Lionel Messi has been given the blessing of Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino to link up with the Argentina national side for September's World Cup qualifiers.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has yet to play for new club PSG since completing a shock free transfer from Barcelona on August 10, having yet to regain full fitness since winning the Copa America.

However, Messi has taken part in a full week's training and Pochettino confirmed after Friday's 4-2 win against Brest that his compatriot is in contention to make his debut in next week's Ligue 1 clash against Reims.

That is PSG's final fixture before the first international break of the season, and Pochettino has no worries about the superstar forward travelling to Argentina if selected for duty.

"I have not yet spoken with the national team selectors," Pochettino told ESPN Argentina. 

"But they know that I am pro-selection and that we are to help not only Argentina, but all those nations which involve our players."

Neymar, who has also yet to play for PSG since reaching the Copa America final, was this week named in Brazil's squad for their upcoming fixtures.

Messi's most recent match of any sort was Argentina's Copa America final victory over Brazil on July 10.

The 34-year-old played a key role in his country's first major title in 28 years with four goals and five assists to win the Golden Boot.

Argentina have won three and drawn three of their opening six Qatar 2022 qualifiers and face Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia in next month's fixtures.

Paris Saint-Germain "must build a team" from their vast array of talent, so says Mauricio Pochettino.

Lionel Messi has headlined five new star recruits at PSG this transfer window, with Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos and Georginio Wijnaldum also linking up with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Co.

Messi has trained this week, but he and Neymar were not involved as PSG beat Brest 4-2 on Friday.

However, it was once more the absence of Marquinhos - who was on the bench after his break following the Copa America - and Ramos, who will not be available until September, which was felt the most as PSG conceded twice for the second match running. In total, they have now let in five goals across their three games.

Though it has not stopped them taking all nine points on offer so far, Pochettino knows he has to strike a balance.

"It was a very close match. We started well, we led 2-0 by dominating the match," he told a news conference.

"We should have scored one more goal, it was an open game that gave the opponents some chances. We suffered in the last 10 minutes. I'm very happy to take three points on difficult ground, against a team that has started the season well. 

"We are at the start of the season, we can see how difficult it is for all the teams to win a game. There are things to improve. In defence, we have to prevent the transition play which can hurt us.

“We have a lot of names of players that shine, but we have to build a team, that's the challenge. It won't be easy, we have to find a balance between the talents that we have. It will take time."

It was a sentiment echoed by Presnel Kimpembe, who put in a disjointed display at the back while wearing the captain's armband.

"We know that we were playing an away game against a team not easy to play," the France international told Amazon Prime Video.

"The team is not yet complete, we still have links to create. There are new players, we have to adapt."

One major bonus from Friday's win was Mbappe getting his first goal of the campaign, nodding in what was just his fourth headed goal in Ligue 1, and his first in the competition since March 2017.

Angel Di Maria also made a goalscoring return, with the Argentina playmaker lobbing in PSG's fourth to settle the contest just nine minutes after his introduction.

Mauro Icardi trudged off injured late on, which may well open the door for the formidable front three of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe to start against Reims next week.

"The week [of training] has been very good for Leo, so we hope that next week he will already be part of the team," said Pochettino, who also confirmed Icardi would undergo scans over the weekend.

Kylian Mbappe opened his account for the 2021-22 season as Paris Saint-Germain, still without Neymar or Lionel Messi, defeated resilient Brest 4-2.

With Messi and Neymar not judged ready for Friday's game by Mauricio Pochettino, Mbappe scored his first of the season with what was just his fourth headed goal in Ligue 1.

Mbappe put PSG 2-0 up, with Ander Herrera having opened the scoring, but Keylor Navas' error handed Brest a reprieve.

Idrissa Gueye's long-range strike seemed to have settled the contest, though it was ultimately substitute Angel Di Maria who had to wrap up the points after Steve Mounie had pulled another one back.

Mbappe's six attempts across the opening two Ligue 1 games failed to yield reward and the France star might have done better in the fourth minute, with his close-range shot saved well by Marco Bizot, though an expected goals (xG) figure of 0.065 suggested it was a difficult chance.

With Marco Verratti also going close, PSG's dominance told when Herrera tried his luck with a volley which crept in under Bizot, who did better to stop Achraf Hakimi doubling PSG's tally.

Little blame could be attached to Bizot soon after, however, with Mbappe charging in to get his head on a loose ball and divert a looping effort into the right-hand corner.

Navas had to hold his hands up at the other end before half-time, with PSG's shot-stopper failing to prevent Franck Honorat, the benefactor of Romain Faivre's exquisite flick, scoring despite getting a hand on the shot.

