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More than Kylian Mbappé: How PSG’s epic Champions League comeback put the French star’s supporting cast in the spotlight



More than Kylian Mbappé: How PSG's epic Champions League comeback put the French star's supporting cast in the spotlight

Everything around Paris Saint-Germain since the beginning of 2024 is about Kylian Mbappé. Everything that had to do with the French giants and wasn’t about the France international has quickly turned into something ultimately linked to the 25-year-old and his future. From the eternal saga over Mbappé’s proposed move to Real Madrid this summer to a tug-of-war between whoever the French superstar’s future employer is and Les Bleus prior to the Olympic Games in Paris like Luis Enrique is building a future without him — Mbappe is always there.

Even the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final with Barcelona was as much about the man from Bondy as it was about Barcelona’s unexpected triumph and the brilliance of young gems Pau Cubarsi and Yamine Lamal – the latter also dazzling for 30 minutes on Tuesday before leaving. Mbappé’s no-show in the opening match sparked all kinds of debates and criticism in the French capital, with virtually no one defending PSG’s number 7. That perhaps best illustrates how self-centered and divisive the former AS Monaco man has become in his career. current Parisian environment, which he seems to have outgrown.

And yet. Tuesday’s sensational 4-1 win over Barça in Catalonia wasn’t just about Mbappé. Indeed, until the final 30 minutes, much of this midweek’s reverse Remontada was achieved despite the PSG talisman, with Luis Enrique’s collective vision coming through to spectacular effect. Sure enough, Mbappe scored the final two goals of a 6-4 aggregate success, including the superb go-ahead goal from the penalty spot before a predatory late sealer at the expense of international teammate Jules Kounde. But until then, the captain of the French national team had ridden in the premium class, almost exclusively without getting his hands dirty, only silencing the noise around him late in the day.

“Since my arrival, I have always been proud to be a Parisian,” said a relieved Mbappe after the match, visibly pleased with the outcome and the compliments. “Even if we had lost, I would still have been proud. It is not because I go through good or bad times that my pride is dented. I am proud to represent the club of the capital of my country – it is special for That I grew up there, it’s great to experience special evenings like this as a Parisian. I want to win the Champions League with Paris.’

To focus solely on Mbappe would be to overlook the brilliant two-footed performances of MVP Ousmane Dembele and Vitinha on Tuesday. Captain Marquinhos also made some big late interventions, which were as crucial as his teammates’ goals at the other end, and Bradley Barcola cut into Barca’s defense at will. Dembele in particular was electric in both Paris and Barcelona, ​​coming back to haunt former boss .

Luis Enrique’s gameplan in the second leg was executed to perfection, with PSG inflicting their two lowest possession games in living memory on the defending La Liga title holders. Les Parisiens also made history by becoming the first team in 25 attempts to overturn a first-leg home loss in a quarter-final. Much of this wasn’t down to Mbappe alone, and it’s hard to make a strong case that he even played a key role in that. The statistics at halftime showed that he was the PSG outfielder with the fewest ball contacts. While his full-time expected goals total was his best performance in a UCL match this season, the vast majority of that came from the penalty he took, and the final goal, which fell into his lap. With only fewer touches in each of the two matches against Real Sociedad, it is the lack of involvement that tells a better story for Mbappe than the xG figures.

The parallels between Neymar and Lionel Messi from the 2017 Remontada will not be lost on many as the legendary Argentina international becomes the face of a comeback in which the Brazilian was the catalyst. The big difference this time is that Mbappé, as the Messi of this particular situation, is the one expected to carry on rather than those actually responsible for much of the work. Could we see Mbappe playing against potential future club Real in the final at Wembley? It’s just one possibility that will require the Spanish giants to knock out defending champions Manchester City on home soil.

Whatever happens, the buzz around Mbappe is unlikely to go away anytime soon until there is at least clarity about his future – possibly if Real leave the UCL on Wednesday, but especially if they are also semi-finalists. It is also unlikely that French President Emmanuel Macron will stop looking for his star player for this summer’s Olympics. He even admitted as much earlier this week: ‘I haven’t spoken to him about it yet, but I hope his club will allow him to do so.’ I have confidence in the French and European clubs, but the problem is the European Championship. The clubs have to play the game so that we can have a great show and that is one of my fears.”

Borussia Dortmund can and will have their say in the semi-finals after overcoming Atletico Madrid in a similarly wild scenario to PSG’s victory on Tuesday. Real’s fate against City could have huge implications for Spain’s UEFA coefficient rankings depending on how Bayern Munich fares. However, it is a huge opportunity for Mbappé and this Parisian team to reach the final, and it is an opportunity they should not miss. The route is auspicious and the French superstar’s supposed last dance with Paris is going more or less according to his plan so far.