“Of course the title is for Paris. There is not much doubt about that,” admitted Lens manager Franck Haise in the wake of their 3-1 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain. Business as usual, then. How could PSG not retain their title with Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe linking up like this?
The 2022-23 season’s most predictable title race is headed to its inevitable conclusion. With the victory, PSG moved nine points clear of second-placed surprise package Lens. There are only seven matches remaining and the only remaining question is when – not if – Messi, Mbappe and company get their hands on the trophy.
Anyone could have told you from the way in which the Parisiens clicked into gear in the early months of the campaign. Prior to the World Cup break, Christophe Galtier had built arguably the most cohesive-looking PSG side of the QSI era, one which built a solid platform for their front three to devastate their opponents.
This had looked the closest approximation yet to Luis Enrique’s treble-winning Barcelona, an unstoppable force that was all about having an industrious midfield and defence that allowed triumvirate Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez to wreak havoc in the final third.
Come the World Cup, Messi and Mbappe continued to fly. They finished champion and runner-up respectively in Qatar, one ending up named the tournament’s best player and the other the tournament’s top scorer. They scored a combined five goals in the most thrilling final in years and – naturally – tucked away their penalties in the shootout.
Equipped with arguably the best two players in the world looking at the peak of their powers, how could PSG be stopped? Quite easily, as it happens. Their season has taken on a quite familiar trajectory.
Messi and Mbappe were left isolated and ineffective as PSG failed to score and meekly exited the Champions League at the round of 16 stage against Bayern, while they were eliminated by old rivals Marseille on home soil in the French Cup.
Suffering a shocking World Cup hangover, PSG have lost no fewer than eight matches in all competitions in 2023. With five league defeats since the World Cup, even the Ligue 1 title looked under threat as the unthinkable prospect of a trophyless season loomed.
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It now appears likely that these will be Messi’s final few weeks in Paris. The Argentinian was booed by PSG’s fans following the Champions League exit and contract extension talks have reportedly reached an impasse. A return to Barcelona could well be in the offing.
Whatever happens from here on out, the 2022-23 campaign will be a disappointing, underwhelming one for the Parisiens. Galtier will surely leave his post. But Messi and Mbappe look determined not to allow what could be their last games together to fizzle out with a whimper.
Take a look at how they toyed with title challengers Lens on Saturday night. Their opponents were reduced to 10 men early doors and PSG looked in the mood to make their advantage count.
Mbappe opened the scoring with a characteristically clinical finish after involvement from Messi in a nice flowing build-up. The 24-year-old became PSG’s all-time Ligue 1 top scorer with the strike.
Vitinha doubled the scoring a short while later with a brilliant long-range shot and soon enough Messi put the hosts three ahead with the pick of the bunch. The World Cup winner picked the ball up deep in Lens’ half after some stylist one-touch passing and immediately sprang into one of his trademark mazy dribbles, darting straight at the heart of the opposition defence.
He fed the ball into Mbappe on the edge of the Lens box and one sumptuous backheel flick later, Messi was in. You know what happens next. You’ve seen it hundreds of times. No mistake into the bottom corner.
Look at this assist from Mbappe 🤩
He puts it on a plate for Messi to finish off! 👏
PSG race into a 3-0 lead over Lens. pic.twitter.com/wRsiWKYHqn
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 15, 2023
It was a goal that sealed Messi’s place as the all-time top goalscorer in Europe’s top five leagues.
“It’s easy to play with Lionel Messi,” Mbappe said shortly after the Argentinian arrived in the French capital back in 2021.
“He’s the best player in the world.”
You won’t see better evidence of the two greats working together than PSG’s latest goal.
The collective alchemy might not have been quite right for Messi and Mbappe to conquer the world together – this is PSG, after all – but watching them link up when they’re in the mood is pure footballing joy. Enjoy it while it lasts.