For people who don’t follow Ligue 1, Tuesday's clash between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid was a chance to get themselves reacquainted with Lionel Messi, a player who conjured up so many magical moments in Spain. Messi's numbers leading up to the game weren’t great. It was well known that he hadn’t been playing as well as he did at Barça, and in particular that his goal-scoring rate had dropped off precipitously. That’s no surprise, really: he’s reaching an age where every year takes its toll more than the last, and, on top of that, he’s in a new ecosystem. At Barça, where he blossomed as a player in a team built around him, everyone looked for him when they had the ball. And, as first Xavi then Andrés Iniesta left the Camp Nou, that dynamic became more and more pronounced.
It was never going to be like that at PSG. He’s a newcomer at the Parc des Princes, and his importance in the squad can be defined as that of a primus inter pares. One of PSG’s three superstars, among whom Kylian Mbappé now definitively shines the brightest. What good Spanish Mbappé speaks, by the way. The Frenchman was the man of the match, eclipsing everything around him. Including, of course, Messi, who missed a penalty to boot. Spot-kicks, incidentally, are an area in which the Argentine hasn’t achieved the level of excellence that characterises everything else he does. Of the 133 he’s taken in his career, he’s missed 30. It’s not a bad average, but the top specialists boast a success rate of 85% or even higher.
Don't write Messi off just yet
Given the brilliance of Mbappé, and of the Messi of yesteryear, people might be led into dismissing the Messi of today as a faded force - but they’d be wrong to. He still has so much to offer. He’s a player blessed with wonderful vision; he may no longer be able to set off on the unstoppable runs of the past, but he can conjure up passes that split a defence in two. He kept Mbappé well fed on Tuesday, and in Madrid he’ll have another option in the shape of Neymar. He’s also a fabulous free-kick taker (he scored no fewer than 50 for Barça), and that’s an ability he won’t lose. All in all, any other player with all that in his locker would be considered a truly fearsome prospect. And in the second leg there’ll be no Casemiro in his area of the pitch…