PSG's frustrations grew as they looked to add to their lead, yet Bizot's vulnerability from long shots came to the fore again as Gueye's dipping effort from 35-yards out evaded his grasp.

Navas atoned for his earlier mistake by denying Ronael Pierre-Gabriel, though Mounie did set up a grandstand finish with a cool 85th-minute finish.

There would be no fairytale comeback, however, with Di Maria – just nine minutes into his return – lobbing Bizot on the break to seal the points.

What does it mean? Defence a major concern for Pochettino

It is hard to imagine PSG not storming to the title this season, given the supreme quality at Pochettino’s disposal, yet first the former Tottenham boss simply has to get things sorted at the back.

PSG were, once more, all at sea defensively. Without Marquinhos, who has only just returned to the squad, Presnel Kimpembe delivered a performance hardly representative of his experience, while Thilo Kehrer looked out of his depth in the middle.

Five goals conceded in three games is a huge warning sign, and while Marquinhos and Sergio Ramos will no doubt help matters, Pochettino has to get the balance right.

Mbappe gets his head up

Mbappe thought he had opened his account for the season last week, only for his goal to be retrospectively put down as an own goal from Strasbourg's Ludovic Ajorque.

However, he got on the goal trail on Friday with what was his first headed goal for PSG since October 2019, and his first in Ligue 1 since March 2017, when he nodded in for Monaco.

Navas feeling the pressure?

Given Navas has been such an excellent signing for PSG, it was no surprise to see eyebrows raised when they moved to secure Gianluigi Donnarumma. However, the Italy goalkeeper was on the bench on Friday, and his hopes of immediately usurping the Costa Rican as first choice may have been boosted.

Though Honorat's chance for Brest's goal late in the first half was a good one (an xG of 0.353 means that, at that stage, it was the second-best opportunity in the game), Navas got down to what was a relatively weak shot, only to flap at it. With such an exceptional goalkeeper in reserve in the form of Donnarumma, the former Real Madrid man must do better to keep his place.

Fortunately for Navas, his blushes were somewhat spared by Bizot, who should have done far better for two of PSG's strikes. Indeed Gueye's winner had an xG of just 0.015 – the lowest of any attempt all game.

What's next?

PSG are away again – at Reims – before the international break, meaning Messi's debut may still well come on the road. It seems likely, with Mauro Icardi having gone off injured late on. Brest face Strasbourg in their next outing.

Lionel Messi will not make his Paris Saint-Germain debut against Brest on Friday after being left out of the travelling squad.

Messi has been training this week alongside former Barcelona team-mate Neymar, but neither have made the group for PSG's third Ligue 1 match of the season.

The wait for free signing Messi's PSG bow will now extend at least until next week's trip to Reims, the club's final match before the first international break of the 2021-22 campaign.

Mauricio Pochettino has still been able to call upon a stronger, more experienced squad than in previous weeks, though.

Euro 2020 Player of the Tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma is included for the first time since his own free transfer from Milan, although he has competition from regular goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Club captain Marquinhos, midfielder Marco Verratti and creator Angel Di Maria are also all back involved again.

The wait is over. A week-and-a-half after joining Paris Saint-Germain, Lionel Messi could be set to make his debut against Brest on Friday.

Following his shock exit from Barcelona as a free agent, Messi became the Ligue 1 giants' fifth major signing of the transfer window, joining the superstars Mauricio Pochettino already had at his disposal.

Messi, alongside his former Barca star Neymar, has been training this week, and though Pochettino refused to confirm his squad during Thursday's news conference, it is expected the duo will play a part.

With Kylian Mbappe already back, here's how Pochettino could set out at Brest.

 

GK: Keylor Navas

Navas has been one of Europe's outstanding goalkeepers in recent seasons, ranking third for goals prevented (8.1, using expected goals on target data) in the top five leagues in 2020-21. Gianluigi Donnarumma – the Player of the Tournament at Euro 2020 – did not leave boyhood club Milan just to sit on the bench and, at 22, represents the long-term option, but after only just returning to training, it is likely Pochettino will stick with the former Real Madrid goalkeeper for Friday's game, though the ex-Spurs boss did suggest Donnarumma may be available. 

RB: Achraf Hakimi

Alessandro Florenzi headed back to Roma at the end of his loan, but PSG identified just about the best replacement on the market. Over the previous two seasons, Robin Gosens (34) was the only defender with more goal involvements than Hakimi (30), who scored on his first Ligue 1 appearance.

CB: Marquinhos

PSG won 72.5 per cent of the games Marquinhos played last season in all competitions, conceding 0.7 goals on average. Those numbers altered significantly in his absence, with a winning percentage of 52.9 while shipping 1.1 goals per game. Even with the club's superstar signings, their captain remains one of the key men. Even though he has just returned from an extended break following Brazil's Copa America exploits, it would not be surprising to see the former Roma man thrown straight back into the fray given PSG have conceded three times across their opening two matches.

