Argentina maintained their unbeaten start to CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying with a 3-1 victory over 10-man Venezuela.

Lionel Messi and Argentina were playing for the first time since their drought-ending Copa America triumph on July 10 – La Albiceleste upstaged rivals Brazil for their first title since 1993.

Lautaro Martinez, Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa were on target for Argentina on Thursday, guiding Lionel Scaloni's side to their fourth win in seven qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022.

Venezuela played with 10 men from the 32nd minute after substitute Luis Martinez was sent off for a horror challenge on Messi and Argentina made the most of their numerical advantage – Lautaro Martinez breaking the deadlock in the second minute of first-half stoppage time before Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa completed the scoring in second period.

Yeferson Soteldo converted a 94th-minute penalty but it was a mere consolation for hosts Venezuela.

Argentina are second in the South American standings, provisionally three points off the pace, with Brazil in action against Chile, after extending their unbeaten streak to 21 matches.

Messi's miscued shot found the feet of Angel Di Maria in the 14th minute, but he was unable to clear his feet in time as his scooped effort was dealt with by Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez, while Rodrigo De Paul hit the crossbar.

Di Maria found himself in space seven minutes later after Jose Velazquez slipped and had to be withdrawn due to injury, however the Argentina winger wasted the opportunity, his outside-of-the-boot pass overhit and out of Lautaro Martinez's reach at the back post.

The complexion of the match changed approaching the half-hour mark when Luis Martinez – who replaced Velazquez seven minutes earlier – was sent off.

Messi went to ground after receiving a high foot to the shin and the challenge, initially a yellow card, was upgraded to red after the referee consulted the pitch-side monitor following a VAR review.

Argentina – who enjoyed 82 per cent possession after Luis Martinez's dismissal – opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time with Lautaro Martinez tucking the ball past Farinez, having been played through by Giovani Lo Celso.

Venezuela pushed numbers forward and started to trouble Argentina's defence, Soteldo's deflected effort leaving Emiliano Martinez scrambling in the 68th minute as the shot flashed just wide of the post.

But Venezuela's hopes of a point were dashed when substitutes Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa struck within three minutes – the 71st and 74th minute – to put the result beyond doubt, though Soteldo's last-gasp spot-kick gave the home crowd something to celebrate.

 

What does it mean? 

After their memorable Copa success, Argentina continued where they left off on Thursday. Scaloni's men have not lost since July 2019 as they continue to build towards next year's World Cup.

Lautaro's away delights

Argentina forward Lautaro Martinez scored his third goal of the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. All of his goals have come away from home, with the South American giants winning all three of those games.

Venezuela's drought goes on

It was always going to be tough playing with a man less against Argentina. Now, Venezuela have gone seven matches without a win. Not since November 2020 have Venezuela celebrated a victory.

What's next?

Next up for Argentina is a mouth-watering Copa America final rematch against Brazil in a top-of-the-table clash in Sao Paulo on Sunday, while Venezuela travel to Peru on the same day.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni wants to play star man Lionel Messi in all three of the side's upcoming World Cup qualifiers despite his lack of game-time at club level.

Messi joined Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona last month but only made his debut as a 66th-minute substitute in Sunday's 2-0 win at Reims.

The six-time Ballon d'Or had been left out previously as he built up his fitness having not played since Argentina's Copa America final victory over Brazil on July 10.

Messi has now linked up with the Argentine squad ahead of three qualifiers against Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia.

"We evaluate match by match and when I've spoken to [Messi] he says he's fine," Scaloni told reporters.

"Obviously he doesn’t have the same minutes in him as he did ahead of the Copa America but everyone knows what I think of him and he will play all three games if he is fit."

Scaloni was pressed on whether he preferred 34-year-old Messi to be playing in LaLiga with Barcelona or Ligue 1 with PSG but would not be drawn.

PSG, who were Ligue 1 runners-up last season, are one of the favourites for this season's Champions League title.

"If Messi was at Barcelona he would play with Sergio [Aguero]," Scaloni said. "We stay totally outside the transfer market because we know that being part of the Argentina squad is totally different to being at a club.

"Logically if we had to choose, we'd choose from him to be with many Argentines because that helps.

"We have no preferences, we know he is at a good club, one of the best in Europe and that will compete on the biggest stages. That is the most important thing."

The transfer window does not close. It slams shut, and on Tuesday, it slammed shut with a flurry of late activity.

LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid were heavily involved, with Antoine Griezmann re-joining the club on loan from Barcelona while Saul Niguez left for Chelsea.

It marked the end of a difficult window for Barca, who of course lost Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, who rounded off a stellar three months by not only keeping Kylian Mbappe, but also adding promising left-back Nuno Mendes.

Earlier in the day, Cristiano Ronaldo's sensational return to Manchester United had been confirmed, perhaps putting the Red Devils right in the mix for the Premier League title, while Chelsea - buoyed by Romelu Lukaku's comeback - cannot be ignored.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the winners, and losers, of what has been a chaotic transfer window.

