Paris saint-Germain and Manchester City have an early chance to lay down a marker in the Champions League when they meet in a heavyweight group game at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday that sees Pep Guardiola and his old pupil Lionel Messi come face to face once again.
Qatar-owned PSG and Abu Dhabi-backed City have changed the face of European football over the last decade with their spending in pursuit of Champions League glory, something that has so far eluded both clubs.
City came agonisingly close last season when they beat PSG in the semi-finals only to lose to Chelsea in the final in Porto.
PSG, runners-up in 2020, will want a measure of revenge for that, but they have already got one over on the English champions with the signing of Messi, who at one point looked more likely to end up at the Etihad Stadium.
“Messi speaks for himself, I don’t have to describe him. What he’s done is more than exceptional and hopefully tomorrow he can play for the benefit of the game,” Guardiola said on Monday as he looked forward to coming up against the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, with whom he enjoyed so much success in Barcelona between 2008 and 2012.
Messi has missed PSG’s last two games with a minor knee problem. He has not yet scored for his new club and has only made three appearances since arriving from Barcelona at the start of August, completing 90 minutes just once.
That was in the 1-1 draw with Club Brugge in Belgium in PSG’s first outing in Champions League Group A, a result which left Mauricio Pochettino’s team already trailing behind City, who trounced RB Leipzig 6-3 last time out.
– ‘Unfair pressure’ –
Both clubs are expected to advance from the group to the last 16, but a defeat for PSG at the Parc des Princes would leave them in a potentially difficult situation already and maybe even raise the unthinkable prospect of a group-stage exit.
“This is not a decisive game. There are two other strong teams looking to go through to the next round,” insisted former Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera, PSG’s joint-top scorer this season with four goals.
“Sometimes the pressure we have, something I have felt since the day I came in here, it is a pressure that doesn’t exist at any other club in Europe.
“No other team in Europe is obliged to win the Champions League, so this pressure in my opinion is unfair, but it is something we accept and get on with.”
Then again, no other club in Europe can call on an attacking trio of the quality of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Angel Di Maria could be added into that mix although the Argentine is currently serving a Champions League ban following his red card against City last season.
In any case it is, naturally, Messi who attracts most of the attention.
City and PSG stand for one and the same thing in the eyes of their many detractors, chiefly La Liga president Javier Tebas.
Nevertheless their respective approaches have not been the same, with City largely putting their faith in Guardiola to mould a winning team and PSG placing more of an emphasis on individual stars.
PSG have not won any of the five previous meetings of the clubs, but they didn’t have Messi before.
“We are talking about the best player in the world but you need to understand he is also a man,” Pochettino said when asked about how his compatriot was settling in Paris.
“He needs to adapt to a new club and a new culture.
“He was at Barcelona for 20 years. Now everything is new. He has not been here long and he needs time to get to know his teammates, but for sure he is going to succeed.”