Paris Lionel Messi finished last season with his first five goals in 10 years.
It was for Argentina against Estonia, but not for PSG, as he scored just six league goals in 26 games following his move from Barcelona. This was Messi’s lowest tally since the 2005-06 season, when he was still only 18.
Although his 14 assists for Paris Saint-Germain was the second-highest in the league behind teammate Kylian Mbappe, the record level of the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner was well below expectations for a player who scored 672 goals for Barcelona.
This staggering total included an extraordinary league season of 50 goals in 2012 to go along with 46 in 2013, eight La Liga titles and six Champions Leagues. At his best, he scored five goals against Bayer Leverkusen in 2012.
Fast forward a decade and his poor goal record for PSG raised questions about whether he could adapt to a new system after so many years where great players like Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Neymar played primarily for him.
“The idea for him is to be more involved in the game and connect his teammates to him during matches, which didn’t happen much last season. The more the team is connected, the more the team can produce,” said Christophe Galtier, the incoming Paris Saint-Germain coach. I have fully invested. As for the rest, the whole world knows what it can do.”
However, while last season was difficult for Messi, some have questioned whether he has fallen behind in this year’s World Cup.
At the age of 35, it will probably be his last chance to win it with his beloved Argentina. The unique tournament timing is from November 21 – December. 18, in order to avoid the summer heat in Qatar, also means that it will arrive with softer legs than if it were held in June and July.
Messi was an inspiration in leading Argentina to victory in the Copa America last year, where he was the top scorer with four goals and topped the list with five assists. He ended Messi’s relentless wait to win a major international title after losing one World Cup final and three other finals at the Copa America.
So he will probably have a huge motivation to sign from the international game by winning the biggest trophy ever.
A strong start for Paris Saint-Germain could help him achieve success in Qatar, in a strong Argentina attack that includes Juventus winger Angel Di Maria and Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez.
Di Maria’s absence hurt Argentina when they lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany 1-0, but his departure from PSG could actually help Messi at club level.
Former PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino may have had plenty of attacking options as he tried to accommodate Messi, Neymar, Mbappe, Di Maria and Mauro Icardi.
Galtier also sticks to formations more than the experimental Pochettino, which should favor Messi.
Messi may also have been a victim of his versatility last season and will not be affected much under Galtier. This means he will not have to share a position on the wing with Di Maria and is likely to move less inside to match Mbappe, whose most dangerous position is in the center of attack.
Paris Saint-Germain would be best served if Galtier chose Neymar and Messi on either side of Mbappe in a steady three-man attack, with passer-by Marco Verratti in a forward midfield role.
Messi started the season with a goal as PSG beat Nantes 4-0 to win the Champions Cup on Sunday.
The center of the Paris Saint-Germain defense was strengthened by the arrival of Nordi Mukele from German Leipzig. He must take some pressure from the midfield and release Verratti to combine up the pitch and Messi to open up defences.
With Messi surveying from the right, and working more as an innovator in a system where Mbappe plays the lead scorer, he should be able to save energy.
This may be good news for Argentina.
Paris Saint-Germain rivals
PSG is still the favourite and doesn’t seem to have a serious contender, like last year. The struggle for second place and automatic entry to the Champions League is likely to be between Marseille, Monaco and Lyon.
Marseille has a new coach, Igor Theodor, but he may still rely heavily on the old legs of playmaker Dimitri Payet.
The arrival of John Textor, the new American owner of Lyon, coincides with the return of two local players, midfielder Corentin Tolisso and striker Alexandre Lacazette, after spells with Bayern Munich and Arsenal respectively.
Monaco excelled under attack-minded coach Philippe Clement last season. But like Marseille, the club relies a lot on one player, France striker Wissem Ben Yedder.
His 25 league goals last season came in second place after Mbappe’s 28 goals.
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