 

THE WINNERS

Paris Saint-Germain

Let's start with the obvious. Achraf Hakimi, Mendes, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georgino Wijnaldum and, of course Messi. Oh, and PSG kept hold of Mbappe, too, rebuffing three bids - the final one reportedly worth €200m - from Real Madrid for the 22-year-old superstar who is out of contract next year. Speaking of out of contract players, Ramos, Donnarumma, Wijnaldum and Messi were all brought in for combined fees of €0, although their wages are sure to be astronomical even by PSG's standards. In Mbappe, Neymar and Messi, PSG have, on paper, what could be the most feared attacking trident of the modern era, not to mention Angel Di Maria in reserve. Mauricio Pochettino's side look suspect defensively but have Ramos to come in, while Donnarumma will compete with Keylor Navas. If they do not win the Champions League this season, will they ever manage it?

Manchester United

It remains to be seen whether United really needed to go out and buy Ronaldo, but the temptation – and reportedly, the requirement to get one over on noisy neighbours Manchester City – was just too much. However, there is no doubting Ronaldo brings a focal point you could argue was still missing from the Red Devils' attack, though with so much quality at his disposal the pressure will be on Ole Gunnar Solskjer to deliver a trophy. United spent big on Jadon Sancho and also brought in a world class defender in Raphael Varane. A title tilt might not be expected just yet, but silverware in some form must be the goal now. After fan protests during the botched Super League proposals earlier this year, the Glazer family seem to have gone all out to prove they want success.

Chelsea

When it comes to Premier League title contenders, Chelsea have surely put themselves well in the running. The European Champions have brought in two major additions in the form of Lukaku and Saul, both players with a wealth of experience at the highest level, and both on the back of title-winning campaigns last season. The Blues did sell Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud and Kurt Zouma, among others, but the strength in depth Thomas Tuchel has to play with is remarkable. A deadline day move for Sevilla's Jules Kounde did not materialise, but Saul adds another fantastic option in midfield to go alongside N'Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and the in-form Jorginho.

Tottenham

For a long while, it looked as though Tottenham would be one of the big losers from this window. A prolonged managerial search eventually resulted in Nuno Espirito Santo's appointment, but the main saga was over Harry Kane's future. City reportedly made one bid, during Euro 2020, which was dismissed out of hand. The champions never did return with an improved offer, despite huge speculation, and Kane ultimately stayed put. Older players such as Joe Hart, Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Moussa Sissoko were moved out, while Bryan Gil, Pierluigi Gollini, Cristian Romero and Emerson Royal – a deadline day arrival from Barca – arrived to fill the gaps. Serge Aurier's contract was terminated, while three wins from three means Spurs sat top of the league heading into the international break.

Atletico Madrid

While Saul was a deadline day exit, Atleti have given themselves a great chance of retaining their LaLiga title. With rivals Madrid failing to land Mbappe, as well as losing two of their stalwarts, and Barca seemingly in disarray, there has never been a better opportunity for Diego Simeone's team to really assert themselves as top dogs in Spain. Griezmann's arrival, on a season-long loan with the option for either club to extend the switch, has bolstered a fearsome attack that already included Luis Suarez, Angel Correa, new signing Matheus Cunha and Joao Felix - though the latter may now find chances to play in his preferred position, nominally off the front man, even harder to come by. Saul was struggling to nail down a regular spot in the first team, but Atleti showed greater desire to keep Kieran Trippier, who stayed despite interest from the Premier League. Rodrigo de Paul also arrived from Udinese.

 

THE LOSERS

Barcelona

The chickens have finally come home to roost at Camp Nou. Years of mismanagement, and the impact of COVID-19, has left the club's finances in a shambolic state. Barca had agreed to a new deal with Messi only to then announce the deal could not be completed due to "financial and structural obstacles". Barca ended the window by selling promising youngster Ilaix Moriba to RB Leipzig and shipping off Emerson to Spurs. Then, late on Tuesday, Griezmann, who cost Barca €120m in 2019, was sent back to Atleti. Luuk de Jong, a target man Ronald Koeman worked with during his stint as the Netherlands' coach, was drafted in from Sevilla as a replacement. Memphis Depay seems ready to step up after his arrival from Lyon, while Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero also came in on free transfers, though Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets were among the players who took pay cuts in order for Barca to register their latest acquisitions.

Inter

Serie A champions Inter were dealt a blow when, just after ending their 11-year trophy drought, coach Antonio Conte left the club. Financial difficulties meant the Nerrazurri had to cash in on prized assets, and Hakimi and subsequently Lukaku followed Conte out of the door. Lautaro Martinez did stay, however, with Inter reinvesting some of the funds to sign Netherlands right-back Denzel Dumfries, Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Lazio forward Juan Correa. Hakan Calhanoglu, meanwhile, joined from rivals Milan on loan, though it is difficult to see that being enough for Inter to challenge on all fronts this season.

