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‘Mbappe not to blame for latest PSG Champions League exit’

On Wednesday, Borussia Dortmund played a magnificent game to defeat the favourites to reach the final, Paris St-Germain.

The finger of blame was aimed mostly at 25-year-old superstar Kylian Mbappe with the reason being, if he wants to be counted among the greats, that he must find a way to be the difference in such matches – like all the greats.

Except Mbappe couldn’t. More was expected from the most expensive player in football than hitting the crossbar in the 86th minute.

“I’m the guy who should score goals and be decisive. When things are good, I take all the limelight and when they are not, you have to take the shadow,” he said after the second leg.

The media has since raged about the deceptive performance of the Frenchman.

These are the nights in which he must produce the goods if he hopes to be compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, especially when up against a 35-year-old Mats Hummels and a Dortmund defence that has shipped 40 goals in 32 Bundesliga games.

Yes it’s true, Mbappe was poor compared to the standards he has previously set but, while he didn’t have a good night, he is not to blame for the French champions’ exit from the competition.

Individuals, no matter how talented, cannot be expected to produce clutch moments in every single game to rescue their side, when the team lacks the necessary cohesion and tactical understanding to overcome well-organised opponents.

Luis Enrique has been credited with creating an identity and forging a good team spirit, earning him job security, but his decision-making this year has left a lot to be desired, as have his tactics.

PSG played a different attacking line-up against each opponent they played in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

For a young team which went through a lot of change over the summer, the onus should have been on forging connections on the pitch rather than constant change – stopping them from developing chemistry and understanding.

We’ve seen Mbappe play as a number nine against Barcelona, flanked by Bradley Barcola and Ousmane Dembele in a 4-3-3 formation. Against Real Sociedad, it was Barcola and Mbappe upfront in a 4-3-1-2 shape. Against Dortmund, Gonçalo Ramos was picked to be the striker, the presence in the box, while Dembele and Mbappe played wide.

For a team tasked with playing an attacking game to overcome a 1-0 deficit from the first leg, it was disappointing to watch how few risks the midfielders took to help the attack.

Vitinha and Warren Zaire-Emery have produced impressive performances this season, with the former especially good on the night, but rarely did we see the midfielders storm into the box and ask questions of the Dortmund backline. The safe option was almost always picked.

There was little connection between the players on the flanks. Mbappe and Nuno Mendes didn’t work well together, with the latter only pushing forward more once PSG were 1-0 down. Regularly we saw Mbappe forced to take on more than one player as Dortmund players surrounded him.

No fluid interchanges, no understanding between the attacking players, no risks taken by the midfield to ensure several bodies in the box. Why was Ramos picked, instead of opting for the pace of Barcola, when he has started so infrequently? Where were the adjustments when it was clear that Dortmund were handling the threats remarkably well?

Enrique failed to truly convince in his strategies in European matches this season.

Moreover, his decision to ensure the club can move on from Mbappe when he leaves has led to him benching the star often in the run-up to this game. Understandable, but the counter-argument is would you not want your star to be in the form of his life when taking on the biggest of matches? Should the priority not have been to extract the best out of him while you have him?
Yet Enrique, like all the coaches before him, is also not entirely to blame. The construction of the squad continues to prove inadequate.

Champions League-winning teams rely on balanced midfields. PSG have often chosen to invest in their frontline but not in the area that requires the most help.

The great Barcelona side under Pep Guardiola, Real Madrid, Manchester City and more have all been able to count on a tactically intelligent and creative midfield department to feed the attack and protect the defence.

Whether it be closing down passing lanes, providing the movements between the lines or the ingenuity required to resolve matches, have we seen a perfectly balanced PSG midfield in recent years?

Where is the Parisian club’s answer to Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Pedri or Kevin de Bruyne? PSG lack creativity and experience. Their players have a lot of potential but more is required to win the big matches and produce performances befitting of European champions.

This is a young squad and PSG are at the start of a new, more sustainable project. It will take time to develop the team, but blaming Mbappe for not single-handedly winning this match seems harsh – especially as we are made to believe the greats never suffered.

Was Messi not part of the Barcelona side humbled 8-2 by Bayern Munich? Was he not the worst rated player in the humiliating 3-0 loss to Roma in 2018, which led to their exit from the competition?

Remember Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and their problems getting past Lyon in the Champions League once upon a time?

Mbappe, thus far, can absolutely be compared to the greats. He has done everything he could to help push PSG on.

According to Opta analysts, Mbappe has managed 21 goals and 11 assists in the 31 home games he started in this Champions League. He has also created the “most chances under pressure (23) of any player in the competition this season”.

He helped France win the World Cup in 2018 as a teenager and scored a hat-trick in the last World Cup final. He has done it on the biggest stages and produced the consistency of the greats, and that is despite the instability of PSG – the constant change in coach, players and club strategy.

No player can produce a clutch moment in every match and, while criticism is part of the job and required when expectations are not met, players must be allowed to have a bad night without us questioning their abilities and making the inevitable comparisons to those who came before them.

Context and proper analysis of the match will help us understand why we haven’t seen the best of certain players.

Mbappe is, and remains, the best player in world football right now.

Long-term consistency and longevity will determine his place in history but one imagines that, when played at a club with more stability and a better project, we will soon see him raise the Champions League trophy.
Bbc

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