Messi sub eclipses PSG win

Pochettino dismisses apparent snub, says his decision made for the good of the team

PARIS • Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino defended his decision to take off Lionel Messi as the former Barcelona star made his home debut in Sunday's Ligue 1 game against Lyon.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was outstanding in the first half at the Parc des Princes, hitting the woodwork from a free-kick in the first half.

However, he began to fade from the game after the break and was replaced by Achraf Hakimi for the final quarter of an hour with the score at 1-1.

Lucas Paqueta drew first blood for the visitors in the second half before Neymar equalised with a penalty.

A stoppage-time headed goal by substitute Mauro Icardi gave PSG a 2-1 win, their sixth victory in as many league games and consolidating their position at the top of the standings, five points ahead of second-place Marseille.

But the biggest talking point was Messi, who appeared to reject Pochettino's hand as he walked past his fellow Argentinian towards the bench.

Afterwards, Pochettino was quick to dismiss any suggestion the forward was unhappy, saying: "I asked him how he was and he said he was fine.

"Everyone knows we have great players, a squad of 35. It is my decision. We can only have 11 players on the field at one time.

"I only think about the best decision in each game, for each player, just as every coach does. We are here to make decisions.

"Sometimes, people will be happy with them, sometimes, they won't be."

Messi has looked slightly off the pace so far after a busy summer winning the Copa America.

The 34-year-old, who has yet to get off the mark in a PSG shirt after three appearances, did not have much of a pre-season and is still finding his feet in the French capital, even though many pundits had expected their much vaunted "MNM" attack, including Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, to immediately sparkle.

Some analysts have started to change their tune, with former Liverpool striker Michael Owen saying: "As much as we drool over them, this PSG team with those forwards, they're all phenomenal players in their own right. But three together makes it weaker for me."

French Cup winners PSG also have other concerns after Mbappe, the subject of two rejected bids by Real Madrid in the summer, was again largely booed by a capacity crowd, as has been the case at other home games this term.

Despite setting up Icardi's goal, his decision not to sign a new contract has provoked the ire of the club's fans.

Mbappe has less than a year left on his deal and will be free to enter into negotiations with other clubs in January.

Last week, PSG sporting director Leonardo claimed he still hoped the 22-year-old would have a change of heart as his "relationship with Paris Saint-Germain is deep" but reports suggest the 2018 World Cup winner with France has his sights set on a move to Real.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2021, with the headline 'Messi sub eclipses PSG win'. Subscribe