CB: Presnel Kimpembe

Sergio Ramos, another freebie, may no longer be able to play every game – he appeared only 15 times in LaLiga for Real Madrid last term – but PSG better hope he is there for the big ones. However, the 36-year-old will not be available until September, meaning France defender Kimpembe is likely to continue in the heart of defence for now. He made a game-high four clearances in last week's 4-2 home win over Strasbourg.

LB: Abdou Diallo

This is perhaps the one position on the pitch where PSG lack a genuine world-class option. Even if Pochettino were to bring in Kimpembe as a third centre-back, there is no outstanding left-sided wing-back. Diallo, a defensive full-back in an attacking team, gets the nod by virtue of starting the season fit and ahead of Layvin Kurzawa in the pecking order, while he also assisted Mauro Icardi's opener against Strasbourg.

CM: Ander Herrera

At the end of a season in which Marco Verratti was restricted to only 16 Ligue 1 starts, Euro 2020 provided a reminder of his talents. The Italy midfielder created a tournament-leading 14 chances across just five games while still completing 93.1 per cent of his 417 passes. However, it seems likely we will have to wait to see the playmaker link up with Messi, as he too is only just easing his way back into training. In his place, Herrera seems set to carry on in midfield and, in truth, is a more than able back-up. He attempted 100 passes on matchday two, completing 94 of them.

CM: Danilo Pereira

Leandro Paredes, Messi's international colleague, was trusted for the big occasions in the Champions League. However, he has just returned to training after helping Argentina win the Copa America, while Idrissa Gueye has been out due to COVID-19 protocols. Youngster Eric Ebimbe started against Strasbourg but was replaced by Pereira after an hour, and the towering Portuguese would add some presence in the middle of the park.

CM: Georginio Wijnaldum

Angel Di Maria would be very unfortunate to miss out on a full-strength XI and undoubtedly still has a part to play even with Messi in place, but he too is only just back from international duty. Wijnaldum has featured in both of PSG's Ligue 1 games so far and across his Liverpool Premier League career, led all Reds midfielders in recoveries (951) and duels won (645) and ranked second in interceptions (115) and third in tackles (181).

RW: Lionel Messi

Of course, Messi can play across the front three, but starting from the right – with Hakimi in the Dani Alves role outside him – will bring back memories of Barca teams of old. It is the role he occupied in 2014-15, forming part of perhaps the Blaugrana's most exciting attacking trio, which of course Neymar was also part of.

CF: Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe has the Luis Suarez role, providing the direct runs in behind that create space in front of the defence for Messi and Co, and a video of the two stars linking up in training went viral this week. Last season's 53 goal involvements did not quite match the forward's career-high of 54 in 2018-19, but Mbappe can expect to break all sorts of records in this thrillingly creative line-up this term. He already has two Ligue 1 assists to his name this season, and that is without playing alongside two of the world's best players.

LW: Neymar

Still the world's most expensive player if no longer the biggest name in his own dressing room, Neymar was the third member of that 2014-15 front three. Having decided to step out of Messi's shadow, the Brazil superstar wanted his old friend back. During their four years together at Barca, Neymar assisted Messi 22 times, while the six-time Ballon d'Or winner returned the favour on 20 occasions, and surely the chance to have this sensational front three starting together will be too tempting for Pochettino to turn down – even if it is harsh on the in-form Icardi.

Lionel Messi and Neymar have been training together for Paris Saint-Germain, but Mauricio Pochettino refused to comment whether the pair would feature against Brest.

PSG travel to Brest on Friday fresh from back-to-back Ligue 1 wins against Troyes and Strasbourg, the first time in three years they have begun a new domestic season in such fashion.

Despite a positive start to their campaign, interest continues to centre around Messi, who arrived in Paris after a shock exit from Barcelona amid the club's financial difficulties in August.

However, it remains unclear whether the highly anticipated pairing of Messi and Neymar will be reunited to form a formidable trio with Kylian Mbappe at Stade Francis-Le Ble.

"We haven’t decided the squad yet but we will do so shortly," Pochettino responded in Thursday's news conference when asked about Messi.

"We will analyse whether he can be in the squad. In terms of what Lionel Messi brings, everybody knows that.

"His presence here in terms of what he represents is something we have talked about a lot in recent days.

"I am pleased with how he has settled in and how he has connected with squad. When you have talent at this sort of club, the understanding is not just in the dressing room but also on the pitch."

 

As part of a fearsome frontline with Luis Suarez at Barcelona between 2014 and 2017, Messi and Neymar between them created 2.1 chances for one another per 90 minutes, resulting in 22 assists for the duo.

