Messi-less PSG win again in Metz, but questions remain a week before Champions League showdown vs. Man City

Lionel Messi was not on the pitch for Paris Saint-Germain away at FC Metz in Ligue 1 on Wednesday, but Achraf Hakimi scored once in each half to ensure that head coach Mauricio Pochettino was spared added embarrassment against the 10-man hosts who also had boss Frederic Antonetti dismissed.

Once again, it required a goal at the death to avoid dropping points for the first time this season, but the reality is that the 90 minutes at Stade Saint Symphorien were so painful that the overwhelming relief within Parisien ranks at the final whistle was relief more than anything else.

Seven wins from seven and a provisional seven-point lead is an impeccable return on paper so far this campaign for Pochettino and his players who failed to win 12 times under the Argentine and Chelsea’s now UEFA Champions League-winning Thomas Tuchel last term, so why does it feel so underwhelming?

Only a draw away at Club Brugge in their Champions League Group A opener has seen PSG fail to collect all three points at the end of an encounter so far this season and that has the French giants’ fanbase worried ahead of next week’s visit from Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Paramount+.

It is one thing being bailed out by Mauro Icardi and Hakimi popping up with late winners against the likes of Olympique Lyonnais and Metz after hard fought Ligue 1 clashes but another entirely to expect to eke out the same results against one of — if not the — best team in Europe right now.

Despite a raft of changes across the starting XI which included the returning Hakimi, Keylor Navas and Georginio Wijnaldum, there was once again barely any trace of a system at work or discernible tactical setup put in place by Pochettino, which is concerning as he is approaching nine months in the job.

Messi might well be back against Montpellier HSC this Saturday at Parc des Princes in Le Championnat, but it would be foolish to suggest that the legendary Argentine is the solution to fill the faceless collective void which engulfs this magnificent array of talent when he already made little difference against Lyon last Sunday.

Neymar remains off the pace and without a goal from open play since the start of May, although he did tee up the dependable Hakimi’s winner, while Kylian Mbappe played through injury against OL and did not look better for it Wednesday with Icardi doing little to build on his winning header last week either.

Hoping for Danilo Pereira or Rafinha to conjure up a goal between them was Pochettino asking for trouble while the unexpectedly prolific Ander Herrera was sent on with 25 minutes to play along with creators Angel Di Maria and later Julian Draxler added only as the game was being ground down to a scrap.

Dylan Bronn saw red for a second booking late on and Antonetti was not far behind him after losing his proverbial on the touchline which might have been understandable if he was in Pochettino’s position of being able to align arguably one of the strongest XIs in Europe only to produce the absolute bare minimum.

The fact that the defense have only kept two clean sheets also tells its own story and the former Tottenham Hotspur boss looks no closer to a solution in that area either despite the presence of Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe with Navas alert to danger on numerous occasions to limit Metz to just one goal through Kiki Kouyate.

While a massive season-starting performance against City is not beyond PSG in terms of the individuals in the squad, it feels far beyond this team’s collective capabilities at present and that is what is most concerning ahead of next week’s showdown.

Will we see a new capital outfit emerge against Montpellier or just more of this current nothingness which Pochettino’s current tactics translate into on the pitch? The players need to step up more than ever to truly get this campaign launched before results like this are rendered academic because of the advantage created so early this term.

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