With a 1-1 tie on the scoreboard and before the fans themselves huddled in a thunderous stands, Mauricio Pochettino replaced Messi with Achraf Hakimi after the 70th minute. The change, in addition to introducing a scheme with five defenders, incorporated a strangely contradictory message. The Paris Saint Germain experiment, conceived as the definitive expression of artistic and offensive football, has much to clarify. The passage of the Lyon through the Parc des Princes exposed the enigma of a project with an uncertain future.
Asked about the replacement of Messi, who in the second half was completely blurred, the coach explained that it was a purely autonomous tactical decision. “They cannot play more than eleven and that is what the coaches are in the band for,” Pochettino said at the press conference, before noting the content of the fleeting exchange he had with his countryman. “I asked him how he was doing and he said ‘fine’.”
It was something unusual, in the case of a footballer whom Barcelona and the national team never replaced without his consent. The suffocation of the Argentine, signed free at 34 years of age to complete the dream of Nasser Al-Khelaifi and the princes of Qatar, was evident in the display of gestures he exhibited on the bench. Messi was furious. Pochettino elaborated on his arguments: “We made the decision to avoid a possible injury in the future; important parties are approaching and it must be protected ”.
Victory, a product of accidental circumstances rather than play, will cushion the conflict. PSG was dragged by a flood when the referee, Clément Turpin, judged the facts the other way around. Then the drama turned into fortune, the logic of football stopped explaining the result, and in the box of authorities of the Park of the Princes the envoys of the emir had to shrug their shoulders before the fickle nature of the show they finance. Only an esoteric penalty allowed PSG to emerge afloat from a game that swallowed it up against Olympique Lyon on the day of their debut as Messi’s, Mbappé and Neymar starters in Ligue 1.
He had scored Paquetá after a fast and punctual counterattack led by Toko Ekambi and Emerson Palmieri. A combination that caught PSG completely out of place in the act of poorly timed pressure, with Kherer left to fend for himself on the right wing and centrals out of place trying to compensate for the immeasurable spaces of a split midfield. The 0-1 reflected the reality of a striking contrast. On the one hand, Lyon’s fluid and coherent game, collectively well assembled and very safe with the ball, on the other PSG, dependent on Messi’s lucidity to improvise increasingly laborious advances.
Lyon arrived and finished more, despite the fact that their centrals, Boateng and Denayer, made each decision a lottery. The visiting team dominated no matter how much Messi made the brightest plays, crashed a shot into the crossbar and put goalkeeper Lopes to the test twice after two heels from Neymar and Mbappé.
“There has been an improvement”
The 1-0 seemed the most natural consequence of the causal chain when Neymar struggled with Denayer in the Lopes area, grabbed him by the neck, and the center-back fell to the ground. It seemed a foul in attack. But Turpin declared a penalty. Irrevocable penalty. Without VAR intervention. Without consultation. Without a shadow of a doubt. Like old times. Neymar’s goal, celebrated with fury by everyone except Messi, balanced what seemed unbalanced.
The Argentine’s replacement barely consolidated PSG defensively against an adversary who insisted on seeking victory with the same poise.
Added time was running out when Mauro Icardi headed a cross from Mbappé at the corner. The 2-1 unleashed PSG after a night against the current and allowed Pochettino to present an optimistic speech at the press conference.
“I think we played a good game,” said Pochettino; “I think there has been an improvement compared to the Bruges game, against a very good team like Lyon.”
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