Messi, Mbappe and Neymar will join the squad for the first time since the World Cup

Paris Saint-Germain’s trip to Rennes on Sunday is the first time their superstar front three of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have all played together since the World Cup.

After returning from Qatar and playing PSG’s first two games after the tournament, Mbappe returned to training on Thursday.

He left for New York for a break and Messi was nowhere to be seen after returning and scoring in a 2-0 win for the Ligue 1 leaders against Angers on Wednesday.

The World Cup was a clear motivating factor in the trio’s excellent form in the early months of the campaign, and how they play together will be crucial in determining how the rest of the season goes for PSG.

They are six points clear of Lens before finishing the first half of the season at Rennes, but the Champions League is their main objective.

After failing to top their group, Christophe Gaultier’s side went through to face Bayern Munich in the last 16, with the first leg at home scheduled for February 14.

Galtier described Messi, 35, as “calm and in good shape physically” in Argentina’s first game since beating Mbappe’s France on penalties in last month’s epic World Cup final.

The question is how much encouragement the former Barcelona star gets after this career-defining victory.

PSG are keen to extend his contract for a third season in the French capital and Messi’s biggest aim will now be to win the Champions League for the first time since 2015.

2018 world champion Mbappe will be desperate to get his hands on the Champions League trophy for the first time after losing the World Cup final despite scoring a hat-trick.

Neymar, meanwhile, looks a bit like the odd man out – he left the World Cup in tears after Brazil lost on penalties in the quarter-finals, possibly ending his chances of winning the trophy forever.

He was then sent off in PSG’s first game since Qatar against Strasbourg, completing a miserable end to 2022.

But for PSG it’s not just about those three.

They look light in defence, where they seem overly reliant on an aging Sergio Ramos, and lack muscle in midfield, an area where the vulnerable Marco Verratti is their key player.

Gaultier stresses that they still need time to get back up to speed.

“We’re all getting used to playing together again and you can see sometimes that we had some connections between the players that we had a lot before the World Cup,” he said after the midweek game.

Player to watch: Ross Barkley

If the England midfielder was hoping to restart his career in France, the move was not working out for the 29-year-old former Everton prodigy as he struggled to make a serious impact in the first three months of the season. However, things improved for him in early 2023. Barkley scored a superb goal in a 2-1 defeat against Rennes on January 2 and then came off the bench to score twice in Wednesday’s 6-1 win over Montpellier.

The last game was also a first for Nice when coach Lucien Favre was sacked and Didier Digard appointed. Barkley hopes to make a big impact under a new manager in the coming months with the club owned by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe.

Key statistics

48 – Mbappe, Neymar and Messi have scored for their clubs this season

10 – Bottom side Angers have lost their last 10 league matches. The record for most consecutive defeats in a single French top-flight season is 12

8 – Rennes have won their last eight home league games.

Fixtures (Kick Off GMT)


Lens vs Auxerre (1600), Marseille vs Lorient (1800), Lyon vs Strasbourg (2000)


Lille v Troyes (1200), Reims v Nice, Angers v Clermont, Montpellier v Nantes, Toulouse v Brest (all 1400), Monaco v Ajaccio (1605), Rennes v Paris Saint-Germain (1945)


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