This is the Kylian Mbappe show. The Year of Mbappe. Mbappe-Saint-Germain. He is King Kylian, and everything in Paris happens through him. His performance for Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League clash with Real Madrid on Tuesday at the Parc des Princes proved it again.
He struck late to score the only goal of a 1-0 win in the first leg of their round of 16 tie, he earned a penalty (albeit missed by Lionel Messi), he created the biggest chances. He is always a threat, a danger, and he inspires fear in his opponents.
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While Messi forces his game too much, everything comes easy for Mbappe. He is the real playmaker of this team, especially in the Champions League where he is responsible for 64% of PSG’s goals this season, with five goals and four assists in seven matches so far.
Nonetheless, there is an overdependence on him in this team as Mbappe has been involved in 50% of the goals scored by the PSG in all competitions. Too often this season, there was nothing apart from him. He has been the only spark in far too many occasions and if you analyse the Ligue 1 leaders without his individual performances, then they look very average.
However, the game against Real Madrid was different. This time, as has been all too rare this season, there was also a team around Mbappe, a real collective strength and unity. Even if the ultimate difference still came from the No. 7, PSG had their best collective performance of the season, when it mattered the most. They outplayed Real Madrid, outsmarted them. They put them under pressure for 95 minutes. The numbers speak for themselves, of course: 39 touches in the box for PSG to seven for Madrid, 1.87 expected goals to 0.10, 21 shots to three. Never had the Parisians had so many shots in a European knockout game before in their history.
But the most revealing stat is without a doubt the 16 balls they recovered in the final third of the pitch. Again, numbers that PSG had never racked up at this stage of the competition. These are ball-recovery figures you would expect from Manchester City or Liverpool. They forced the leaders of LaLiga leaders into making mistakes.
They were helped by the tactics from Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, who set up his team far too deep and played right into PSG’s hands. Why such a negative approach? Even with Karim Benzema not fully fit, it was a big mistake made by the coach and one that could cost them dearly in three weeks time in the return leg at the Bernabeu.
Yet, PSG were brave, intense, focused and united. The goal came from one last play built from the back; Presnel Kimpembe found Mbappe between the lines, then substitute Neymar‘s creativity moved the ball further down the left with a backheel, and finally Mbappe surged into the box between two defenders to apply the finish through the legs of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino deserves some credit for picking the right team and for inspiring them. Leandro Paredes and Danilo Pereira were perfect in the way they brought the intensity and effort, and helped keep Madrid’s attacking duo Benzema and Vinicius Junior quiet by doubling up on them. The Argentine coach prepared the counter-press perfectly by putting pressure on defender Eder Militao, who had only an 80% pass completion rate. Every single PSG player was committed, involved and up for it. They showed, once again, great character.
This is the sixth game this season that PSG have scored the winning goal after the 85th minute. They have a “never give up” mentality that can take them far, but only if they put in more collective performances like this one. The question, naturally, is why are they only now raising their level up like this? Why aren’t they always playing like this? Why do they have to wait to face Real Madrid in a Champions League knockout match to finally play as a team?
Against Manchester City at home in the group stage of the competition they worked hard, played deep and fought, but they still conceded lots of chances and shots. This time, they really played as a collective unit, and this could well be a turning point in their season.
Even if they expect a much better and stronger Real Madrid for the second leg and some tougher tests should they advance, they now have a blueprint for how to work collectively. And they also have King Kylian.
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