Pep Guardiola: We cannot stop individual brilliance of Lionel Messi but maybe Man City's teamwork can

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Lionel Messi and Neymar - Pep Guardiola: We cannot stop individual brilliance of Lionel Messi but maybe Man City's teamwork can - GETTY IMAGES
Lionel Messi and Neymar - Pep Guardiola: We cannot stop individual brilliance of Lionel Messi but maybe Man City's teamwork can - GETTY IMAGES

A few hours after Manchester City had demonstrated the power of the collective with a superb team performance away to Chelsea on Saturday, there was more evidence of the teething problems Mauricio Pochettino is trying to iron out at Paris Saint-Germain as he attempts to bring some order and cohesion to Europe’s grandest galactico project.

Kylian Mbappe had just been substituted in the 88th minute of PSG’s 2-0 win over Montpellier when he was caught on camera allegedly moaning to Idrissa Gueye about Neymar’s apparent reluctance to release him. “He doesn’t give me the pass,” a frustrated Mbappe was reported as saying.

Pochettino brushed off the incident on Monday, the PSG coach insisting there were “always things between top players” and that he had spoken to Mbappe and Neymar individually and that the pair “may have also spoken to each other”.

There may, indeed, have been nothing sinister behind the incident but the last thing Pochettino wants right now is any friction between Mbappe and Neymar at a time when there is already enough scrutiny around his attempts to assimilate Lionel Messi into the world’s most star-studded attack.

Messi has been passed fit for City’s visit to the Parc des Princes this evening after missing PSG’s past two matches with a knee injury that has disrupted the Argentine maestro’s hopes of a quick start to his post-Barcelona career. But it is clear Pep Guardiola is not being lulled into a false sense of security by Messi or PSG’s unconvincing start to the campaign, even if City’s outstanding display at Stamford Bridge is likely to give Pochettino as much food for thought as anything his team can throw at the Premier League champions.

It is less than 10 months since Pochettino took charge at a team he stressed on Monday were still very much “under construction”, yet Guardiola warned that any attack boasting such a gilded trio had the capacity to make opponents look silly over the course of 90 minutes and, accordingly, has told his players to prepare for some pain.

“They have the talent and we have to do it as a team as we can’t put pressure on one player [to deliver],” the City manager said. “We have to be compact, help each other and know we are going to suffer and have pain – but you have to handle the pain.

“It’s the same in the last game [against Chelsea]. They are so good these types of teams, you have to be able to suffer for 90 minutes.”

There was an element of Guardiola playing to the crowd when he claimed he was unsure how to thwart Messi, Mbappe and Neymar in tandem – the Catalan will have enjoyed putting a plan together to attempt just that – but his point was that sometimes individual brilliance is impossible to keep a lid on.

He witnessed it time and again with Messi at Barcelona and will also know that no player has scored more Champions League goals against him than the Argentine since they left each other’s embrace at the Nou Camp in 2012.

“What should we do? I don’t know,” Guardiola said. “This amount of quality, I don’t know how to stop them. They’re so good. This amount of talent makes it so difficult. They’re exceptional, all of them are so good individually. They can combine and connect.”

This is the first meeting between the sides since City’s impressive 4-1 aggregate victory over PSG in the Champions League semi-finals last season, when Pochettino’s side lost both games and, ultimately, their heads too.

Angel Di Maria is suspended on Tuesday night owing to his senseless stamp on Fernandinho towards the end of the second leg of that semi-final, with the two defeats triggering plenty of soul searching and a summer splurge in the market.

It is not just Messi of PSG’s big-name arrivals who has been having to bide their time, though. Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, signed as a free agent from AC Milan and the player of the tournament at Euro 2020 this summer, has yet to displace Keylor Navas as PSG’s No 1 and Sergio Ramos’s introduction has been delayed by injury. Yet, inevitably, the conversation almost always comes back to Messi.

It has been a frustrating start to life in Paris so far, with the six-time World Player of the Year yet to score in three appearances and visibly unhappy at being substituted in the 76th minute against Lyon this month, even if PSG did go on to win the game without him on the pitch. Yet Pochettino believes it is inevitable that someone who had been at Barcelona since the age of 13 will take some time to adjust to a new team and environment, regardless of his talents.

“We are talking about the best player in the world but, saying that, you need to understand that he is a man like us that needs to adapt to a new club, the family needs to adapt to the new society and new culture,” Pochettino said.

“There are many things [to consider] – let people work, let the player adapt and start to feel at home. He was at Barcelona for 20 years. It is normal that he felt at home there. Now everything is new. For sure he’s going to succeed. I hope he wins big things for the club.”

Pochettino’s attempts to keep Messi, Mbappe and Neymar happy at the same time as managing another galaxy of stars actually makes Guardiola’s job of trying to accommodate the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus seem less of a headache.

Had City not committed £100 million to signing Grealish or abandoned their failed pursuit of Harry Kane sooner, perhaps they might have rivalled PSG for Messi’s signature. But he will again be on the other side of the divide on Tuesday night and Guardiola, for one, will hope his slow start continues for a little while yet.

Team details (probable)

Paris Saint-Germain (4-3-3): Navas; Hakimi, Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Nuno Mendes; Herrera, Paredes, Gueye; Messi, Mbappe, Neymar.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo; De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo; Mahrez, Foden, Grealish.
Referee: Carlos del Cerro Grande (Spain).

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