The Argentine attacker hasn’t always been at his best in Ligue 1 but if he shines in the Champions League last 16, all will be forgotten
Even the most ardent Lionel Messi supporter would be forced to admit that things have not gone according to plan at Paris Saint-Germain.
Six months into his adventure in the French capital – his first professional club away from the bosom of Barcelona – he has scored only two domestic goals.
Yes, there have been eight assists and yes, he has hit the woodwork on an outlandish number of occasions, but Messi is held to a different standard to even his greatest contemporaries.
While Ligue 1 continues to be a struggle for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, he has come to life in the Champions League.
Five goals have come from five appearances in the competition, including a superb solo strike against Manchester City and a crucial brace against RB Leipzig as the Parisians came from two down at home to win.
Tuesday, meanwhile, reunites Messi with Real Madrid, a club against which he has made his name like no other.
This will be his 46th match against Los Blancos and he goes seeking his 27th goal.
Among his most famous contributions was a remarkable individual effort in the Champions League semi-final of 2011, when he carved through the Madrid defence to score past Iker Casillas.
This is the type of moment that PSG are waiting for from the Argentine superstar and should it arrive, what has passed in the last six months would be easily forgotten.
After all, following a decade of Qatari ownership, the Champions League remains PSG’s great ambition. It has continually eluded them, despite millions poured into trying to win the competition.
They came within 90 minutes in 2020, when they lost a tight final to Bayern Munich, and the opportunistic summer recruitment of Messi was made with the goal of taking that final step.
Certainly, there are few players more qualified with regards to his history in the competition.
He has lifted the trophy on four occasions and stands at second in the all-time lists for both goals and assists in the tournament.
Although the 34-year-old has rarely shown this level in Paris, there have been signs of greatness in recent weeks.
A cute goal against Lille in Ligue 1 last week crowned a fine display against the defending champions, though he was quiet once again versus Rennes as PSG struggled to a 1-0 victory on Friday.
“Between Covid, injuries and the Argentina national side that has called him every month, his chances of adaptation have been limited,” Mauricio Pochettino told El Pais.
“He’s never made excuses and neither have we. But he’s never played at a club other than Barcelona and when you arrive at a new side, you always go through a natural process of finding your place.
“Injuries, travelling and not being with your team-mates all lengthens the time for the team to adapt or for you to find the best version of yourself.”
This slow integration has meant that Messi, for the first time in years, has been forced to accept that he is not the star man.
Instead, that honour goes to Kylian Mbappe, who confirmed that status at the weekend by scoring a stoppage-time winner.
Having been revered as the greatest of all-time at Barcelona, this must come as something of a cultural shock for Messi.
Nobody, though, is about to write the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner off as a lost cause.
A player of such talent is always only a matter of moments away from igniting something special, and that is especially the case in the biggest games.
PSG have rarely seen the real Messi yet, but a successful performance against Real Madrid may just be the catalyst he needs to finally get going at Parc des Princes.