Messi’s form gives Nice defenders reason to fear PSG move


PARIS — Nice defenders must be hoping their former manager Christophe Galtier will be kind enough to rest Lionel Messi for Saturday’s game at Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi’s two goals for Argentina against Jamaica on Wednesday – a typical solo goal followed by a free kick – made it nine goals in his last three games for the national side, taking his international tally to 90.

So far this season, Messi has four goals and seven assists for league leaders PSG and his partnership with Neymar is a lot like their days at Barcelona from 2013-17.

“We have known each other for a long time, by heart, from Barcelona,” Messi told sports channel TUDN in an interview this week. “We are happy to be together. I love playing with him.”

With Messi providing plenty of scoring opportunities thanks to his rare vision of the game and exquisite passing, it is perhaps unsurprising that Neymar leads the league with eight goals and French star Kylian Mbappé is next with seven. .

Which is not good news for a Nice side languishing in 13th place; weakened in the offseason by the sale of key striker Amine Gouiri to Rennes and by the departure of Galtier to PSG after the dismissal of Mauricio Pochettino. A wave of signings at the end of the summer seemed like a quick fix and created an imbalance in the squad that Nice coach Lucien Favre has yet to resolve.

Losing Galtier after just one season in charge was a blow.

His arrival at PSG surprised some observers, as it marked a significant departure from the club’s habit of chasing big-name coaches who appeal to fans. Galtier’s credentials were actually engraved rather than any illustrious reputation. After all, he is three times coach of the year in the French league.

He knocked PSG off their perch by leading Lille to the league title against all odds in 2021, before joining Nice and kicking PSG out of the Coupe de France in Paris. In five games combined as manager of Lille and Nice, Galtier’s side were unbeaten against PSG without conceding a goal. A remarkable statistic given the firepower available to PSG, and proof of Galtier’s shrewd tactical sense.

If Galtier has started this campaign so well, with seven wins and a draw, it is also because he was able to eliminate the same weaknesses of PSG that he had exploited.

“I worked a lot on the last season of PSG and the previous seasons. I also had a lot of my own analysis on PSG,” Galtier said. “I worked to find the best possible system to really bring out the incredible qualities of the players.”

It certainly worked with Messi and also with Neymar, who is fitter, leaner and hungrier than he has been in many years.

When Galtier arrived, he said in his first press conference that no favors would be extended to any player, regardless of their perceived status. He was firm but fair, removing star players towards the end of games when previous coaches seemed more concerned with protecting fragile egos.

When Neymar was substituted towards the end of the match at Lyon on September 18, he clearly wasn’t happy. But he gritted his teeth and made no scene. Maybe because he knew Galtier would do the same with Mbappé or Messi.

“I am very natural and direct with the players in terms of attitude and demeanor,” Galtier said. “You can always help a player improve, but you have to improve him mentally: in terms of what that job requires, in terms of focus and determination.”

PSG have scored 26 goals and conceded just four in eight league games, but players shouldn’t expect a pat on the back from Galtier.

“We still need to be more ruthless given the number of chances we create…and limit the number of mistakes we make so our opponents are less likely to believe,” Galtier said in an interview with TV. PSG television. “We need more variety without changing our approach. We have our way of playing and our profile of players, but we need some variety in terms of positioning or getting the ball out from behind.

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