By Agbonkhese Oboh
Pundits and fans had put Messi on the right, Neymar left, with Mbappe in the middle. But the much-expected killer MMN attacking trio was not to be.
When Messi came in later at 65 minutes, it felt strange to see him play at home in a shirt without the purple stripes. It was his debut for Paris Saint-Germain.
Finally, the moment has come. Messi is playing, but not in a Barcelona shirt.
And whenever he had the ball, defenders swamped him. It is the only way to go if you have a trickster and a speedster making your life miserable.
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Several times Messi and Mbappe showed excited fans at the Stade Auguste Delaune flashes of things to come. Each time, the Reims players threw everything at them, including risking fouls in the box.
Before then, it was Di Maria and the MN running riot around the Reims defence. The host didn’t hold the ball for up to 40% of the time, so it was a wonder PSG was still one goal up at half time.
Meanwhile, at 13 minutes, Ilan Kebbal cut the PSG defence open with a through ball like a knife through butter.
However, although El Bilal Toure was unto the ball, he somehow missed the target; PSG skipper, Marquinhos was breathing don his neck, anyway.
The goal would have been against the run of play and the host paid for their miss three minutes later when Di Maria swung a cross from the right for Mbappe to nod home.
It was still PSG running the affairs, giving full-time work to the 5-man Reims defence.
As the players filed out for the second half, the camera showed Messi: his legs were restless. Whether he was warming up or fighting nerves or both can’t be said.
And at 52 minutes, Reims scrambled home a goal, but VAR ruled offside.
Then, suddenly, the stadium exploded into a cheering— it was Messi warming up.
But at 63 minutes, while Pochettino was giving instructions to Messi, Reims’ stay at PSG half of the field came to an end with Hakimi sprinting down the right with the ball.
He pulled a cross and Mbappe scored his second.
At 65 minutes, both teams’ supporters erupted again as Neymar made way for Messi.
The former Barcelona teammates hugged. And with the nearly seamless partnership he had with Mbappe, Real Madrid might have a problem taking away the two-goal hero.
So MMN might still be possible and give football lovers a deadly three with Di Maria feeding them.