Early tensions at PSG as Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe take time to adapt

Pochettino refuses to say whether fearsome threesome will start in Champions league clash with Manchester City on Tuesday

Almost two months after it was patented, ‘MNM’ has yet to take off. The brand MNM is doing well - most of football knows what MNM stands for, almost as readily as they know ‘PSG’ stands for Paris Saint-Germain.

But the club that brought together Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and encouraged them to be referred to by the acronym of their names has not yet seen the fearsome threesome operate in irresistible, perfect harmony.

Granted, Messi (M) Neymar (N) and Mbappe (M) have started a match together only once, and the real thrill from that belonged to Club Brugge, who tamed PSG and MNM in the drawn opening game of a Champions League group that becomes tougher for the French club from here on, starting with Tuesday’s confrontation with Manchester City.

Messi’s participation from the start at the Parc des Princes is in some doubt because he is still shaking off a knee injury that caused him to miss PSG’s last two Ligue 1 games. It means he has played just 100 minutes of French league football since leaving Barcelona, in the shock move of the summer transfer window, plus his 90 minutes at Bruges.

MNM have had even less time together, Neymar having been substituted for Messi when the new recruit made his PSG debut, at Stade Reims a month ago. Mbappe then left the field, having taken a knock, early in the second half in Bruges. Messi, nursing his sore knee, lasted until the 76th minute in the victory over Lyon.

What these matches all featured were vital contributions from Mbappe, goals and several assists, but no direct exchanges between members of the celebrated trio that led directly to goals. Yes, Messi has had shots come back off the frame of opposition goals, but so far, MNM as a unit could be an abbreviation for ‘minimal’.

Mauricio Pochettino, the manager charged with blending the vision of Messi, the dribbling of Neymar, and the speed of Mbappe - among their many other qualities - urges patience. He also has to ensure the links in the triangle are all equally strong.

Mbappe hinted at tensions in the four-year partnership between he and Neymar at the weekend, when he was caught saying and gesturing, while on the bench, that Neymar had not been providing him with the right sort of passes.

The Brazilian had just set up a Julian Draxler goal, the second in the 2-0 win against Montpellier. Mbappe watched the assist and, turning to colleague Idrissa Gana Gueye, remarked: “He doesn’t pass to me!”

The episode obliged Pochettino yesterday to once again address an Mbappe-generated headline. Last week, the France striker came under heavy criticism for appearing to mock the Metz goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja during PSG’s 2-1 win there.

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Throughout August, Mbappe’s refusal to extend his PSG contract, which expires in June, was the hot topic, and his uncertain future, with Real Madrid keen to sign him, continues to be an issue.

“In football these sorts of things happen between competitive individuals,” said Pochettino of Mbappe’s words - which were caught, close-up, on camera - about Neymar’s not passing to him. “They are both fantastic guys. It was a big issue from outside but internally, it was nothing. They’ve spoken, I’ve spoken to them, and they’ve been happy together in training.”

All the same, a goal set up by Neymar and scored by Mbappe, or assisted by Mbappe and finished by Neymar seems overdue. There has not yet been one in PSG’s season.

Over the four seasons since they became the most expensive attacking pairing in football history - PSG paid over €400m for Neymar and Mbappe combined - they have combined, on average, for a goal every 2.5 matches.

As it happens that’s a shade above the Messi-Neymar rate of shared assists-and-goals when that partnership was flourishing between 2013 and 2017 at Barcelona - an ‘MN’ written in capitals and worth a goal involving both of them every 2.9 matches on average.

What chance the full, feted MNM clicks into place against City? Messi “will be available for the matchday squad,” confirmed Pochettino, refusing to add whether the Argentinian would start the match.

He urged people not to expect Neymar and Messi to resume immediately the complicity they had at Barcelona, or Messi to tune straight into Mbappe’s wavelength. “Leo spent 20 years at Barcelona. Let’s let the players adapt to their new environment, let’s let them feel at home.”

Updated: September 28th 2021, 3:31 AM
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