PARIS (AP) — While Paris Saint-Germain fans eagerly await superstar Lionel Messi's first goal for his new club, they have already witnessed Achraf Hakimi's remarkable scoring prowess.
Hakimi is a right back, but his finishing is worthy of a forward. He showed that once again on Wednesday night with both goals in a hard-fought 2-1 win at Metz.
His last-gasp winner ensured PSG's winning streak continued, and the club can notch an eighth straight league win if it beats Montpellier at home on Saturday.
Hakimi's goals were pleasing on the eye in the way they allied great technique with excellent composure.
The first was a cushioned, side-footed volley from an angle that Messi would have been proud of; the second was a run followed by a precise curling shot into the bottom corner.
Hakimi also hit the crossbar with another shot after making a darting run in from the right flank.
He capped his PSG debut last month with a goal after just 18 minutes in a similar way, with a marauding run down the right followed by an angled shot that looped over the goalkeeper and flew under the crossbar.
Hakimi's running, dribbling, and shooting make him look at times like a winger. He has scored three goals in seven league games for PSG. Last season, his seven goals helped Inter Milan wrestle the league title from powerhouse Juventus.
Still, eyebrows were raised when PSG paid 60 million euros ($70.3 million) to buy him — a hefty price for a defender, let alone a right back.
Messi’s arrival from Barcelona was the highlight of a huge offseason recruitment drive, but so far Hakimi looks like PSG’s best signing.
The 22-year-old Morocco international is quick, athletic, elusive and strong. His fitness level allows him to charge forward in attack and backtrack quickly to defend.
While midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum has made a sluggish start since joining from Liverpool, and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is battling with veteran Keylor Navas for the No. 1 jersey, Hakimi has settled in straight away and made the position his own.
“I'm very happy for him, he's a good lad,” PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino said of Hakimi. “He brings a lot to the team, not just his goals but all the work he does down his flank.”
PSG left back Juan Bernat is close to making a return after one year out with a serious knee injury.
When he does, it will give PSG two of the most dangerous attacking fullbacks in European soccer.
French clubs will be hoping their fans behave this weekend after three high-profile incidents of violence have marred the start of the season, and put the league under pressure to resolve the problem.
Marseille supporters fought with their Angers counterparts at the final whistle on Wednesday.
That came just days after supporters from northern rivals Lens and Lille clashed at halftime in chaotic scenes with seats ripped and thrown.
There was also serious disorder at the Nice-Marseille match last month.
France's sports minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has urged soccer authorities to take stronger measures.
“We will have discussions once again with the (French) league and (national) federation to see what they plan to do,” he told LCI television on Thursday.
There are two matches with potential flashpoints this weekend.
Nice visits Saint-Etienne on Saturday and second-place Marseille hosts fourth-place Lens at Stade Velodrome on Sunday in a match between southern and northern sides.
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Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press