Preview: Time for Messi to step up for PSG against Real Madrid

AP , Monday 14 Feb 2022

Following its repeated failures to win Europe's most coveted trophy, Paris Saint-Germain perfectly knows that adding up individual talents is not enough to make a team successful on the biggest stage.

PSG s Lionel Messi challenges for the ball with Rennes Nayef Aguerd during the French League One soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Rennes at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. AP

Since its wealthy Qatari owners took control of the French side more than 10 years ago, PSG has grown into a global brand with strong commercial revenues. Year after year its roster has become more and more formidable, with the addition of superstars like David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

And year after year the title it craves so much, the Champions League, has remained unreachable despite coming close in 2020 with a runner-up finish.

Taking example from the ``Galacticos'' policy in place during Florentino Perez's presidency at Real Madrid, PSG has however not given up on its strategy. Having secured the services of a four-time Champions League and seven-time Ballon d'Or winner this season in Lionel Messi, the club hopes it will be a game-changer.

And the former Barcelona great is now under pressure to deliver against Madrid in a clash between a club that likes to brand itself the Kings of Europe and soccer's ``nouveaux riches.``

PSG hosts the 13-time winners in the first leg of a round of 16 match on Tuesday at the Parc des Princes.

Messi has adapted slowly to his new club since he signed a two-year deal with PSG last summer, scoring just seven goals in 20 appearances.

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino keeps repeating the 34-year-old Argentine great needs time to find the right balance in his new surroundings, but all eyes will be on Messi against Madrid, a club he tortured during his long spell in Spain with Barcelona, scoring 26 goals and delivering 14 assists in 45 games.

With Neymar just back from injury and unlikely to start, PSG will also be counting on Mbappe to make an impact. The France forward, who has long been courted by Madrid, has been in superb form recently and scored an injury-time winner on Friday in the French league.

A mouth-watering duel between Mbappe and France teammate Karim Benzema seems unlikely to unfold. Benzema has been included in the Madrid squad but is doubtful as he works his way back from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since last month.

Madrid hasn't reached the final since completing a straight hat trick of European Cups in 2018. Now coach Carlo Ancelotti travels to face the side he once coached with only one win in the past four matches in all competitions, but confidence remains high.

``Now we're heading into what is the most beautiful time in football,`` midfielder Casemiro said. ``We want to win everything we can.''

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