February 17, 2022

Kylian Mbappé ruthless, Real Madrid toothless: A moment of magic from the prized Frenchman separated the sides

It was in the stars. You could not have written a better script – oh but if you were to write one, this is probably how it would have played out.

Kylian Mbappe scores through the legs of Thibaut Courtois to give them a slender lead in their first-leg Champions League tie against Real Madrid.
Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.

There was only going to be one result tonight, although for 93 minutes it seemed as though Real Madrid were sticking to their own script in this competition – suffering but getting the needed result. Real came with a plan to stifle a stacked Paris Saint-Germain squad (even without Neymar starting). A clear model was set in place to hit them on the counter, but nothing of that sort manifested itself throughout the match. The midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Casemiro, and Luka Modric, ever-reliable had forgotten how to pass and there was a dearth of energy; very much required. Karim Benzema did not look 100% and Vinicius Jr just did not have the impact we’d become accustomed to this season. A quintessential Real Madrid had all the ingredients but lacked the necessary seasoning. Instead, we saw PSG completely dominate the play, while Real were penned back for the entirety of the game. Real Madrid rode their luck and looked to be putting in a stereotypical performance in Europe – suffering in parts to sting when their opponents were caught sleeping. Instead, it was their prized jewel, Kylian Mbappé; who provided the killer blow.

The first half was dominated by PSG who were the only side who came with any sort of impetus on the evening. Kylian Mbappé looked the most likely to open the scoring or deliver the assist. On 5′ he turned Dani Carvajal inside out on the wing and Angel Di Maria should have done better with his cross. Moments later the Frenchman was in on goal himself, after again beating Dani Carvajal to a ball over the top – he outran and outmuscled Carvajal. Mbappé could not however gain complete control of the ball and scuffed the shot against Thibaut Courtois – who himself had a great game, unlike the rest of his teammates. Real Madrid looked in shock the whole half, already reserved to play out for a draw. A throwback to a time when Jose Mourinho managed them – yet this team may not be as suited to that tactical game. However, despite all the dominance from PSG the first half finished 0-0. They would have been disappointed and Real Madrid relieved that the scoreline remained level. Surely, a change would be imposed by Carlo Ancelotti in the second half.

The second half played out the same way, but Real growing ever more comfortable to defend and see this game out for a draw. That plan almost came to ruins as Kylian Mbappé won PSG a penalty – tormenting Dani Carvajal yet again – he’ll be hoping Real Madrid sign him, just so he doesn’t ever have to face him on the pitch again. Another script was brewing as Lionel Messi stepped up, this was his chance once more – to lay the sword into a team he’s almost obliged to torture. Yet, surprisingly and unsurprisingly he couldn’t convert. The Argentine has now missed 5 out of 23 penalties in the Champions League – tied with Thierry Henry as the highest – a record he will not want to lead. On this occasion it was it was Thibaut Courtois who had denied him, one of the better performers from Real Madrid on the night.

A similar pattern was ensuing, as for all their dominance, it did seem PSG were relying on some individual brilliance to break the deadlock. While they pressed and harried Real Madrid, their effort and dominance was not opening up Real Madrid in the way they would have hoped. Often at times, it was the Spanish side not helping themselves, with haphazard passing and a lack of composure when it was most needed. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were unlike themselves and the front three could not link up at all. On 72′ Carlo Ancelotti made some substitutions to bring in some much-needed energy and some assurances on the right side of the pitch – where Kylian Mbappé was causing havoc. At the same time, Mauricio Pochettino brought on Neymar, another element of threat for Real Madrid to worry about. Yet, it was Mbappé who always looked the most likely to score. That left-hand side was his to own all night – as on 77′ he created another chance out of nothing – fed in by Messi he tried to bend one in from the left-hand side of the box – this time it drifted agonizingly wide.

0-0 was on the cards and taking everything into account, it would have been a great result for Real Madrid. The 94th minute loomed and so did an ominous Kylian Mbappé. Carlo Ancelotti’s precarious game-plan was laid to ruins and Real Madrid reaped what they had sowed. The Frenchman swiveled through Lucas Vasquez and Eder Militao, both who could have maybe done better, yet take nothing away from the brilliance of Mbappé, who saw the space between them – skipped through into the box – composed himself, opened up his body – to score through the legs of Thibaut Courtois. Mbappé saw the headlines and grabbed them. He needs no introduction to Real Madrid but they got another glimpse of what he is capable of. A team obsessed with his signature – just gave them another reason to be infatuated with him.

While the difference on the night was Kylian Mbappé, Real Madrid had an awful performance on the pitch. PSG had 21 shots, while Real Madrid had 3 (none on target). PSG had an xG of 1.88 while Real had 0.14. To put it lightly, Real Madrid had not played well at all. The Madrid press is in a frenzy now – calling for the head of Carlo Ancelotti – obviously more incensed about the performance rather than the result. On the face of it, 1-0 away to PSG is not terrible, especially now when there are no away goals in the competition. Yet as always, it is always about the context. While PSG played well enough to warrant the win, Real never showed anything in the whole 90 minutes, to inspire any hope of a win. It’s not the Real Madrid way; to just defend. Even in their worst performances, their fans would rather see them put their hearts out on the pitch and lose by a bigger scoreline – if it means they are entertained – if it means there is something to cheer for. There was nothing to cheer for on Tuesday night.

PSG played for the glory and Real looked content to draw but lost out there on the pitch – both tactically and ideologically. There didn’t seem to be a coherent plan to actually go looking for a goal – and if that was the case why even start an injured Karim Benzema? Instead, we saw a toothless performance, and even if they had teeth, they wouldn’t have known when to bite. Their superstars were off their mark. Their midfield trio looked fatigued and drained of their abilities. Their talismanic striker was clearly unfit. Their energetic Brazilian winger was isolated and often made to work harder than accustomed to. In juxtaposition, their opponents – often labeled a team full of individuals looked hungry and organized. Their superstar Kylian Mbappé was ruthless, sharp, and blisteringly fast – adjectives often attributed to Real Madrid – in a competition they feel is their own. Tonight, Real Madrid were a shadow of themselves – with familiar faces on the pitch, but unrecognizable in performance. They failed to muster a shot on target, they struggled to string simple passes together – while their dream signing, showed everything they were lacking.

Kylian Mbappé drew the sword and pierced the hearts of Madrid fans around the world. No regard for the hurt he’d cause and yet some are probably smiling. A bittersweet moment for many. If they are to lose, why not from one of the best players in the world – a cold-blooded finisher – who many Madrid fans already believe is theirs. You would not have thought that though with the way the Frenchman ran to the corner to celebrate in ecstatic fashion. ‘Kylian Mbappé scores a 94th-minute winner’ – every Madrid fan will be hoping that next season this is cause to celebrate, but on this occasion, it puts their Champions League hopes in trepidation.

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