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European preview: PSG wait on Messi, Serie A season kicks off

With Serie A getting underway six weeks after Italy's triumph at Euro 2020, the 2021/22 season is in full swing across Europe.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Spanish defender Sergio Ramos (L) and Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi react during a presentation ceremony prior to the French L1 football match between Paris Saint-Germain and Racing Club Strasbourg at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on August 14, 2021. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

With Serie A getting underway six weeks after Italy’s triumph at Euro 2020, the 2021/22 season is in full swing across Europe.

AFP Sport previews the pick of the action on the continent, as Lionel Messi waits for his Paris Saint-Germain debut, his old club focus on life after the Argentine, and Inter Milan begin their defence of the Scudetto.

Mbappe in the spotlight
Brest v Paris Saint-Germain, Friday 1900 GMT

While PSG wait for Lionel Messi to make his debut, along with Sergio Ramos and Gianluigi Donnarumma, they have been busy trying to quash speculation about the future of Kylian Mbappe. Will he leave for Real Madrid? Or will he extend his contract which expires after this season?

In the meantime Mbappe has done his talking on the field — while Messi and Neymar are yet to feature this season, the France striker set up four goals in PSG’s first two matches, wins over Troyes and Strasbourg.

On Friday Mauricio Pochettino’s Parisians take on Brest, a club who have not beaten PSG since 1985 and whose entire operating budget would not cover Messi’s annual salary.

Inter a shadow of their old selves?
Inter Milan v Genoa, Saturday 1630 GMT

For fans of Inter, the joy at seeing their team win last season’s Serie A title — and thereby end the long period of Juventus domination in Italy — has evaporated over a summer in which they have lost their coach, Antonio Conte, and their top scorer Romelu Lukaku.

Cost cutting from Chinese owners Suning saw Conte leave with Simone Inzaghi coming in from Lazio to replace him. Lukaku has been sold to Chelsea while star right-back Achraf Hakimi left for PSG.

It’s not entirely doom and gloom though, as Edin Dzeko and Denzel Dumfries arrived as replacements and Turkey’s Hakan Calhanoglu joined from rivals AC Milan.

Inter face Genoa at San Siro in their opening game and fans will be back — the Italian government has permitted clubs to open stadiums to 50 percent capacity.

Life goes on after Messi…
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona, Saturday 2000 GMT

For Barcelona, the first game of the post-Messi era could hardly have gone better as Ronald Koeman’s side beat Real Sociedad 4-2. Now they go away to face more Basque opposition with a visit to Athletic Bilbao.

The opening game was a reminder that Barca still have a strong starting XI, from Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba at the back, to Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Pedri in midfield and Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann up front.

Pique scored against Real Sociedad but could miss out with a calf problem against Athletic. Barca won 3-2 the last time these sides met in Bilbao, with Messi scoring twice.

Nagelsmann up and running with Bayern
Bayern Munich v Cologne, Sunday 1530 GMT

Julian Nagelsmann already has his first trophy since becoming Bayern Munich coach after his new side beat Borussia Dortmund 3-1 to win the German Super Cup on Tuesday. Now he makes his home debut as the Bundesliga champions face Cologne at the Allianz Arena.

Bayern are looking for their first win of the league campaign in what will also be their first home game since the death of legendary goal-scorer Gerd Mueller last weekend.

Cologne only escaped relegation last season after beating second-tier side Holstein Kiel in a two-legged play-off. It is 10 years since they defeated Bayern but they do head to the Allianz Arena fresh from beating Hertha Berlin on opening day.

Allegri back at Juve
Udinese v Juventus, Sunday 1630 GMT

An old face has returned to begin a new era at Juventus. After Inter ended their run of nine successive titles, Juve got rid of coach Andrea Pirlo and re-appointed Massimiliano Allegri.

Winner of five titles in five seasons before departing in 2019, Allegri begins his second spell away at Udinese. Eyes will be on the returning coach but also on Cristiano Ronaldo, who at 36 was the top scorer in Serie A last season.

This week he rubbished reports he was seeking a move away from Juve to return to Real Madrid.