But, like Suarez when he moved to Barcelona, it is Messi who will have to quickly link-up with an already established pairing, Mbappe and Neymar.

Neymar's injury troubles have meant that he and Mbappe have only played 3,552 minutes together – less than half as many as Messi and Suarez – though they have combined for 102 chances (2.6 per 90) and 21 assists (one every 169 minutes).

However, as with questioning over Messi's inclusion, Pochettino kept his cards close to his chest as to whether Neymar would feature.

"As I said, we are assessing that and of course, we take physical and footballing attributes into account," the head coach reiterated. "Within the squad, we have to find the right balance."

Mbappe, who is the only player to have recorded more than one assist following a ball carry in Ligue 1 this term (two), is the third part of Pochettino's forward puzzle, but his future remains in question.

With just a year left on his current deal, links to Real Madrid were expected to be quashed by Messi's arrival as the Frenchman realises his opportunity to challenge for Champions League glory at the Parc des Princes.

"I think he [Kylian Mbappe] is very motivated and working hard ahead of this season," the former Tottenham boss added. "We are thinking the same things we have been thinking in recent weeks. He is our player and I want him to be here this season."

"The most important thing is Kylian Mbappe is calm and knows what he is doing. He knows what he wants to do. We know that he is our player. We want him to be here.

"My conversations with Kylian Mbappe are all about football. He has another year on his contract and even if he doesn’t renew, he is still a PSG player and we are pleased with him, and from what I understand, he is pleased with us."

Real Madrid star Toni Kroos appeared to tease the possibility of Kylian Mbappe joining the LaLiga giants following Lionel Messi's move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Mbappe continues to be linked with a blockbuster transfer to Madrid as he enters the final year of his PSG contract and the France international is no closer to signing a new deal.

PSG have no intention of selling Mbappe, who was jeered by sections of the crowd before and during Saturday's 4-2 Ligue 1 win over Strasbourg.

With Barcelona great and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi now in Paris, Kroos mischievously suggested his presence in the French capital could lead to Mbappe's departure.

"We will see how everything goes [regarding the signing of Messi to PSG]," Kroos said on Einfach mal Luppen – a podcast he runs with his brother.

"The move may be good for us because our biggest rivals have lost their best player.

"And something even better may come out of it as a consequence. Maybe a player from Paris [Saint-Germain] will join us... I don't know."

 

Mbappe was on target as Mauricio Pochettino's PSG overcame Strasbourg, with the World Cup winner having now either scored or assisted in seven consecutive matches in Ligue 1 (eight goals, four assists).

It was Mbappe's 150th Ligue 1 appearance – in the past 40 seasons, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (113) scored more goals in his first 150 games than the Frenchman (108).

Antoine Griezmann is "happy and proud" after reaching 100 appearances for Barcelona and the French star is targeting history with the LaLiga giants.

Griezmann brought up his century of games in Sunday's 4-2 rout of Real Sociedad and almost marked the occasion with his 36th goal for Barca, only to be denied by the crossbar.

With big shoes to fill after the departure of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, Barca head coach Ronald Koeman will be hoping the forward can team up with recruit Memphis Depay to fire Barca back to the top of LaLiga.

Griezmann, who arrived from Atletico Madrid in 2019, told the club's media on Wednesday: "I am happy and proud to have reached this figure.

"It was very important to get a win in the first game with the fans back, who we haven't seen for so long. It was a good game and hopefully, we can now get another win against Athletic [Bilbao]."

Since arriving in 2019, no player has played more games for Barca, while only Messi (8003) and Marc-Andre ter Stegen (8040) have racked up more minutes than Griezmann's 7,497.

France international Griezmann sits behind Messi for goal involvements in that time, too, having recorded 51 direct involvements – 19 more than the departed third-place Luis Suarez, who fired Atletico to their first LaLiga title since 2013-14 last term.

Griezmann's returns do not just impress up against his team-mates, though, given only Suarez (42), Villarreal's Gerard Moreno (51) and Real Madrid star Karim Benzema (59) have scored more among LaLiga forwards since the Frenchman's switch to Barca.

While Griezmann remains a long way behind his 94 goals for Diego Simeone's Atletico, his 20 goals across all competitions last season – the same as his goal involvements in LaLiga – did see him finish as Barca's second-highest goalscorer.

 

Having not added to his 35-goal tally yet this campaign, that return means he is 14 goals away from Thierry Henry (49) as the highest-scoring Frenchman for Koeman's side, Ludovic Giuly third with 26.

However, it is not just his finishing abilities that standout during his Camp Nou career.

