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PARIS (AP) — Lionel Messi is looking like his old self again.
After adapting slowly to his new club and league, the Argentina great finally delivered a complete performance in a Paris Saint-Germain shirt this week.
Four months after he left Barcelona to sign a two-year deal with the French club, Messi not only scored twice in the 4-1 win over Club Brugge in the Champions League, he also influenced PSG's play throughout with his dribbling skills, acceleration and pinpoint setups.
Until now, Messi's performances with PSG had left a sense of unfinished business. Apart from a superb strike against Manchester City in September and three assists last month in a game against Saint-Etienne, Messi had failed to impress.
His consistent display against the Belgian champions proved the 34-year-old Argentine remains one of the very best, and highlighted the huge impact of Messi's relationship with Kylian Mbappe. In the absence of the inured Neymar, the pair's understanding up front almost looked telepathic and both players scored twice, with Mbappe setting up Messi's first goal.
Mbappe scored his 29th and 30th Champions League goals. At 22 years, 352 days, he became the youngest player to reach that milestone in the tournament’s history. Messi was already 23 when he reached that mark.
“It’s easy to play with Lionel Messi, he’s the best player in the world,” Mbappe said. “He won the Ballon d’Or a few days ago, he scored two goals ... He is happy and I hope he will help us in the future.”
Meanwhile, Mbappe wants to help Messi, too. And make sure he is at his best when the Champions League returns next year with knockout matches.
Instead of chasing a hat trick against Brugge, Mbappe let Messi take the penalty that sealed the win because he wanted to boost his teammate's confidence.
“We’re going to need him during the season and I’m sure he’ll help us when the big games come," Mbappe told RMC Sport. “He’ll give it back to us, too. It’s good for him to finish with two goals, but it’s also good for us, for the future."
Messi now needs to carry his European form into the French league this weekend.
In the physical competition renowned for its defensive strength, the diminutive player has struggled to find his rhythm. Ahead of Sunday's game against Monaco, he has scored only one goal in nine league appearances. A meager tally compared to his 30 goals in the Spanish league last season.
Messi's lack of efficiency has not hurt PSG's ambitions, however. The club has a 11-point lead over Rennes at the top of the standings heading into this weekend's games, with third-place Marseille lagging two points further back. Rennes faces Nice on Sunday while Marseille travels to Strasbourg.
The Associated Press