin De Bruyne had tested Gianluigi Donnarumma from a tight angle, Messi stole the show after 74 minutes.

Driving forward with balletic ease, Messi cut inside from the right, exchanged passes with Mbappe, who opened up space at the heart of the City box with his movement, before curling beautifully into the top corner all in one fluid motion.

It was his 121st goal in the Champions League, but his first for PSG. Plenty of the previous ones came under Guardiola, yet in a case of cruel irony, his most recent masterpiece came against his former boss.

It is early days, but PSG went some way to proving they could be the real deal with Messi in their ranks this season.

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