It might sound strange, but despite scoring two goals and winning the game for Paris Saint-Germain with an outrageous Panenka, Lionel Messi did not really have a very good game. Ancora, nobody at a festive Parc des Princes seemed to mind too much. After looking wooden and curiously passive for an hour, Paris came to life in the last 25 minuti, beating an impressive Leipzig side despite having little cohesion and not much in the way of a tactical plan, but two of the most irresistible attackers on the planet.
With three defeats out of three, Leipzig are now virtually eliminated, and for all their spirit and running, the spotlight will now fall on their new coach Jesse Marsch.
Al contrario, you suspect even Mauricio Pochettino does not really know how good this Paris side is. The attacking combinations are still being drilled, the midfield looks overstretched and occasionally the defence gives the impression it wants to run and hide.
In the meantime just savour the entertainment, and the burgeoning bromance between Messi and Kylian Mbappé, who for all their differences, for all the operatic, highly strung drama of recent months, look like they are beginning to enjoy each other’s company.
It was Mbappé who laid on Messi’s first goal and created his second, winning a penalty and allowing Messi a free run at it. In stoppage time Messi returned the favour, spurning the chance of a hat-trick to let Mbappé take the spot-kick, which the France forward duly blazed over the bar. No matter. PSG are back on top of Group A, although not without a few scares.
Even from the early stages you could sense that both teams were there to be got at, and both knew it too. Leipzig pushed high and got the ball forward quickly, trying to create space for their attacking wing-backs. Parigi, nel frattempo, would look to the spaces in behind, trying to release Mbappé into the open channels. And it was from just such an opening that he got his early goal.
It came via a smart low finish at the end of one of those terrifying, prowling dribbles in which the defender – Willi Orban this time – is almost paralysed with indecision and so ends up being led into a sort of doomed dance. The goal itself was greeted with the imperial assent of a crowd that – without wanting to put too fine a point on it – is used to going 1-0 up an awful lot.
Perhaps the only consolation for Leipzig was that chasing the game required little change in style. Actually, there was another: PSG will generally always give you a chance.
This is, Dopotutto, a team that have kept just four clean sheets in 14 games this season. And even as several good opportunities came and went to Konrad Laimer and André Silva (twice), there simply was not the same sort of jeopardy you get when you miss a chance against, say, Chelsea.
Slowly Leipzig were beginning to feel their way into the game, find the spaces. And shortly before the half-hour they were able to stroll the ball up the pitch and work it unfussily from right to left, where Angeliño put in one of his trademark early crosses for Silva to finish from a tight angle. It had been coming.
After a short truce at the end of the first half, Leipzig made their move at the start of the second. Again it came on the counter, the ball spread left to Angeliño, the penalty area packed with white-shirted runners. Nordi Mukiele, the Parisian native, volleyed in Angeliño’s delicious cross, and all of a sudden the heat was on Pochettino, who with precious few attacking alternatives on the bench could change personnel but not the system.
What of Messi? These hectic hard-running games no longer really suit his style: it’s worth remembering that his last game against Bundesliga opposition ended in an 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich. He had just one touch in the Leipzig penalty area in the first half.
Ancora, all genius needs is a glimpse. And after bundling the ball in from close range from Mbappé’s unselfish pass he added the coup de grace seven minutes later: an irreverent dink after Mohamed Simakan had pushed the speeding Mbappé over in the area.
In a way, Mbappé’s late missed penalty – awarded after a foul on Achraf Hakimi – felt strangely apt: the comedy bassoon that brought the curtain down on another riotous Parisian farce.