Only Messi (233) and Jordi Alba (131) have created more chances than Griezmann (107), who also ranks third at the club behind the same pair for 'big' chances created, defined by Opta, with 26.

In a side dependent on the link-up play of their forwards to unleash the likes of Ansu Fati, Alba and Ousmane Dembele, it is apparent why Koeman has challenged the 30-year-old to improve on those figures to be the spearhead and guide his team to glory.

Nevertheless, the former Sociedad man is looking forward to continuing life at Camp Nou.

"I hope I get to play another 100 games and carry on giving everything to make history with this club," Griezmann added. "I want to keep helping the team both on and off the pitch, in attack and defence, and enjoying being at Barca."

Lionel Messi has left a glaring hole at Barcelona and it will prove to be an extremely difficult void to fill as former team-mate Victor Sanchez discussed the shock and tearful Camp Nou exit.

Messi had been tipped to re-sign at Barcelona but the LaLiga club's dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under the league's salary restrictions, paving the way for a blockbuster switch to Ligue 1 powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.

Instead of extending his time at Barca, dating back to 2000 during his youth, Messi now forms a frightening attack alongside old friend Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in Paris.

Sanchez played alongside Messi in Barca, where he emerged from the club's youth system in 2005 and made his first-team debut in 2008 before joining and captaining rivals Espanyol, and he spoke to Stats Perform about the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's stunning departure.

"I was shocked, but everyone too because after last year when he wanted to leave, and he finally didn't, I looked like he would end his career at Barcelona," said Sanchez, who now plays for Western United in Australia.

"So, leaving this year and joining PSG, it is tough to understand on his side, but also on the Barcelona side. I have spoken with former team-mates of his and they think same as me: they thought it was done and he would continue playing for Barca, and everything changed at the very last moment.

"We won't know why it did not happen, but it is a big shame for Barcelona and for Spanish football. On the other hand, it is a big joy for French football and PSG as I think they are building a spectacular team."

Messi played 778 games for Barcelona in all competitions, scoring 672 goals and providing 265 assists across those games. That amounts to 937 goal involvements during his Barca career, which began as a 17-year-old.

Messi's goals for Barca were scored against 82 different teams. Sevilla were his favourite opponent, finding the net against them 38 times in 43 appearances.

The 34-year-old's most prolific season as a Barcelona player was in 2011-12 when scoring a remarkable 73 goals in all competitions, as well as providing a further 28 assists, setting a personal record in both categories.

Messi netted 79 goals for his club across the calendar year in 2012, which is a record amount by a single player. His next most prolific year was 2010 when registering 58 times.

 

He is the only player to have scored 10 or more goals in LaLiga in 15 consecutive seasons.

Messi is the all-time LaLiga top scorer with 474 goals and is the second-highest scorer ever in Europe's top five leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (476), while he scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013 - a record for a player in the competition's history.

"It is very tough to replace Messi. You get a player like this every 20-30-40 years," Sanchez said before Barca's season-opening 4-2 win over Real Sociedad on Sunday. "It is so hard. However, Barca's academy works in the same way with every team, so they can get three-four-five players and build a strong team who can win titles and bid for all, something difficult right now in Barcelona.

"It is the same what happened with [Andres] Iniesta, Xavi… probably will happen with [Sergio] Busquets too. It is not easy to replace them with other players because they have been the best in their position.

"Barcelona will get other good players, but it won't be easy to get someone like Messi who has given that much to the team."

Under the leadership of Pep Guardiola, Sanchez was part of the star-studded Barca squad that won the Champions League, LaLiga and Copa del Rey in 2008-09 – playing alongside Messi as well as Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Yaya Toure, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Samuel Eto'o.

"I read a lot of comments when I was younger," Sanchez said when asked if he remembered some of the reaction and comments to Messi's emergence at Barca. "I am the same age as Messi, and I read a lot about a player of 16-17 who was superb in the academy. The thing is when I reached the first team, he was playing for three years in the first team.

"I was 20-21 at that time and he was already a star in the first team. However, it is true there were comments on a player in the second team who was going to be a big player and he has become it.

"You could see he was different since he was a child. As you see in others, you could also see on him."

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique compared Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe to Brazilian great Ronaldo as he hailed Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

Mbappe and Haaland are two of the most in-demand players in the transfer market, with LaLiga giants Real Madrid reportedly interested in both.

PSG's Mbappe – entering the final year of his contract in Paris – has long been tipped to join Madrid, while Haaland has also been linked with Barca, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

Mbappe scored in PSG's 4-2 Ligue 1 win at home to Strasbourg on Saturday, having now either scored or assisted in seven consecutive matches in the competition (eight goals, four assists).

