Kylian Mbappe couldn’t hide his fury with Neymar while Lionel Messi has not played since being grumpily subbed off by Mauricio Pochettino… so are these hints of an all-star tiff ahead of Manchester City’s visit?
- Paris Saint-Germain take on Manchester City in the Champions League next
- Mauricio Pochettino’s side are unbeaten this season but are not without issues
- The star-studded front three are yet to click as many expected they would do
- Kylian Mbappe was angry with Neymar while Lionel Messi has been sidelined
When Paris Saint-Germain prepared to face Manchester City earlier this year Lionel Messi was still in Barcelona and Neymar was fawning over his ‘brotherly’ relationship with team-mate Kylian Mbappe.
There was backslapping aplenty. You’re great. No, you’re great. Everyone with smiles washed across faces – publicly, at least.
PSG went on to lose that semi-final 2-1 at home before a 2-0 defeat away in Manchester. The Champions League dream was over for another season and the French side’s incredibly ambitious Qatari ownership knew they needed more.
Kylian Mbappe could not hide his frustration towards Neymar during the weekend’s 2-0 win
Lionel Messi is also a complex situation for PSG having been bemused at being substituted
In came Messi, drawn away from Spain following the conclusion of his contract at crisis-hit Barcelona, to form one of the most talented attacks in recent decades.
Supporters were licking their lips, sponsors were lining up and yet, while boss Mauricio Pochettino smiled and showered his three stars in praise, he was left asking himself how three performers who want to be front and centre under the spotlight can share the stage.
It’s a conundrum he is paid handsomely to solve and while line-ups have shifted around, a flawless eight wins from eight games in the league suggests it’s all rather rosy over in Paris.
And yet, as Mbappe voiced his anger at Neymar while on the substitutes’ bench in the weekend win over Montpellier, it reinforced the belief that lead actors don’t take too kindly to supporting roles.
Pochettino (left) needs to find a way to unlock Messi (right) when he returns to the PSG side
It does not help that Neymar (left) and Mbappe’s relationship appears to be strained
Mbappe was caught on camera by Canal+ gesticulating angrily and complaining to Idrissa Gueye, who scored in the 2-0 win, claiming that Neymar doesn’t supply him with the type of pass that led to Julian Draxler’s goal two minutes from time.
According to RMC Sport, Mbappe said: ‘He (Neymar) does not give me that pass.’
Undeniable tension. In a relationship that was supposedly kosher and familial is now becoming something of an issue for Pochettino that he will have little time to solve.
Mbappe and Neymar both moved to join PSG in 2017 and have enjoyed rich success together.
Devastating as a tandem in attack they can count themselves unfortunate not to have won a Champions League title together, falling in the final under Thomas Tuchel 1-0 to Bayern Munich.
Fast forward and their relationship looks to have become increasingly strained this season.
For one, Neymar and Mbappe have not delivered a single assist for each other this season. Previously they were seen as a one-two punch to swat teams aside.
The expensively assembled attack has been put together solely to win a Champions League
Mbappe and Neymar have helped PSG to amass a 100 per cent record this season, however
Neymar has not responded directly to Mbappe’s moans from the bench and instead replied to a social media message from Brazilian icon Pele.
The 80-year-old is an inspiration to Neymar and always has his ear when he speaks.
When he praised Messi and wished him well at PSG alongside Neymar and Mbappe, the Brazilian forward was keen to respond.
He wrote: ‘You can be sure that we will do our best to be happy this year!’
Mbappe leads the trio in goals with his four comfortably ahead of Neymar (one) and Messi (zero), perhaps giving him the belief that the crown should sit atop of his head, rather than the newly acquired Argentine.
‘Kylian Mbappe is a fantastic guy, he is a top competitor who wants to win, always,’ Pochettino said recently, after his striker came in for criticism for over-zealous celebrations in a late win over Metz.
And that’s the other issue, too: Messi.
Messi will no doubt be itching to take on his former manager in Pep Guardiola with Manchester City next up in the Champions League in Paris tonight.
Having sat out the last two games Pochettino, who was pilloried for hooking a bemused Messi off against Lyon, has been vindicated in spotting an injury earlier.
Messi has watched the last two games from the stands due to a knee injury
The image of Messi refusing a handshake from his manager as he trudged off with the game level against Lyon will be defining of his time in Paris until silverware follows.
Did PSG need Messi? Probably not. But transcendent superstars rarely ever come to market and when they do teams need to act. Just look at Manchester United – Cristiano Ronaldo was not the defensive midfielder the fans have been demanding.
Messi wants to be front and centre of this team and the task on Pochettino’s hands is mixing a cocktail that avoids giving one of his big three a bitter after-taste.
Pochettino has shown a preference to stick to a 4-2-3-1 system with Mbappe through the middle as his No 9 with Neymar out wide left, Angel Di Maria wide right and Messi as the de facto No 10.
With Di Maria suspended for two more Champions League matches – following his straight red against City last season – that quartet is not possible on Tuesday night.
After being subbed off against Lyon, Messi did not shake Pochettino’s hand as he walked past
Messi has returned to training and could make his return but every decision Pochettino makes is being scrutinised like never before in his career.
Winning the Champions League is where expectation starts and ends. PSG are tired of being nearly men in a competition they are spending hundreds of millions to get hold of.
Guardiola, perhaps indulging in some mind games ahead of their clash, piled more unwanted pressure on Pochettino by claiming that the triumvirate of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe is ‘unstoppable’. He added: ‘With this amount of quality, I don’t know how to stop them, they’re so good. We have to defend well, help each other and know we are going to suffer and have pain.’
No excuses, basically.
Pochettino, perhaps buying some time, confirmed that Messi, who has missed two games with a knee injury, would be in the squad but is leaving it late to decide whether the superstar starts alongside Mbappe and Neymar for only the second time.
Stamping his authority by withdrawing Messi against Lyon and Mbappe against Montpellier is bold from Pochettino. It may well garner increased respect among the rest of the squad but the elephant in the room will become irritable if a solution isn’t found to satisfy his attacking trio soon.
For Pochettino’s sake he will hope this cloud of discontent moves on and his rowing strikers are having nothing more than a brothers’ tiff.
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