Lionel Messi's struggles this season have surprised Nicolas Anelka more than Cristiano Ronaldo's toils at faltering Manchester United.

Both players have endured dips in form, albeit they are judged against the absurdly high standards the pair have set for many years.

The stellar duo each suffered exits from the Champions League at the last-16 stage to compound disappointing campaigns, although Messi's Paris Saint-Germain look well set to win Ligue 1, in stark contrast to a United side who face a battle just to finish in the top four.

But while Ronaldo has maintained a respectable scoring record, with 12 goals in 24 Premier League games, Messi has netted just twice in the French top flight – a stage on which he was expected to shine.

Messi was jeered in his last outing for PSG, the club's fans still reeling from having seen their side throw away a two-goal aggregate lead to Real Madrid in Europe.

Anelka, who started his career at PSG, acknowledges the pair are bound to slow down after so long at the top, but has been more taken aback by the apparent decline of 34-year-old Messi than he has by the form of his 37-year-old nemesis.

"They have made their careers and I think they are both satisfied with what they have produced for 15 years,” Anelka told RMC's Rothen s'enflamme show. 

"I am more surprised by Messi than by Ronaldo.

"I thought that Messi was going to stroll in the French championship and that Ronaldo was going to struggle a little more because the Premier League, for me, is a more difficult championship in terms of the impact on and around the pitch.

"I think that there won't be any more players like that who will dominate world football so much. They've been above everyone for 15 years; it's logical to see them slowing down. It's normal."

Lionel Messi cannot consider himself the number one player at Paris Saint-Germain and "must serve" Kylian Mbappe, according to Nicolas Anelka.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi joined PSG on a free transfer in August after Barcelona were unable to fulfil a new contract that had been agreed with the Argentina international.

Messi has yet to score or assist in his first three appearances for the Ligue 1 giants and has missed their past two matches with a knee injury.

The 34-year-old is sharing the spotlight with fellow superstar forwards Neymar and Mbappe at the Parc des Princes, the latter of whom is into his fifth season with the club.

Messi and Mbappe have spent a combined 160 minutes on the field together this term and have passed the ball to one another just 18 times.

By comparison, Messi and Neymar linked up on 23 occasions in PSG's recent 2-1 win over Lyon alone.

While Messi was the main man during the majority of his time at Barca, former PSG forward Anelka insists the French club must build their team around Mbappe.

"Mbappe has to lead the attack because he's number one," Anelka told Le Parisien.

"Messi was at Barcelona, but now he has to serve Mbappe. He's been at the club for five years and Messi has to respect him."

 

Mbappe has four goals and four assists in nine games for PSG in all competitions this term, those eight direct goal involvements bettered by only six players across Europe's top five leagues.

The France international has been strongly linked with a move to Real Madrid after entering the final year of his contract, and Anelka can understand why his compatriot would want to join a new club.

"He's a phenomenal player in terms of his speed – there's no one better on the planet," Anelka said. "If Paris want to have the best team, they have to do everything they can to keep him.

"But I think it's very clear in Kylian's head. He wants to see something else, and that makes sense. He's dreaming of the Ballon d'Or, and how can he win it if he's playing in the sixth-best league [now fifth-best] by UEFA coefficient?

"If Kylian had been in England or Spain for the last three years, he would have already won the Ballon d'Or."

Mbappe is expected to start PSG's Champions League clash against Manchester City on Tuesday, while Messi is also in line to face off against former coach Pep Guardiola after recovering from a knee issue.

Messi was substituted by Mauricio Pochettino in his most recent appearance for PSG, and Anelka fears the pair may now struggle to repair their relationship.

"You don't take off a six-time Ballon d'Or winner in the 65th minute, when he hasn't scored for his team. That plays with his head a lot," he said.

"A forward needs his coach to show him confidence, and that right there won't do it. I'm getting ahead of myself, but Messi will not forget what Pochettino has done. 

"It will stay with him. He's the star of the team, and it was his first game at the Parc des Princes. It's going to be very difficult to recover from that as a situation.

"Messi didn't play against Metz, and for me that's already a response. You can't manage Messi like that. The coach wanted to send out a strong message, which is good, but this is Messi."

Nicolas Anelka fired a warning that darker days could lie ahead after Paris Saint-Germain fell flat against Club Brugge despite fielding Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe in the starting line-up.

The disappointment of a 1-1 draw in Belgium was compounded by an ankle injury sustained by Mbappe that forced the France forward off early in the second half.

PSG were out-shot 16-9 by Club Brugge, with Messi having three attempts but proving unable to mark his 150th Champions League appearance with what would have been a 121st goal in the competition.

Messi had never previously played against a Belgian side in the competition, scoring against teams from all 17 other nations he has faced. The closest he came was when he struck the crossbar in the 29th minute.

Neymar did not take a shot, while Mbappe had only one attempt before being substituted.

