PSG hosts upstart Clermont as Messi home debut uncertain

PARIS (AP) — Just a few weeks ago, Clermont’s trip to Parc des Princes this Saturday was notable only because it was penciled in for Lionel Messi’s home debut with Paris Saint-Germain.

But an unveiling of a tantalizing frontline of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé remains uncertain — for now anyway.

Messi and Neymar were still in South America on Thursday evening with their respective national teams for World Cup qualifiers — days after their Argentina-Brazil game was suspended amid COVID chaos.

So, PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino has to decide if it’s worth fielding jet-lagged players or rest them for the Champions League opener Wednesday at Club Brugge in Belgium. PSG then hosts Lyon the following weekend.

Meanwhile, Mbappé was nursing a calf injury sustained while on international duty with France. On Tuesday, PSG said Mbappé was receiving treatment for a “low-grade lesion” of the calf muscle and that a new evaluation would be made Thursday “after he resumes running.”

Messi’s lone appearance for PSG since joining from Barcelona was as a substitute in a 2-0 victory at Reims nearly two weeks ago. The Parisian club, however, has happily left questions of his availability unanswered as it milks the public relations buzz of having landed the 34-year-old Argentina star.

Even if league leader PSG is without its top attackers, it should be able to handle business against a newly promoted squad like Clermont, right?

Probably, but low-budget Clermont has been a surprise in a season of surprises for Ligue 1.

It is unbeaten in four games and has scored nine goals — second to PSG’s 12 — to sit third in the standings.

Promising striker Mohamed Bayo will be looking to add to his tally of three goals after returning from international duty in Guinea, where he and his teammates waited out a coup — yes, a coup — that forced the cancellation of their World Cup qualifying match against Morocco.

Bayo also has two assists, including one to teammate Elbasan Rashani to salvage a 2-2 draw against Metz just before the international break. Bayo scored 22 times last season to help Clermont earn promotion.

Rashani, a Kosovo winger, scored two late goals in a 3-3 draw with Lyon to give Clermont hope of achieving more than just avoiding relegation.

“We know Clermont are a dangerous side,” PSG midfielder Julian Draxler told club media. “A lot of our players will be returning very late from their national teams. The rest of us have worked hard. Physically, we’re ready. It’s going to be a long season, so you need all the players. And those who are on the pitch will give their very best.”

NOT SO NICE

Nice has made huge strides under new coach Christophe Galtier. They’ve yet to concede a goal in three games; two wins and a draw.

But the blemish was the fan violence that has now proven costly. The French league handed Nice a two-point penalty, with one suspended, following violence last month during a home game against Marseille.

The match was abandoned with 15 minutes left — Nice was leading 1-0 — after home fans threw projectiles and invaded the field. It will be replayed at a neutral site and without fans.

Nice is at Nantes on Sunday.

In other notable games, Marseille visits Monaco on Saturday night, and second-placed Angers visits Brest on Sunday afternoon. Lyon hosts Strasbourg on Sunday night.

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