Haaland took his tally to 62 goals in 61 games for Dortmund after bagging a brace as the German giants opened their Bundesliga season with a 5-2 rout of Eintracht Frankfurt.

Pique was asked to pick between Mbappe and Haaland in an appearance on Twitch following Barca's 4-2 victory over Real Sociedad on Sunday, and he replied: "Mbappe and Haaland are different.

"One is very similar to Ronaldo Luis Nazario, who is Mbappe. Haaland is more powerful, stronger, he is a goal killer."

Barca kicked off the Lionel Messi-less era by seeing off Sociedad at Camp Nou in the opening game of the LaLiga season.

Messi – the club's all-time leading goalscorer – joined PSG after his contract expired, with Barca's financial difficulties forcing the six-time Ballon d'Or winner to leave.

"It was tough," Pique said on Messi's exit. "I have known him since I was 13 years old.

"He has made us all better. We have to accept it because it is reality. We will all step forward to be competitive."

Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona played their best football in "years" during the opening hour of their first LaLiga game since Lionel Messi's exit as they saw off Real Sociedad 4-2.

Martin Braithwaite's brace after Gerard Pique had opened the scoring gave Barca a three-goal advantage with 59 minutes played in Sunday's contest at Camp Nou.

Julen Lobete and Mikel Oyarzabal scored quickfire goals to set up a nervy conclusion to the game, but Sergi Roberto struck in injury time to seal a deserved win for the home side.

It was the perfect way for the Catalan giants to put the shock of losing their all-time leading goalscorer Messi to Paris Saint-Germain on a free contract this week behind them.

And while Koeman would prefer to still have Messi in his squad, the Dutchman feels Barca proved there is life without their former captain as they outclassed La Real.

"We know that we are good with the ball, but we have worked hard on pressing and to do so with everyone," Koeman said during his post-match news conference. 

"We have to be more collective than before. For me, the team in the first half hour was the best Barca in years. It is the path we want to follow.

"I would like to have Messi in the team. Of course we don't have the player who decides games on his own, but this is more about the collective now.

"We have to create opportunities to score. Today we scored four so it's fine."

Pique got the ball rolling for Barcelona with his 19th-minute opener, heading in a pinpoint free-kick sent in by Memphis Depay on his competitive debut for the club.

Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj could only be registered by Barca on Saturday after Pique accepted a substantial pay cut to ensure they met LaLiga's salary cap limit.

Pique celebrated his goal by kissing the Barcelona crest on his shirt and Koeman hailed the long-serving defender for putting the team first.

"For me, Pique was also the team leader last year," Koeman said. "Due to injuries he couldn't play as much as he would have liked. He has been exemplary for all the Catalans."

 

Braithwaite was Barcelona's star performer in their opening match of the 2021-22 campaign with his two goals, which makes him the first Danish player to score a brace in LaLiga this century.

His double came from an expected goals return of 0.89 and Koeman expects the 30-year-old to play an important role this campaign, despite being heavily linked with a move away from Camp Nou.

"I have always said that he is a great example of a professional soccer player," Koeman said. "He always works for the team and he has improved his game – not only because of the goals. 

"He helps us in many areas. He also has speed and always he is very difficult to defend against. I am delighted to have players like him."

Barcelona are now unbeaten in their last 11 league games against Real Sociedad in LaLiga, but tougher tests lie in wait with Sevilla and Atletico Madrid to come in their next seven games.

Following a period of doom and gloom, Koeman is hoping for a positive future with returning supporters fully behind their side.

"We know that the season is very long and many things can happen," Koeman added. "If the fans see a team with enthusiasm, that tries to do things well, with a positive attitude, that always helps. 

"We need the fans. We have to leave them happy and I think they have gone home happy today."

Gerard Pique says cash-strapped Barcelona's captaincy group are "proud" to take a pay cut after he scored in a 4-2 LaLiga victory over Real Sociedad.

Barca revealed on the eve of the club's opening game of the campaign that Pique had taken a "substantial" reduction in his wages in order for Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj to be registered.

Pique's gesture ensured the Catalan giants, who were unable to keep Lionel Messi due to their financial troubles, are within the salary cap.

Fellow skippers Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba are also prepared to take a pay cut.

Depay started to repay Pique by setting up the opening goal on his debut and Martin Braithwaite struck twice, with Sergi Roberto completing the scoring after late goals from Julen Lobete and Mikel Oyarzabal gave La Real hope of salvaging an undeserved point at Camp Nou.

Pique criticised the way the club has been run following Messi's departure, but the Spain centre-back was determined to do everything in his powers to ease their problems.

He told LaLiga TV: "I was born here, I was brought up here. I've lived all my life pretty much in Barcelona and I've been a player for Barcelona for a long, long time.

