Kylian Mbappé put in an abject performance for PSG last Sunday as they fell to a shock 1-0 defeat to Nantes at the Parc des Princes. But the outlook is very different now for Mbappé and his team. He came off the bench in midweek and scored a brace for PSG as they beat Lille 3-0 in the last 16 of the Coupe de France. And he followed that up with another two goals in a 4-2 win in Lyon in the league on Sunday night, reminding everyone how quickly he can change the tide of a match if given a chance. With eight rounds of games left to play in Ligue 1, PSG are top of the table on goal difference. On top of that, Mbappé has become the youngest player in history to reach 100 goals in the French top flight.
Playing on the left of a 4-2-3-1, with the hard-working Moise Kean leading the line and the excellent Ángel Di María on the opposite flank, Mbappé tormented Lyon defender Mattia De Sciglio throughout. With creative midfielders Rafinha and Neymar both absent and Marco Verratti installed as the nominal No 10, Mbappé’s pace offered the ideal outlet for the visitors to play on the counter. He set the tone from the opening kick and would have had an early assist if Kean had finished off his sublime cross. PSG’s performance was especially impressive given how badly they had played in the reverse fixture back in December, when they were beaten 1-0 by Lyon at the Parc des Princes.
Mbappé was replaced by Neymar after 70 minutes, perhaps due to an injury, but this performance offered a firmer rebuttal to his doubters. Even though he is young and is still developing, he turns in big performances at vital moments when his team is under pressure. Despite playing without Neymar and Mauro Icardi, PSG delivered their best domestic performance of the nascent Mauricio Pochettino era, and Mbappé was the star man, underscoring his importance and his reliability in the face of Neymar’s somewhat fraught injury history.
As excellent as Mbappé was, this was a complete team performance, as sporting director Leonardo noted after the match, saying: “Every time our team has needed a result, whether it be against Manchester United, Barcelona or here tonight, we have gotten it done.” There was some myopia in that statement, given that PSG had only taken one point from their previous four matches against the other teams in the top four, but they were more than worthy of the result.
Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe were superb in the centre of the defence, shackling Memphis Depay into perhaps his most ineffective display this season. In goal, Keylor Navas continued his recent surge in form by keeping out efforts from Islam Slimani and Maxence Caqueret late in the game. Abdou Diallo was imperious at left-back, his hard work allowing Mbappé the sort of freedom he often lacks when playing in front of Layvin Kurzawa or Mitchel Bakker. And the central midfield pairing of Idrissa Gueye and Danilo Pereira also looked as comfortable as they have in some time.
Of course, one result does not solve PSG’s many issues. Leonardo was quick to deflect the question when asked about Mbappé’s contract situation in his post-match comments. There is also the question of where Neymar fits best in Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1. Playing as a No 10 seems the most likely, but does that rob the midfield of its ability to press effectively? There is also the upcoming challenge of Bayern Munich in the Champions League after the international break, which will be a big step up from Lyon. Yet, after a comprehensive win that included a number of stellar individual performances, the manager and his players can breathe easily, the pressure that seemed to be mounting on them now lifted.
Lyon manager Rudi Garcia is in the opposite position. Deprived of Houssem Aouar in midfield, he brought in Maxence Caqueret following the youngster’s excellent display in the second half against Reims last weekend. He turned in a decent display, but the rest of the team did not. Frustrated by PSG’s canny back line, Lyon failed to press effectively or offer much invention with the ball, ceding possession far too often and looking short of ideas, as has been the case too often recently.
Garcia’s bizarre decision to start De Sciglio, who has looked badly off the pace since arriving from Juventus on loan in the summer, rather than France international Léo Dubois, was cataclysmic. Garcia and his men will need to respond quickly when they meet Lens after the international break if they are to fulfil the promise they showed at the turn of the year when they briefly went top of the table.
Ligue 1 results
Lille will be frustrated after their 2-1 home defeat to relegation-threatened Nîmes, but they are still level on points with PSG at the top of the table. with the two to face off after the break. They still control their own destiny in the title race despite an uncharacteristically meek display against Nîmes. The southern side have been reinvigorated since installing Pascal Plancque as manager, but they would hardly have expected to win at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy. This result was an aberration though: a testament to the visitors’ motivation and the hosts’ having had a Coupe de France match in midweek. Anyone who thinks the title race is over following the weekend’s results should wait before passing judgment.
Ui-Jo Hwang scored his ninth goal of the season for Bordeaux this weekend as they lost to Montpellier. While his total does not sound remarkable, it is worth remembering that the South Korea international did not find the net for the first time until the middle of December, and no player in France has scored more this calendar year. Hwang is already 28, but he is adept in the air and a hard-working cog in Jean-Louis Gasset’s system. Perhaps he could have a future at a bigger club in France or abroad.
Finally, that victory over Bordeaux saw Montpellier extend their unbeaten run to eight matches and move just one point below sixth-place Marseille in the table. The performance of their veteran defender Hilton gave them another reason to celebrate. Having struggled earlier in the season, with some wondering if the 43-year-old had overstayed his welcome, Hilton has looked increasingly comfortable of late partnering Daniel Congré (himself just weeks from his 36th birthday) in a four-man defence. He is now the oldest outfield player to appear in Europe’s top five leagues since the retirement of Sir Stanley Matthews in 1965, a fitting testament to what has been an underrated spell in France.
Ligue 1 table