 

Juventus

While Inter were weakened, it has to be said that Juventus – surely their closest rivals in the Scudetto hunt – also had a disappointing window. Like many European clubs, they have been hit hard by COVID-19, though appeared well set to challenge again after reappointing Massimiliano Allegri. However, Ronaldo decided he wanted out late in the window, and Juve did not stand in his way. An initial fee of £12.86m (€15m), payable over five years, was agreed with United, and Ronaldo left just like that. Moise Kean returned from Everton on a two-year loan with an obligation to buy as a replacement, while Manuel Locatelli was their other major acquisition and Weston McKennie's move from Schalke was made permanent. Based on the performance in Sunday's defeat to Empoli, however, Juve are far from the force they were during Allegri's last spell in charge.

Real Madrid

For a time last week, it really did look as though Madrid were going to end the window in sensational fashion. Three bids were lodged for Mbappe, but PSG did not buckle. Madrid did move for another French youngster – Edouardo Camavinga, who joined from Rennes on Tuesday – but overall it must be considered a poor window. Los Blancos allowed Ramos to leave on a free and sold long-time defensive partner Varane - just the eight Champions League winners' medals between them. Martin Odegaard was deemed surplus to requirements by Carlo Ancelotti and sold to Arsenal, though no buyers were found for fringe players Luka Jovic or Dani Ceballos. David Alaba's arrival on a free transfer from Bayern Munich at least softened the blow of Ramos' departure, and Mbappe may well be on board in 2022.

Manchester City

City broke the British transfer record to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, who in turn have made smart acquisitions such as Danny Ings, Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia. While another attacking midfielder was more of a luxury than a necessity, City did miss out on Kane and then seemingly saw Ronaldo snatched from under their noses by United, though the club have claimed it is they who pulled out of the deal. Pep Guardiola went into the window wanting an out-and-out number nine following Aguero's departure, but for now the Premier League champions will have to carry on with makeshift forwards, it seems. Not that it did them much harm in 5-0 routs of Norwich City and Arsenal last month. Meanwhile, wantaway playmaker Bernardo Silva is still at the club, though he will remain a first-team regular.

Liverpool 

Unlike their league rivals, Liverpool never seemed focused on spending big. The Reds instead turned their attention to tying down the futures of key players, with Jordan Henderson, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson, Fabinho and Andrew Robertson signing new deals. Ibrahima Konate came in from RB Leipzig to boost the defence – a clear area of weakness last season during an injury crisis – though Jurgen Klopp's squad does seem weaker. They have started the season well, but it remains to be seen how they cope without Wijnaldum and even Xherdan Shaqiri should injuries trouble them again.

Ansu Fati will take over the famed number 10 shirt at Barcelona that has been vacated since Lionel Messi's move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi's 21-year association with Barcelona came to an end in August when joining PSG on a free transfer after a new deal at Camp Nou could not be agreed.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner had worn the 10 jersey since Ronaldinho's departure in 2008 and has become synonymous with the shirt, which was also sported by Rivaldo and Romario in the past.

There had been suggestions Barca would leave the number unoccupied, but it was confirmed on Wednesday that fellow La Masia graduate Fati will inherit it.

Fati has been with the Catalan giants for the past nine years, the last two of those in the first team

The forward became the youngest goalscorer in Barca's history when he scored against Osasuna in August 2019 aged 16 years and 304 days.

Fati has since added a further 12 goals in 42 appearances across all competitions for the Blaugrana, who he joined at the age of 10.

The Guinea-Bissau-born youngster has been capped four times by Spain and scored his first international goal against Ukraine in September 2020.

Fati, who has been out since tearing the meniscus in his left knee in November 2020, is back in first-team training and could return to action after the international break.

The transfer window officially closed on Tuesday, meaning clubs across Europe must now make do with the players available to them until at least January.

It has been an eventful few months, with Lionel Messi ending his 21-year association with Barcelona by joining Paris Saint-Germain and Cristiano Ronaldo sealing an emotional return to Manchester United from Juventus.

The drama continued to unfold right through until the final stages of the window as Antoine Griezmann rejoined Atletico Madrid on an initial loan and Chelsea snapped up Saul Niguez from the Spanish champions, while Real Madrid brought in rising star Eduardo Camavinga from Rennes.

With Kylian Mbappe staying at PSG and Harry Kane still a Tottenham player, Jack Grealish's £100million switch to Manchester City from Aston Villa was the biggest deal in monetary terms, followed by Romelu Lukaku's £97.5m (€115m) move to Chelsea from Inter.

Stats Perform takes a look at the best deals that went through.

Hakan Calhanoglu: Inter to Milan (free transfer)

After failing to agree new terms at Milan, Calhanoglu completed a shock move across the city to rivals Inter, signing a three-year deal.

While not necessarily the most popular transfer, getting a player who created 98 chances last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues – for free is quite something.

The Turkey international got a goal and an assist on his debut in the 4-0 win over Genoa, prompting coach Simone Inzaghi to proclaim the player "doesn't realise how good he is".