"It was a gesture [to reduce his wages], I think it was the gesture that was required. I'm in contact with the other captains as well. I think they're going to make a very similar step very shortly. I wanted to be the first to get it done.

"We're a family here. All the captains have the same intentions to help the team. It's a decision that we've taken and we're proud of the decision we've taken. There's plenty of desire to keep performing and keep playing well

"I think sometimes people talk a lot and don't understand the situation properly. Right from the end of last season I've been in touch with Sergi Roberto, with Jordi Alba, with Sergio Busquets and it's something that has to be agreed with the club.

"The club needed someone to do this so we could register the players in time for the first game. I was the one that did it but the other players are prepared to do it.

"Sometimes the information that comes out isn't 100 per cent clear. It's not complete. But the club have asked players to make a sacrifice and players are going to do that. All the players have wanted to help the club."

Some Barca fans chanted Messi's name in the 10th minute, although some were not impressed with that gesture.

Pique is confident Ronald Koeman's side can have a season to remember without their leading all-time goalscorer, who joined Paris Saint-Germain after his contract expired.

"We knew the supporters would react the way they've reacted," said Pique. "I'm not going to talk to you about what Lionel Messi means to this club, we all know that. The most important player in the history of this club and the most important player in the history of football.

"But everything changes, nothing stays the same for ever. We have to keep going and I think we've got real quality. I'm convinced we're going to compete for everything this season

"We'll miss Leo, of course we will, but the team has shown in this game that we're all together, we've got goals in the side and despite the fact we were a little bit looser in the second half they didn't create too many chances throughout the game. I think we're going to enjoy ourselves this season."

Philippe Coutinho, Miralem Pjanic and Samuel Umtiti have all been left out of Barcelona's squad for the LaLiga opener against Real Sociedad.

New recruits Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia are set to make their debuts for the club on Sunday, Barca finally able to register the duo - as well as Rey Manaj - after Gerard Pique accepted a reduced salary.

All three are in a 23-man squad named by Ronald Koeman ahead of Sunday's fixture at Camp Nou, as well as another offseason signing in Emerson Royal.

However, a trio of players reportedly available for transfer will not be involved.

Brazilian Coutinho – who made just 12 league appearances before missing the season half of the 2020-21 season through injury – is a notable absentee from the list.

There is no Pjanic either, the midfielder seemingly surplus to requirements after just one season with Barcelona. He has been linked with a return to Juventus.

Defender Umtiti, meanwhile, misses out with fellow centre-back Clement Lenglet fit to feature. Frenkie de Jong has also been cleared to play, but Sergio Aguero is among those ruled out out through injury.

Koeman will also have to do without Ansu Fati, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ousmane Dembele for Barca's first competitive game since the departure of Lionel Messi, now at Paris Saint-Germain after financial restrictions prevented him from signing a new deal.

Lionel Messi is a Paris Saint-Germain player. Even though we've had a few days to let that sink in, it still seems such a perplexing scenario.

Messi has signed a two-year deal at the Parc des Princes and will form probably the most-feared front three in world football alongside Kylian Mbappe and his old friend Neymar.

Barcelona's dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under LaLiga's salary restrictions, meaning they begin their 2021-22 campaign on Sunday against Real Sociedad with a gaping void in their team.

This will be the first season since 2003-04 that Barca haven't been able to call upon the Argentina superstar, and his absence is sure to leave a lingering sense of astonishment that won't clear for a while, particularly if the Blaugrana endure a difficult start to the campaign.

Of course, Barca's hands were ultimately tied in this shocking saga, their financial state so rocky that signing Messi up to a new contract after his previous deal expired was literally impossible. Although the two parties had an agreement, the numbers simply wouldn't work.

The world will now watch on with fascination as Messi represents a new club for the first time in his career, while back in Catalonia, Barca must carry on like nothing's happened.

That'll be difficult to do. Using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at some of the incredible feats that make Messi irreplaceable.

 

Messi played 778 games for Barcelona in all competitions, scoring 672 goals and providing 265 assists across those games. That amounts to 937 goal involvements during his Barca career, which began as a 17-year-old.

Previously a one-club man, his first appearance for Barcelona came under Frank Rijkaard against Espanyol in October 2004, while his first goal arrived seven months later with a clever lob against Albacete at Camp Nou from a Ronaldinho assist.

Brazil great Ronaldinho was the last Barcelona player to wear the famed number 10 before Messi took that shirt in 2008 and made it his own.

But Ronaldinho does not feature among the top assisters for Messi goals, a list that is led by Luis Suarez (47)Dani Alves assisted 42 of the attacker's goals and third is Andres Iniesta with 37, six more than fellow legendary midfielder Xavi.

