Lionel Messi was in the stands at the Parc des Princes on Saturday to see his new Paris Saint-Germain team-mates make hard work of a 4-2 win over Strasbourg in Ligue 1.
Neither Messi nor Neymar were included in Mauricio Pochettino’s squad as they build fitness at the start of the season, although PSG’s latest signing was paraded on the pitch alongside Sergio Ramos and their other recruits before the match.
It was Kylian Mbappe who was front and centre once the action got under way, netting the second goal before creating the third for Julian Draxler and the fourth for Pablo Sarabia after Mauro Icardi – surely one of the men to make way in a full-strength XI – had opened the scoring.
Sarabia’s goal came following Alexander Djiku’s late red card, prior to which Strasbourg threatened to wipe out PSG’s lead, hitting back through Kevin Gameiro and Ludovic Ajorque to dampen the party mood a little.
The game had begun amid a raucous atmosphere and there were just 139 seconds on the clock when Icardi met Abdou Diallo’s left-wing cross with a fine header, deemed onside following a VAR review.
Strasbourg did not immediately fold, but two deflections in quick succession appeared to put the game beyond them.
First, Mbappe cut inside from the left and arrowed in a shot that was redirected beyond Matz Sels by an unwitting Ajorque, then the France forward went to the byline and his cross looped up off Lucas Perrin for Draxler to tap in.
However, Sels blocked bravely from Mbappe at the start of the second half, allowing Strasbourg to go down the other end and score as former PSG forward Gameiro expertly nodded beyond Keylor Navas.
In a repeat of earlier in the half, Sels then denied Mbappe and Ajorque produced an even better header to prompt real nerves in the home ranks.
But Djiku, already booked, was carded once more for a foul on Icardi, reducing Strasbourg to 10 men and putting PSG back in the ascendancy, with another Mbappe run down the left resulting in a simple finish for Sarabia.
What does it mean? Complacency a concern
PSG were the better side in the first half, but the scoreline flattered them a little. If not for a marginal offside call and a couple of fortuitous deflections, the teams might have headed into the break all square.
So Pochettino would have been worried to see his players seemingly consider the job done as they returned after the interval, allowing Strasbourg to gain a foothold – with 51.5 per cent of the possession in the first 15 minutes of the second half – and almost tear up the script entirely.
Mbappe makes hay
Mbappe had not netted for club or country since before Euro 2020, but he is a dominant force in Ligue 1, now having either scored or assisted in seven consecutive matches in the competition (eight goals, four assists).
The star attraction in the absence of Messi and Neymar, Mbappe had the freedom to play primarily from the left, with 47.6 per cent of PSG’s attacks coming down that flank before the break.
Messi and Neymar were not the only big names in attendance, with Ramos and, notably, Marquinhos also in the stands rather than on the pitch.
And while Mbappe was able to lead the line effectively, the stand-in defenders were less impressive. Strasbourg were allowed to have eight attempts, with both goals coming from crosses – two of three that found visiting players in the PSG area.
Key Opta Facts
– Paris Saint-Germain have started a Ligue 1 season with consecutive wins for the first time since 2018-19.
– PSG have won their last four games against Strasbourg in Ligue 1, after winning only one of the previous four (D2 L1).
– PSG had not scored at least three goals before the 28th minute in a Ligue 1 game since April 2018 against Monaco.
– Strasbourg have started a Ligue 1 season with two defeats for the second consecutive time, a first in the club’s history in the top flight.
As PSG fans eagerly await Messi’s debut, they next turn their focus to Friday’s trip to Brest. Strasbourg host Troyes next Sunday.
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