"It is the PSG that we do not want to see," Anelka said, speaking to French broadcaster RMC Sport.

"Nothing. There was nothing, except for the first 15 minutes. But apart from that, there was no intensity. We did not see anything offensively, it will be complicated."

The star attacking trio may take time to become a cohesive threat, given playing together is so very new, but head coach Mauricio Pochettino will be expected to return PSG to winning ways.

Manchester City visit Paris on September 28, and Anelka is already worried about the Parisians' prospects of finishing in the top two in Group A.

"If they play like that, it will not be possible," said former PSG and City striker Anelka.

The result on Wednesday evening means Messi has gone four consecutive Champions League games without enjoying a win (D2 L2). Only between March 2006 and February 2007 has he gone longer without a victory in the competition, then experiencing a run of five with Barcelona around the outset of his career.

Pochettino saw the performance of his team rather differently to Anelka's viewpoint.

"The problem today wasn't our three attackers," Pochettino said. "We just had to be more solid in both penalty areas but I'm happy with the defensive performance of our attackers."

The PSG boss defended Messi's performance, saying of the former Barcelona captain: "When you don't win, people try to put the focus on the less positive aspects.

"But I'm happy with his performance in terms of his spirit and attitude but also in terms of his adaptation to the team. It is clear that none of us is happy today as here at PSG we want to win every game and then also play well."

Kylian Mbappe has been urged to consider leaving Paris Saint-Germain by Nicolas Anelka if he wants to have the same global impact as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

The 22-year-old has spent the past four seasons in the French capital but is out of contract in 2022 and has been strongly linked with Real Madrid, while Liverpool are also rumoured to be interested.

Former Monaco forward Mbappe raised further questions over his future when revealing last month he is unsure whether the Parc des Princes is the best place for him.

Those comments were made on the back of a disappointing 2020-21 campaign for PSG in which they failed to defend their Ligue 1 title and exited the Champions League in the semi-finals, though they did win the Coupe de France and Trophee des Champions.

On an individual level, Mbappe was as prolific as ever with 42 goals in 47 appearances in all competitions last time out, averaging one every 86 minutes for the French giants.

In Europe's top five leagues, only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (48) scored more goals in all competitions than Mbappe in 2020-21.

 

But former France international Anelka, who started his career with PSG before joining Arsenal in 1997, believes it is time for his compatriot to seek a new challenge elsewhere if he is to fulfil his career ambitions.

Writing a letter to Mbappe on The Athletic, Anelka said: "You have done so well since coming through at Monaco and taking it to a new level at Paris Saint-Germain. 

"You play at a team that has evolved into a big club capable of winning the Champions League. It seems you will stay for another year, then there is a big choice to make. 

"It is a bit more complicated for you than it was for me. You have at least two choices – stay in Paris or move to Real Madrid. Both of them can win the Champions League these days. When I was at PSG, that wasn't the case.

"That choice depends on what you want to achieve in football. If you want the biggest accolades, you will have to move from PSG at some point. 

"Whatever you do in Paris will be good, but somebody will always say, 'Well, you did great for PSG but it was only in France. The best leagues are in England and Spain, so you didn't compete with the best players in the best league.

"You will have to decide. If you want to win the Ballon d'Or, which is what you should be looking at to echo Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, you will have to compete with the best. 

"You can't say you compete with the best all the time when you are at PSG. The French league is not easy, don't get me wrong, but I think the toughest league is in England. 

"So, if you want to be one of the best, then do what you do in Paris but with Chelsea or United or Arsenal or Manchester City or Liverpool. Or go to Spain to Madrid or Barcelona. Or maybe Italy. Then we can speak about a more global impact."

 

Mbappe endured an underwhelming Euro 2020 campaign in which he failed to find the net in France's four matches before their shock last-16 exit at the hands of Switzerland, a game in which he missed the decisive penalty in the shoot-out.

He failed to score in the tournament despite taking 14 shots. At the point of France's tournament exit, only Cristiano Ronaldo (five goals from 15 shots) and Alvaro Morata (two goals from 15 shots) had taken more goal attempts.

It is the first time France failed to make it to at least the quarter-finals of a major competition since 2010 but Anelka, who won the European Championship with Les Blues in 2000, does not think the blame should lie with the attacking players.

"Football is a magnificent sport that remains unpredictable," he said. "Even if France had the best team on paper with a team capable of winning again, something was missing in the collective. 

"They had difficulties in defence. This France team was able to score goals at any time but was also able to concede at any time so that's what stopped them from going further in this tournament.

"The World Cup in Qatar is next year so there will be matches for France to try to make the tactical and collective repairs to compete, to win again. 

"France won the World Cup three years ago but the page has turned. This European Championship is another page that has to turn. Some new players might be integrated and this is a new chapter. 

"Many teams want to be world champions but there are not many examples of a country winning the World Cup twice in a row. It is easy to say, not easy to do."

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