 

Messi played under eight different coaches during his time with Barcelona. Of those, he featured most often (219 appearances) and scored the most goals (211) during Pep Guardiola's tenure.

However, the 60 goals Messi scored in 50 games under the late Tito Vilanova – an average of 1.20 goals per match – was his best goals-per-game return with a single coach.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Messi's lowest average goals-per-game ratio was during the Rijkaard era at the start of his career (0.38), followed by the 0.63 managed under Quique Setien between January and August 2020.

 

Messi's most prolific season as a Barcelona player was in 2011-12 when scoring a remarkable 73 goals in all competitions and providing a further 28 assists, setting a personal record in both categories.

Indeed, the forward netted 79 goals for his club across the calendar year in 2012, which is a record amount by a single player. His next most prolific year was 2010 when registering 58 times.

In more recent years, Messi managed 51 goals in 2016, 50 goals in 2017, 47 goals in 2018, 45 goals in 2019 and 26 goals in 2020 – a steady decline that he has already rectified this year, having scored 28 times in the first half of 2021.

He is the only player to have scored 10 or more goals in 15 consecutive LaLiga seasons.

 

Messi's 672 goals for Barcelona were scored against 82 different teams. Sevilla were his favourite opponent, finding the net against them 38 times in 43 appearances.

Atletico Madrid were next on that particular list, with Messi bagging 32 goals in that fixture, followed by Valencia (31), Athletic Bilbao (29) and bitter rivals Real Madrid (26), making him the all-time leading scorer in El Clasico.

In terms of individual goalkeepers, Diego Alves was Messi's most frequent victim, the former Almeria and Valencia man having conceded 21 goals against the Argentina superstar.

Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas was joint-third with 17 goals against, one fewer than the 18 Messi put past Gorka Iraizoz.

 

Messi is of course synonymous with Camp Nou, a ground where he has scored 394 goals in 381 games at an average of 1.03 per match. Madrid fans will be particularly sick of him as he has scored 15 times in 22 games at the Santiago Bernabeu – his second favourite venue.

That is followed by the Vicente Calderon, Atletico's old home (14 goals in 20 appearances). Deportivo La Coruna's Riazor (13 in eight) and Sevilla's Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan (13 in 18) complete the top five.

It's fair to say Barca have an almighty task on their hands in replacing him.

 

Messi's other notable records and achievements

– Messi is LaLiga's all-time leading scorer with 474 goals and is the second-highest scorer ever in Europe's top five leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (476).

– He scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013, a record for a player in the competition's history.

– Messi is one of only two players to reach 100 goals in Champions League history (120), alongside Cristiano Ronaldo (134).

– He was the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match, doing so against Bayer Leverkusen in March 2012 at Camp Nou.

– The Argentina forward is one of six players to score more than 50 goals in the Copa del Rey's history and the only one to score in six different finals in the tournament (Telmo Zarra scored in five).

Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino insists he did not hear the jeers directed at Kylian Mbappe before and during Saturday's 4-2 Ligue 1 win over Strasbourg.

Mbappe – making his 150th Ligue 1 appearance – was a leading light for PSG at the Parc des Princes, getting an assist for Julian Draxler and also finding the net via a massive deflection off Ludovic Ajorque in the first half.

He was a regular threat to the Strasbourg defence but will likely be frustrated not to have added more goals as he was denied by Matz Sels twice in the second period.

Despite consistently being the biggest danger in a PSG side that faded badly in the second half and saw their 3-0 lead cut to 3-2, Mbappe was targeted by certain sections of the crowd.

The France international is into the final year of his contract at the club, and although president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said Mbappe had no reason not to extend his deal following the signing of Lionel Messi, an agreement still eludes PSG as Real Madrid circle.

However, Pochettino is convinced Mbappe remains utterly focused.

 

"Kylian is focused on our goals. He did well and I am very happy with his performance. He must continue like this," said Pochettino.

"I didn't hear the whistles against Mbappe."

Earlier in the evening it was all cheers for the fans in the Parc des Princes, which welcomed a capacity crowd for the first time since February 2020. Those in attendance got their first glimpse of Messi following his arrival from Barcelona.

Messi and his fellow new signings – including former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos – were presented on the pitch before the game to a raucous ovation, though neither of those two actually played.

Pochettino wished he could have joined in the celebrations.

"It was a great day for the PSG family, there was an amazing atmosphere," Pochettino said.

"I was not present during the presentation of the signings, but the feedback we got was that it was incredible.

"All players need to feel this affection from the fans. I want to congratulate the whole club again. We experienced something moving. I would have preferred to be outside the changing rooms to experience this.

"It's always nice to see our supporters up close. Football is different with the public. A year and a half later, it feels good."

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