Manuel Locatelli: Sassuolo to Juventus (loan with €25m obligation)

One of Italy's most prized young assets, Locatelli secured a move to Juventus on a two-year loan that includes an obligation to buy for an initial €25m.

Among midfielders in Serie A last season, the 23-year-old made the most touches (3,304), passes (2,749) and tackles (81). He then impressed as Italy won Euro 2020, scoring twice in the group-stage win over Switzerland.

For a club looking to strengthen while saving money, this could prove a shrewd deal for Juve.

 

Danny Ings: Southampton to Aston Villa (£25m)

Villa appear to have invested the money they received for Grealish in shrewd fashion, signing Leon Bailey, Emiliano Buendia and striker Ings.

While the Ings deal materialised very quickly in early August, he certainly did not seem to need much time to adjust to new surroundings, scoring twice in his first three league games this season.

With 34 goals across his final two league campaigns with Southampton, there is reason to think the 29-year-old could be one of the smartest signings of the window.

Lionel Messi: Free agent to Paris Saint-Germain

The most spectacular free transfer of all time came after Barcelona had agree a new contract with Messi only to be forced to admit they could not let him sign it due to financial restrictions.

A tearful Messi bade farewell to his boyhood club before securing a move to PSG, who now boast a frankly terrifying forward line of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe.

Describing it as a 'free' transfer is somewhat misleading given the various costs involved in the different aspects of the deal, but for PSG to sign arguably the greatest player in history without paying a transfer fee is pretty amazing business.

 

Romelu Lukaku: Inter to Chelsea (£97.5m)

Chelsea smashed their transfer record to bring back Lukaku, whose last action in his first spell at the club was to miss a penalty in the UEFA Super Cup shoot-out loss to Bayern Munich in 2013.

Lukaku plundered 24 goals and 11 assists in 2020-21 to fire Inter to the title and claim Serie A's MVP award, after which he pushed for a return to Stamford Bridge, where he felt he had unfinished business.

It might have been a serious financial outlay, but Lukaku showed in the 2-0 win at Arsenal what a difference he could make to a Chelsea side who are extremely tough to beat but not exactly free-scoring.

Eduardo Camavinga: Rennes to Real Madrid (€30m)

Madrid may have missed out on top target Mbappe, but they managed to get a deal over the line for fellow Frenchman Camavinga, bringing an end to 18 months of speculation surrounding the young midfielder.

It is the first time Madrid have spent money on a transfer fee since 2019, when they signed Eden Hazard from Chelsea for €100m, and in Camavinga they are signing a player for the here and now rather than the future.

Since making his debut for Rennes in April 2019, no player in Ligue 1 has attempted (230) or won more tackles (139) than the three-cap France international, who will now provide competition for Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Federico Valverde.

 

Saul Niguez: Atletico Madrid to Chelsea (loan with option to buy for £30m)

After being regularly linked with the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool in recent years, Saul will finally get a chance to play in the Premier League with Chelsea this season.

A box-to-box midfielder, the Spain international is at his best operating in a central role, though his versatility and workrate have often seen him deployed out wide by Atletico coach Diego Simeone.

He made just 22 league starts last season, his lowest figure since 2014-15. However, since August 2019, Real Madrid's Casemiro (190) is the only midfielder to have attempted more tackles than Saul (159) in LaLiga.

Antoine Griezmann: Barcelona to Atletico Madrid (loan deal with an obligation to buy)

Two years after leaving Atletico in a big-money transfer, Griezmann has returned to the Spanish capital to boost an attack that already includes Luis Suarez, Joao Felix, Angel Correa and fellow new recruit Matheus Cunha.

Griezmann's Camp Nou career never truly took off and he failed to score or create a single opportunity across Barca's first three league games this season.

But Simeone will be confident he can get the Frenchman, who scored 94 LaLiga goals in 180 appearances in his first stint at the club, operating at somewhere close to his former glory.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo: Juventus to Manchester United (£12.9m rising to £19.7m)

Twelve years after departing Old Trafford, Ronaldo is once again a Manchester United player after completing a surprise return to the club where he won the first of his five Ballons d'Or.

Ronaldo scored 118 goals in 292 appearances under Alex Ferguson in his first spell, 42 of those goals coming in the 2007-08 season alone, and he remains a prolific forward despite his all-round game changing with time.

The Portugal captain scored 29 league goals in his third and final season with Juventus to win the Capocannoniere, making him the first player to finish as top scorer in Serie A, LaLiga and the Premier League.

Paris Saint-Germain capped a busy transfer window with the loan signing of highly rated left-back Nuno Mendes from Portuguese champions Sporting CP, with Pablo Sarabia moving in the other direction.

Mendes joins PSG on a season-long loan, while the Ligue 1 giants have the option to buy the Portugal international at the end of the season.

The 19-year-old had previously been linked with the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, but he has made the move to PSG alongside fellow recruits Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Georginio Wijnaldum.

