When Paris Saint-Germain welcome Real Madrid to Parc des Princes on Tuesday for the opening leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 clash (catch all the action on Paramount+) all eyes will be on Parc des Princes as two of the most star-studded squads in European soccer do battle.
Kylian Mbappe will be the main topic of discussion given his importance to the Parisien cause and the Spanish giants’ long-standing interest in bringing him to Santiago Bernabeu, but the showdown also gives Lionel Messi the chance to renew his rivalry with Los Blancos.
The legendary Argentine was one of six high-profile players to join PSG last summer with former Real captain Sergio Ramos, Merengue youth academy graduate Achraf Hakimi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum and Nuno Mendes also boosting Mauricio Pochettino’s group.
We look at how they have all fared since arriving in Paris.
Lionel Messi: Incomplete
Starting with the most obvious name and that is the 34-year-old whose time with the French giants can be separated into two categories so far: domestic form, which has been disappointing, and his much more impressive continental form.
Messi has only just started to find his feet in Ligue 1 and with PSG already out of the Coupe de France, his success in France has been extremely limited given that he has only scored two goals with seven assists in Le Championnat.
Compared with his five Champions League goals already this season, he seems more at home on the familiar continental stage. However, one goal and three assists from his last three Ligue 1 outings suggests that he is finally approaching some sort of form as the business end gets underway.
Sergio Ramos: Miss
Considering the Spaniard’s reputation and well-documented struggles with injuries in recent years, this move was always going to be a gamble and it is one which has backfired horribly. Ramos, now 35, has featured just four times and only gone the full 90 minutes in a match twice and injury has once again ruled him out this week against ex-club Real.
His immense experience and competitive spirit could only ever be considered a plus if he was fit and available regularly, which has not been the case nearly enough. One red card in 239 minutes of domestic action is a shocking return for someone who occupies a Champions League squad berth, a competition he has still yet to appear in for PSG.
Achraf Hakimi: Hit
Most of PSG’s business last summer was opportunistic and was based around players who were out of contract but the Morocco international was the exception to that rule. Although the versatile 23-year-old’s fast start to life in Paris has slowed down somewhat, three goals and three assists is a decent return for the right back.
Hakimi is also young enough to be built around as a cornerstone for the future at Parc des Princes and with the former Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund star on the right and Nuno Mendes on the left, PSG’s wide options will remain impressive for the foreseeable future.
Gianluigi Donnarumma: Hit
Competing with a goalkeeper of Keylor Navas’ experience and standing was never going to be easy, but the Italy international was one of the strongest performers at UEFA Euro 2020 and he has made an encouraging start to life with PSG.
The timeshare with the Costa Rican is awkward at times, but there is no doubting who represents the club’s future between the sticks, and it will ultimately be a question of who makes the best understudy for the 22-year-old Donnarumma.
Georginio Wijnaldum: Miss
The Netherlands international looked like a decent fit in midfield given PSG’s difficulties in striking the right balance between attack and defense in recent years, even with Marco Verratti as integral as ever. But the truth is that Wijnaldum has been disappointing.
Not at all the same player who was so trusted by Jurgen Klopp in Liverpool, the 31-year-old appears miscast at present and will need to make up some serious ground if he is to avoid being considered a flop given Pochettino’s high opinion and inability to get a tune out of the Dutchman.
Nuno Mendes: Hit
Despite being the least well known of the bunch, at just 19 years of age, the Portuguese left-back has arguably been the most impressive of all six signings given how quickly he has made a starting berth his own. With Mendes on the left and Hakimi on the right, PSG boast enviable depth and his current form suggests that this summer’s option to buy is a no-brainer.
Between Donnarumma, Hakimi and Mendes, a large portion of the Parisien defense is already locked up for the next few years with 27-year-old captain Marquinhos close to a contract extension and Presnel Kimpembe equally still in his mid-20s.