Lionel Messi is set to make his hotly anticipated debut for Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday night when his new club face Reims in Ligue 1, as the future of Kylian Mbappe remains shrouded in uncertainty.
It is almost three weeks since PSG completed the sensational signing from Barcelona of Messi, but the Argentine has not played since leading his country to victory in the final of the Copa America against Brazil on July 11.
He was therefore left out of the Paris squad for their last two games as he built up his fitness, but on Sunday morning he was included in their 22-man squad for the game in Reims, 150 kilometres north-east of the French capital.
Coach Mauricio Pochettino opted not to start the 34-year-old, but Messi was named among the substitutes for the match, which was due to kick off at 1845 GMT.
Reims were once France’s pre-eminent club, twice reaching the European Cup final in 1956 and 1959, but it is a long time since the footballing spotlight has been on the city to such an extent.
There will be a sell-out crowd at the 21,000-capacity Stade Auguste-Delaune for the match, and fans in the biggest city in the Champagne region gathered outside PSG’s team hotel on Sunday hoping to catch a glimpse of the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
It remains to be seen how much of the game Messi — who has been given the number 30 jersey by PSG — will play as coach Mauricio Pochettino also welcomes back Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, for the first time this season.
Neymar has also not played since featuring for Brazil in the Copa America final in Rio de Janeiro seven weeks ago.
He and Mbappe were both named in the starting line-up, with Mbappe included despite uncertainty about his future as Real Madrid hope to sign the World Cup-winning forward before Tuesday’s transfer deadline.
It is understood that Real have had two bids rejected for Mbappe in the last week, the most recent worth 180 million euros ($212m), which matches what PSG paid to Monaco for him in 2017.
Mbappe will be out of contract at the end of this season and so will be able to negotiate a deal with a new club in January without PSG being able to get a transfer fee for the France superstar.
He has featured in his current side’s first three matches of the Ligue 1 season, scoring his first goal in last week’s 4-2 victory at Brest.
Despite being without Messi and Neymar, PSG were the only club in Ligue 1 with a maximum nine points coming into the weekend, although on Sunday afternoon they saw surprise package Angers move provisionally a point clear of them at the summit by beating Rennes 2-0.
Also on Sunday, defending champions Lille recorded their first victory of the Ligue 1 campaign as Yusuf Yazici and Canada’s Jonathan David scored in a 2-1 win over 10-man Montpellier.
Earlier Monaco bounced back from their elimination from the Champions League in the play-off round in midweek to win 2-1 at Troyes, Sofiane Diop’s brace securing their first victory of the Ligue 1 season.