Much has been said about Lionel Messi’s slow start to life in Paris, which is basically just to say that the 34-year-old hasn’t played much. Given his reluctance to ever miss a minute with Barcelona — regardless of whether it was a Champions League or second round Copa del Rey match — it’s been weird seeing Messi go over one-third of the league season without scoring or assisting yet.
But the reality is that he’s been limited to just 325 minutes of action spread across five appearances in Ligue 1. Despite his near-total absence, PSG still holds a commanding 10-point lead over second-place Lens after just 13 matches.
Without him against Bordeaux on Saturday, PSG had to rely on two goals from little-known Neymar and one from *checks notes* some guy by the name of Kylian Mbappé to record a 3-2 win, highlighting the fact that Messi really doesn’t need to play in order for PSG to win the 2021-22 Ligue 1 title.
His calling this season is in the Champions League, where a game-winning goal against Manchester City and brace against RB Leipzig foretold of the difference he'll be able to make against Europe’s biggest teams.
Messi has been hobbled by persistent knee and hamstring complaints throughout the campaign, but the club is clearly hoping he’s at his best on Nov. 24 when PSG travels to Manchester to play City in a match that’ll determine which side wins Group A.
But despite only playing 45 minutes against Lille on Oct. 29 before missing the Bordeaux match, Messi boarded a flight on Sunday evening to join up with the Argentina squad ahead of two massive World Cup qualifiers.
Dentro de algunas horas arribarán los demás de los convocados provenientes de Madrid.
¡Comienza la acción! pic.twitter.com/DY9Sy11pLS
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) November 8, 2021
According to a report in the Mirror, there’s an “Argentina clause” in Messi’s contract that allows the 34-year-old to prioritize international fixtures on the road to Qatar 2022.
Through 11 qualifiers, Messi has been an ever-present in the team, playing the full 90 every time and scoring six goals — only Bolivia’s Marcelo Moreno (8) and Neymar (7) have scored more in CONMEBOL.
And while Argentina is performing admirably and still undefeated after 11 games (seven wins, four draws), this window represents one of the biggest for La Albiceleste.
On Nov. 12, Argentina travels to Montevideo to play a Uruguay side that’s desperate for a good result as Luis Suárez and company currently reside in fifth-place (the inter-confederation playoff spot). Then there’s the Nov. 16 clash with table-topping Brazil in San Juan. After the fiasco in Brazil that saw their first scheduled meeting suspended, the hype around this game has only grown.
However, back in Paris, Messi’s club isn’t actually providing a unified front in supporting his decision to play. Manager Mauricio Pochettino, who played 20 times for Argentina, is all for it.
“Tomorrow he won’t be available to play for the team,” Pochettino said last Friday before the weekend’s match against Bordeaux. “We will see if he can travel to play for his country. We hope he can go and play for his country and then return to us fit.”
On the other hand PSG’s sporting director Leonardo, who represented Brazil 55 times, says the call-up is “not logical.”
“We do not agree to let a player go by selection who, for us, is not in physical condition or who is in the rehabilitation phase,” Leonardo said. “It is not logical, and these types of situations deserve a real agreement with FIFA.”
Despite the tribal lines between Brazil and Argentina, PSG does have good reason to worry about a not-fully-fit Messi. Back in July’s Copa América semifinal between Argentina and Colombia, Colombia was given six yellow cards — each for a foul on Messi.
Brazil also knows that defending against Messi requires a special sort of physicality, with Felipe Melo once revealing that “when Brazil played against him we used to say ‘we have to kick him once each, we have to rotate.’ If we didn’t, it was too difficult to mark him. We didn’t want to break him, just to cut his rhythm and disturb him — it was tactical.”
There's a Marquinhos two-footer incoming.