A product of Sporting's famed youth academy, Mendes played a key role as the club ended their 19-year title drought last season.

The teenager amassed a total of 47 appearances across all competitions, scoring once and tallying three assists for Sporting, who also won the Taca da Liga in 2020-21.

Last season, Mendes ranked fourth in the league in expected assists (3.44), third in duels won (186) and second in dribbles attempted (88).

Mendes made two Primeira Liga appearances this term, leaving an unbeaten Sporting side second in the standings and two points adrift of rivals Benfica through four rounds.

He joins a PSG team that standing two points clear at the top of Ligue 1 with four wins out of four and craving a first Champions League triumph.

Spain midfielder Sarabia will spend the remainder of the season on loan with Sporting.

The 29-year-old has scored 22 goals and provided 12 assists for PSG since his move from Sevilla in 2019.

A whirlwind day last Friday saw Manchester United reach an agreement with Juventus to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club.

The deal was confirmed just hours after it had looked likely the Portugal star would be heading to Premier League champions Manchester City instead.

According to reports, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer encouraged the club to enter the race when it began to seem inevitable Ronaldo would head to the Etihad Stadium. Contact from Bruno Fernandes, Rio Ferdinand and even Alex Ferguson helped persuade Ronaldo that a return to Manchester could mean only one thing.

It all made for a short-lived but extraordinary transfer saga that ended with United re-signing a player who made history with the club between 2003 and 2009, winning three Premier League titles, the Champions League and the first of his five Ballons d'Or.

Here, Stats Perform looks at some other deals that caused a shock in the sporting world...

 

Lionel Messi: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 2021

In the most sensational free transfer of all time, PSG again laid down a marker to the football world with the signing of Lionel Messi on a two-year contract. Just as he looked to sign a new Barcelona contract, the club informed him that their dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under LaLiga's salary restrictions after his previous deal expired in June. A tearful Messi said farewell to the only club he had ever played for before heading to the fanfare of Paris and a reunion with Neymar.

Neymar: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 2017

The Brazilian had formed a potent attacking trio with Messi and Luis Suarez at Camp Nou but a move to PSG was inevitable when the French side met his world-record buyout clause of €222million. He has played an important role in their continued dominance of French domestic football but has so far been unable to guide them to Champions League glory. He was reduced to tears by his side's 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2020 final and then failed to inspire the team in the 2021 semis as Manchester City knocked them out.

LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat, 2010

Basketball icon James announced he would sign with the Miami Heat instead of returning to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a six-time All-Star, James added to the spectacle of the stunning move by announcing it on a special television broadcast called The Decision. He enjoyed four years in Miami, where he won a pair of NBA titles, before returning to the Cavaliers in 2014. 

Tom Brady: New England Patriots to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2020

Few people expected Brady to leave the Patriots after 20 years and six Super Bowl victories. Not only did one of the game's greatest ever quarterbacks leave, but he joined one of the least successful franchises in NFL history and instantly guided them to glory, leading the Buccaneers to the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy with a 31-9 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

Luis Figo: Barcelona to Real Madrid, 2000

Should Messi ever return to Camp Nou as an opposition player it is unlikely he will be on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that greeted Figo. Barca fans threw bottles, lighters and even a pig's head at the Portuguese star when he went back to Camp Nou with Los Blancos in the seasons following his controversial move.

Wayne Gretzky: Edmonton Oilers to Los Angeles Kings, 1988

In 1988, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings agreed a deal that shook the NHL to its core. The trade left Canada in disbelief, with a member of the country's parliament even proposing the federal government block the trade or buy Gretzky's contract and sell it to another Canadian team. "The Great One" would go on to enjoy eight successful years in Los Angeles before spells with St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

Mauricio Pochettino revealed how Lionel Messi has already had an impact on his Paris Saint-Germain team-mates after the new superstar signing made his long-awaited debut for the club.

Messi was introduced as a 66th-minute substitute during PSG's 2-0 win over Reims on Sunday, coming on to replace former Barcelona colleague Neymar in the Ligue 1 fixture.

His brief cameo saw him complete 20 of his 21 attempted passes while he was also fouled three times, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner having received a rousing reception upon his introduction from both the home and away fans inside the stadium.

Pochettino was pleased to see his fellow Argentinian settle in quickly to life in French football, revealing how the 34-year-old's presence has lifted his squad as they bid to reclaim the league title.

"He brought serenity to the team. It's important to get off to a good start, even for him," the PSG head coach said after Messi's maiden appearance.

"He was happy and he is well integrated into the group. It was a matter of common sense not to start him in this game.

"The welcome was something very beautiful to see and hear, from our supporters but also from the fans of Reims. Messi was very happy about it.

"The motivation for competition is there for everyone, but his presence brings optimism. Everyone feels it, he has an influence on the other players."

 

While Messi may have been the main attraction heading into the fixture, Kylian Mbappe stole the show with both goals.

