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messi out-gunned Barcelona humiliated on home soil as Kylian Mbappe takes centre stage

Apprentice outshines master to give Pochettino’s side clear advantage

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PSG's Kylian Mbappe celebrates after scoring during the Champions League round of 16, first leg. Photo: AP Photo/Joan Monfort

PSG's Kylian Mbappe celebrates after scoring during the Champions League round of 16, first leg. Photo: AP Photo/Joan Monfort

PSG's Kylian Mbappe celebrates after scoring during the Champions League round of 16, first leg. Photo: AP Photo/Joan Monfort

If this is to be the final European adventure for Lionel Messi in a Barcelona shirt, then it might well be remembered as the season in which the crown was ripped from his head.

Kylian Mbappe is coming for him, and all the rest of them, and it was striking to see how clearly the PSG striker outshone Barcelona’s forwards as he led his side to an emphatic 4-1 win in Spain.

Messi has been the dominant player of the last 10 years, and Mbappe will surely be the leading light of the coming decade. At 22, he plays with an explosiveness that Messi, now 33, could not replicate at Camp Nou.

Mbappe struck a sensational hat-trick to lead PSG’s comeback from Messi’s early penalty and put Mauricio Pochettino’s side in the most commanding of positions.

In Pochettino’s first Champions League game in charge of the French side, his players proved their class. PSG have famously surrendered first-leg leads to Barcelona before, as they did in dramatic fashion in 2017, but there was a maturity to their performance that suggests such a collapse will not be happening again.

The contest between Messi and Mbappe provided a delicious sub-plot but it was far from the only battle in an engaging encounter between two teams of the highest quality.

How strange it must have been for any Southampton fans watching from home, as two of their former managers faced each other with two of Europe’s most glamorous teams. Ronald Koeman and Pochettino never had this calibre of player at their disposal on the south English coast, of course, and one wonders how different the managerial demands must be now.

For Koeman, the primary task is surely to keep Messi happy, even if he seems certain to leave the club when his contract expires this season. At least for now the Dutchman can enjoy the pleasure of working with the great magician, who switched from walking pace to destruction mode midway through the first half.

It was Messi’s pass that led to the penalty, with midfielder Frenkie de Jong tripped by Layvin Kurzawa as he tried to bring the ball under control. Messi leathered the resulting penalty kick into the top corner.

PSG were giving as good as they got, though, and with Marco Verratti growing in influence they soon had an equaliser. Verratti’s first-time flick found Mbappe, whose close control allowed him to shimmy between the home side’s defenders before he slammed a finish high into the net. More chances were to follow, with Kurzawa and Mauro Icardi going close for the visitors and Antoine Griezmann firing wide for Barcelona before the break.

But it was becoming Mbappe’s night, although his second goal required none of the skill of the first. Gerard Pique’s fluffed clearance fell into his path and Mbappe calmly passed into the net.

Barcelona were losing their grip and PSG deserved their third, when Moise Kean headed home from a Leandro Paredes delivery. Then came Mbappe’s third, the hat-trick sealed with a curling finish into the top corner.

A breathtaking performance from a player of truly breathtaking ability.

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Telegraph.co.uk


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