Last night at Old Trafford, Olé Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United fell to French Champions PSG in a performance reminiscent of Mourinho-esque days of old.
The home side were thoroughly outplayed in Solskjaer’s first European game at the helm of the Manchester club, with PSG showing the world that even in Neymar and Cavani’s absence they are still one of the elite teams in this year’s competition.
The post-mortem on the last 16 first leg clash has had a plethora of twisting and weaving narratives.
Angel Di Maria’s triumphant return to Old Trafford. Thomas Tuchel’s tactical upper hand over his compatriot Solskjaer. The loss of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard’s pace in the team. Solskjaer’s first taste of defeat in the Manchester United dugout. The list goes on.
One thing that has been mentioned, but cannot be understated was the performance of Kylian Mbappé, in the absence of his fellow strike partners Neymar and Edinson Cavani.
While the talk in the lead-up to last night’s game centred around the fact that 20 goal Neymar and 22 goal Cavani were missing for the Parisien outfit, it should really have centred around the fact that 23 goal Mbappe was very much available and ready to fire.
The 20-year old started the evening rather slow by his standards but grew into the first half in unison with his side. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Mbappé showed flickers of brilliance as he found himself on the ball more and more, the sense of collective dread in the United defence growing along with the Frenchman’s confidence.
Where Mbappé surprises even his most staunch followers is with his pace, and he showed that in abundance as he glided across the Old Trafford turf.
It’s almost as if he is playing at full speed while the rest of the footballing world operates at half pace.
In one instance he took the ball in the middle of the park and turned past United’s Victor Lindelof before one burst of pace took him by the Swede quicker than a hiccup.
What choice had Lindelof but to commit a foul?
For his goal, PSG’s second, when Di Maria picks the ball up on the left, Mbappé has a run on Lindelof and Bailly, both of whom are not short of pace in their own right.
Mbappé darts in between the pair to meet the winger’s inch-perfect cross and give the French champions a commanding 2-0 lead.
Moments later, he once again breezes in behind the United defence, his delicate attempt at a lob denied by the outstretched arm of David De Gea.
Last night Mbappé showed that speed kills, and in the Frenchman, PSG have one of the games great assassins.
Where Mbappé shone, his opposing striker sadly did not. There had been talk of the Rashford vs Mbappé comparison, their similarities, their strengths, their ceilings.
Rashford struggled against the defensive juggernaut of Thiago Silva, but to knock him for this performance given the revitalised form he’s found under Solskjaer would be foolish.
Then again, so would comparing him to Kylian Mbappé.
There’s no doubt that Rashford will go on to great things in the game. He’s already proven that he as all the tools to be a world class striker and to be United’s number 9 at just 21 years of age is no mean feat. Mbappé, however, is in a league of his own.
The 20-year old shouldn’t be compared to any player in and around his own age because the truth is he has already surpassed all of them. His performances this season, not just at club but also international level have sky-rocketed him into the upper-echelon of world football’s finest.
Going by the Ballon d’Or ratings he is the fourth best player on the planet. Marcus Rashford is an incredible talent, but in Mbappé we are seeing something special.
From “Neymar’s PSG” To “Mbappé’s PSG”
The Champions League has always been a stage for the brightest to shine and at Old Trafford Mbappé did just that, but with Manchester United now seemingly dispatched, sterner tests will surely follow.
As Cavani and Neymar find their way back to fitness it will be interesting to see if and how Mbappé operates taking a backseat to the pair in the front three.
His stats this season, suggest he’ll do just fine, but last night felt different. It was the first time this PSG side truly felt like Mbappé’s team, on Europe’s biggest stage.
Will this represent the symbolic changing of the guard for Parisien outfit? If Neymar has anything to say about it, probably not. One thing is for sure though, Mbappé and PSG are legitimate contenders in this year’s competition.