His brace amid speculation over his future helped PSG make it four wins from four at the start of the new league campaign, leaving them top of the table heading into the international break.

Pochettino was particularly pleased to keep a first clean sheet this term too, albeit they benefited from a VAR check that ruled out a possible Reims equaliser for offside.

"It is a significant success for us. We didn't concede a goal, which was one of our main targets before this match," the former Tottenham boss told the media.

"This is not always obvious because the fitness levels are very different from one another. Some players were returning today.

"We are at 12 points. I'm happy before these two weeks of international break."

Crack open the bubbly. In France's City of Kings, at the heart of the Champagne region, Lionel Messi made his Paris Saint-Germain entrance as footballing royalty arrived in the 'farmers' league'.

There's a new king in town and although we saw only half an hour of Messi at Reims' Stade Auguste-Delaune, you could hardly take your eye off the man.

Incongruous in the blue of PSG as he was, this is Messi's lot now, the future he has chosen since his Barcelona career ended in a flood of tears.

Ligue 1 gets a rough rap but Messi's arrival instantly makes it box office, and those beholding this spectacle were given a peak into what we should expect.

There was a word in the ear from Mauricio Pochettino and then a hug for Neymar, as Messi replaced the world's most expensive footballer midway through the second half, moments after Kylian Mbappe scored his and PSG's second goal of what turned out to be a 2-0 win.

There was to be no Messi goal, as much as it appeared many inside the stadium were willing there to be one, particularly the pogoing PSG ultras.

His entrance and then his first touch, a simple 10-yard pass deep inside his own half, were cheered loudly, and it was not long before Messi was collecting the ball and charging forward, driving at pace through midfield and darting towards the penalty area.

Such a familiar sight, and here Messi had the luxury of being able to offload to Mbappe on the right. Mbappe, the player Real Madrid desperately want and might yet get before transfer window closes.

Then came notice from the union of Ligue 1 hardmen that Messi would not have it easy in France.

As Mbappe collected the pass, Messi was given the no-nonsense treatment twice by backtracking Reims players as he sought the return ball, Marshall Munetsi practically grabbing the six-time Ballon d'Or winner around the collar in a fruitless effort to halt his progress.

Mbappe could not quite pick the pass, with Messi surrounded, but it was a moment where you wondered what a rich harvest of goals that combination might produce, and whether we might see its potential come to fruition this season.

 

Munetsi hacked down Messi again later as the game reached stoppage time. Naturally, Messi has seen it all before. It was handshakes all round at the end.

It might be a different shirt, but this was the same old Messi. There was the thrill of one of those delicious give-and-go movements, and referee Francois Letexier played six minutes of stoppage time too. Why not see a little more?

Deep beneath the streets of Reims lie 200 kilometres of cellars and tunnels housing the finest bottles of bubbles, produced in these parts and maturing underground before being dispatched worldwide.

It pays to be patient, the subterranean conditions bringing the best out of the local delicacy before it reaches its fullest flavour. Bring a bottle out too soon and the product will fall short of the exacting standards 

Messi's 65 minutes on the bench allowed him to size up the pace of the French game at close quarters, and then he was ripe to be released. The cork is out of the bottle now though, and the thrill of Messi at provincial stadiums such as this is one fans will drink in for as long as this stop-off lasts.

He was fouled three times in all, a joint team high alongside Neymar, had 26 touches, and made 95.2 per cent of his passes (20 of 21). He won four of his five duels – those within the laws of the game – and no doubt delighted Pochettino and his Qatari paymasters.

PSG brought their imported grandes marques to a city that exports its homegrown fizzy finery, where the cathedral has witnessed 31 coronations, and they won with goals from a young player they might be dispatching to foreign climes within a matter of hours in return for a king's ransom.

Perhaps Mbappe might just fancy a full season of this, though. Will his partnership with Messi really be a one-night stand?

As jarring as watching this all unfold must have felt in Barcelona, as bitter an aftertaste as it must have left, all it lacked for the Parisians was the crowning glory of a Messi goal, and they will soon be flowing.

Lionel Messi is poised to make a brief Paris Saint-Germain debut after being left on the bench for their Ligue 1 game at Reims.

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, the latter heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid, were both included in Mauricio Pochettino's starting XI at the Stade Auguste-Delaune.

Pochettino opted to leave Messi out of PSG's win over Brest last time out despite the former Barcelona star training with his new team-mates following his sensational exit from Camp Nou.

However, he confirmed to Amazon Prime on Sunday that Messi would at least play a cameo role against Reims.

He said: "He's [Lionel Messi] is going to be on the bench.

"He arrived late in the pre-season. He's working hard, he can have a few minutes today to start helping the team."

Kylian Mbappe is at the centre of one of the biggest transfer stories as the deadline approaches, but he was still named in Paris Saint-Germain's squad on Sunday as Lionel Messi looks set for his debut.

