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PSG: Mbappe tells Pochettino where Messi should play ahead of Real Madrid tie

Former Barcelona captain Leo Messi has tried several positions at PSG and Kylian Mbappe has suggested to Pochettino he should be playing as a striker.

Lionel Messi is congratulated by Kylian Mbappe after scoring against Lille.

Kylian Mbappé has never been afraid to speak his mind and after PSG’s 5-1 away win over reigning champions Lille last weekend, the France international was interviewed by Amazon Prime Video. While his suggestion that a decision over his future would depend largely on what happened in the Champions League match-up against his main suitor, Real Madrid, was widely reported, comments he made about where former Barcelona captain Leo Messi would be best deployed by Mauricio Pochettino went almost unnoticed.

Mbappé: "Leo is a player who needs to be on the ball"

Mbappé was asked if Messi is better playing through the middle, and replied: “Yes, but I’m not the coach. Leo is a player who needs to be on the ball, to feel the game and the movement, to be involved. I think it’s a good position for him, to play in a free role, to be able to move and play off the shoulders of defenders. I can play in any position. I started in the middle, then I played on the right and now on the left, but I still have a certain amount of freedom in my movement.”

Mbappé went on to give his opinion on how PSG should line up when they are back to full strength: “Right now, we’re fine like this, but we have to leave space for Neymar because he is an important player who changes our team. We’ll see what happens when he comes back. We hope that it’ll be as soon as possible,” Mbappé opined over the season-defining clash with Madrid.

Neymar is racing against the clock to be fit for the first leg at the Parc des Princes on 15 February. Should he make the squad, it remains to be seen if Pochettino will risk starting the Brazilian or use him from the bench. Ángel di María is expected to be fit but Sergio Ramos, who has been plagued by injury to moving to Paris from Madrid, has been all but ruled out against his former club.

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Where does Messi play for PSG?

Mbappé, with some careful prodding from the Amazon reporter, has opened a debate as to where exactly one of the greatest players of all time fits into his new side. Against Lille, Messi was deployed as a centre forward in a 4-3-3, with Mbappé to his left and Di María to his right. The Argentina captain is happiest as a mobile player who can drift across the front line and is a fundamental part of creating play in the attacking line. However, being limited to a role on the wing and not being afforded as much freedom in the final third has limited his impact at PSG.

Pochettino has played Messi in several different positions as he seeks the right formula, largely because of the number of injuries his side have suffered this season: Neymar has not played since November and Ramos has made only five appearances this season. Even Messi, who rarely missed a game for Barcelona, has been carrying various niggles and contracted covid-19, ruling him out of a total of nine Ligue 1 games in 2021-22. Otherwise, he has always started and has been playing well, if not to the stratospheric standards he himself set at Camp Nou. The Argentinean has only found the net twice in the league, although he has provided seven assists.

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Pochettino's PSG tinkering

With his full complement of players available, Pochettino tends to opt for a 4-2-3-1 with Messi as an attacking midfielder, or a 4-3-3 with Neymar and Mbappé either side of Messi in the attacking line. That is Mbappé’s preferred formation, as he told Amazon, but Pochettino’s problem is trying to accommodate his four attacking stars.

Against Marseille earlier in the season, Pochettino fielded Messi, Neymar, Mbappé and Di María in a 4-2-3-1 and result was a 0-0 draw. Neymar played at the top of the midfield, Di María and Messi occupied the flanks and Mbappé was deployed as a central striker. Against Rennes (a defeat) and Lyon (a win), Pochettino repeated the formula but using Messi in a different role as the attacking midfielder with Neymar switching to the wing.

When Mauro Icardi has started, Messi has either had to drop back to the tip of midfield or play as a second striker alongside his compatriot. It is a tactical conundrum that Pochettino has yet to solve and that Mbappé also has strong opinions about. The invincible PSG predicted last summer has yet to materialize and the Real Madrid game is only a few days away. All eyes will be on Pochettino’s line-up for the reverse fixture against Rennes in Paris.