Mbappe has been the subject of two bids from LaLiga giants Real Madrid, though PSG are reportedly refusing to enter negotiations for the 22-year-old, who only has a season left to run on his deal.

Whether PSG buckle before Tuesday's deadline remains to be seen, but Mbappe trained as usual this week and Mauricio Pochettino insisted on Saturday that the France star had not told him he wished to leave the club.

Pochettino also confirmed Mbappe, along with Messi and fellow superstar forward Neymar, would travel for the clash with Reims and all three were subsequently named in the 22-man squad revealed on Sunday.

Mbappe scored his first goal of the Ligue 1 season in last week's 4-2 win over Brest, while Messi is still awaiting his debut since a shock move from Barcelona earlier this month.

Neymar, who guided Brazil to the Copa America final – a clash that Messi's Argentina won 1-0 – also makes his return to the fold having missed PSG's first three matches this season.

Angel Di Maria scored Argentina's winner against Brazil and also netted on his comeback against Brest, and with Mauro Icardi injured, Pochettino seems likely to pick three of the aforementioned players to start at Stade Auguste-Delaune.

"Kylian Mbappe is working very hard and is preparing for [Sunday's] game," Pochettino said on Saturday.

"In terms of communications with our president and sporting director, they have made it clear what the club's stance is in this regard."

Asked for an update on the situation after Madrid's win over Real Betis, Carlo Ancelotti told reporters: "We should stick to talking about the game because the rest is a matter for the club, who are working on it.

"I don't know the details at this stage."

Lionel Messi could be in line to make his Paris Saint-Germain debut as Mauricio Pochettino confirmed the former Barcelona star will be in the squad for Sunday's meeting with Reims.

PSG, who have won their opening three Ligue 1 fixtures, travel to Reims for their final match before the international break.

Messi, signed on a free transfer from Barcelona earlier this month, did not feature against Brest last time out despite having trained with his new team-mates, while Neymar was also absent.

As speculation continues over the future of Kylian Mbappe amid interest from Real Madrid, Pochettino confirmed that Messi, Neymar and the aforementioned France star would all be involved in some capacity on Sunday.

"They will certainly all be in the squad, so we will see if they are in the starting 11 tomorrow," Pochettino told a news conference.

"We will assess how he is doing and then see if he is in the squad or not. I haven't given a precise answer yet, so I think it is normal for there to be doubts about that.

"When we sign a player, we try not to have big expectations, but to discover and find out information when we are together. Every club is different so you cannot make comparisons.

"What we are finding out about Leo is that he is a professional and a great player, although we do not need to say that. He is adapting very well to his new club, new team-mates and a new environment."

 

Asked how Messi will fit into PSG's style of play, Pochettino said: "We are a team that likes to play on the front and keep possession. So, I think that is also what he is used to doing.

"For a player like him, he will certainly play a key role in the French league – regardless of the different attributes that the league has compared to England and Spain – because we are talking about one of the best if not the best player in the world.

"I don't think there will be any issues of him settling in, and he is looking forward to making his debut and helping the team reach its objectives."

With Messi and Neymar waiting to feature, Mbappe opened his account for the season in the 4-2 win over Brest. The 22-year-old has been involved in four of PSG's past seven goals against Reims in Ligue 1 (two goals, two assists).

While goals had escaped him until last week, Mbappe has attempted (25) and completed (13) the highest tally of dribbles in Ligue 1 so far this term, as PSG look to extend an unbeaten run on the road in the league to 11 matches.

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi dismissed the possibility of Cristiano Ronaldo joining fellow superstar Lionel Messi at the Ligue 1 giants, insisting "we haven't even thought about it".

Ronaldo is expected to leave Juventus before the transfer window closes, with the former Manchester United star reportedly in talks to sign for Premier League champions Manchester City in a stunning deal.

PSG have also been linked with the 36-year-old and five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who is in the final year of his Juve contract in Turin – where the Portugal captain arrived from Real Madrid in 2018.

The possibility of former Madrid and Barcelona foes Ronaldo and Messi joining forces in Paris has excited fans, but Al-Khelaifi slammed the door shut on the Portuguese forward moving to the French capital.

"We haven't even thought about it," Al-Khelaifi told beIN Sports.

Since turning 30 in February 2015, Ronaldo has been directly involved in 392 goals in 356 games for club and country.

Ronaldo has scored 263 goals and supplied 63 assists in 295 club appearances, while he has managed 57 goals and nine assists in 61 international fixtures during that period.

It comes as PSG star Kylian Mbappe looks to leave the club, with Madrid reportedly closing in on the France international.

Despite Mbappe being out of contract at the end of the season, Madrid are believed to have offered €180million.

Al-Khelaifi said: "The club's stance is clear, nothing has changed.

"Everything is still the same, we will not change [our stance] or repeat it."

Mbappe has scored 133 goals and provided 58 assists across 174 games over four years at PSG since arriving from Monaco.

The 22-year-old's 191 goal involvements since his debut rank third among players in Europe's top five leagues in that time, behind Messi (236) and Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski (213).

Mbappe was on target as Mauricio Pochettino's PSG overcame Brest 4-2 in Ligue 1 last week.

PSG's Mbappe scored his fourth Ligue 1 headed goal, his first with for club and his first since March 2017 with Monaco at Caen.

Mbappe has been decisive in eight consecutive Ligue 1 games (eight goals, three assists), his second-best run in the top-flight, behind February-November 2020 (10).

Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi will go up against each other in the Champions League after Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain were drawn into the same group.

Messi and Guardiola enjoyed a close relationship during their time together at Barcelona, but for the first time they will meet with neither of them representing the Catalans.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi left Barca at the end of June when his contract expired, and while he was expected to sign on with them again, the Blaugrana's hands were tied due to financial restrictions.

As such, Messi was swiftly snapped up by PSG despite previous links with City and a potential Guardiola reunion.

Another narrative could yet enter the conversation with respect to City versus PSG, as Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo – Messi's long-time rival – has been strongly with a move to the Etihad Stadium.

If Ronaldo does not leave Juve, he will go up against the holders Chelsea – who beat City in last season's final – in Group H.

There will be a repeat of the 2020-21 Europa League final in Group F as Manchester United have been offered the opportunity for revenge against Villarreal, who defeated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men in a remarkable penalty shoot-out in Belfast at the end of May.

Three of Spain's other representatives have tough groups to contend with: Barcelona were drawn with Bayern Munich, Benfica and Dynamo Kiev; Real Madrid will again face Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk as they did in 2020-21; and Atletico Madrid must go up against Liverpool, Porto and Milan.

Sevilla, on the other hand, are in the seemingly even Group G with Ligue 1 winners Lille, Salzburg and Wolfsburg, the latter of whom are back in the competition for only the third time.

First-time qualifiers Sheriff of Moldova joined Madrid, Inter and Shakhtar in Group D.

 

Group A: Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig, Club Brugge

Group B: Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Porto, Milan

Group C: Sporting CP, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, Besiktas

Group D: Inter, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sheriff

Group E: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Benfica, Dynamo Kiev

Group F: Villarreal, Manchester United, Atalanta, Young Boys

Group G: Lille, Sevilla, Salzburg, Wolfsburg

Group H: Chelsea, Juventus, Zenit, Malmo

Lionel Messi is yet to play for Paris Saint-Germain this season, but has been called up to Argentina's squad for their World Cup qualifiers next month, with Paulo Dybala making a long-awaited return.

Having led Argentina to Copa America glory, Messi made the shock switch from Barcelona to Paris earlier in August, though he is yet to make his debut for Mauricio Pochettino's team.

The 34-year-old, along with fellow former Barca star Neymar, is expected to make his bow against Reims in PSG's final game before the international break.

Messi, along with club-mates Angel Di Maria and Leandro Paredes, would then travel to South America for matches against Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia.

However, despite Pochettino having given his blessing for Messi to play for his country next month, this could result in the trio missing up to four of PSG's September fixtures.

Argentina and Brazil are both on the French government's 'red list' for travellers, meaning arrivals must quarantine for 10 days once they return to France, unless they have been fully vaccinated. It is unknown if the players in question have yet received both doses.

PSG face Clermont on the second weekend in September, with a tussle against Lyon following a week later. A 10-day quarantine period would mean Messi and team-mates would certainly miss those matches, as well as the opening round of the Champions League group stage, which is to be played on September 14 and 15, while an away trip to Metz in Ligue 1 could also come too soon.

Travel restrictions could well change in the coming weeks, though PSG will not be the only team fretting over possible mandatory quarantine for players in Lionel Scaloni's squad.

Premier League players Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia, both of Aston Villa, and Cristian Romero of Tottenham would have to isolate regardless of their vaccination status under the current travel restrictions imposed by the UK government.

Meanwhile, Juventus forward Dybala has earned a recall after almost two years out of the picture.

Dybala, who endured an injury hit 2020-21 but scored in Juve's 2-2 draw with Udinese on Sunday, last featured for Argentina in November 2019.

With Sergio Aguero and Mauro Icardi both unavailable due to injury, and Lautaro Martinez a doubt despite being included, Dybala has made the cut to round off Scaloni's attack.

Argentina squad in full:

Franco Armani (River Plate), Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Juan Musso (Atalanta),Geronimo Rulli (Villarreal); Marcos Acuna (Sevilla), Juan Foyth (Villarreal), Lisandro Martinez (Ajax), Lucas Martinez Quarta (Fiorentina), Nahuel Molina Lucero (Udinese), Gonzalo Montiel (Sevilla), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), German Pezzella (Real Betis), Cristian Romero (Tottenham Hotspur), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax); Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid), Nicolas Dominguez (Bologna), Alejandro Gomez (Sevilla), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham Hotspur), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis); Julian Alvarez (River Plate), Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Joaquin Correa (Lazio), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Nicolas Gonzalez (Fiorentina), Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain).

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