The fuss about Kylian Mbappé (23) is only slowly dying down. After the Classique win on Sunday, the question arises: is coach Christophe Galtier now even adjusting the line-up according to the striker’s wishes?
Top match won, lead in the standings extended, course set for title defence. The 1-0 win in the Classique over rivals Olympique Marseille was an extremely important sporting success for Paris St. Germain – and yet observers could not shake the feeling that it was only a secondary success for the club management on this Sunday.
For the headlines belonged not to the 90 minutes at the Parc des Princes, but to Kylian Mbappé’s statements in the mixed zone after the final whistle. “I’m very happy and I never asked to leave in January,” he denied media reports that had become loud during the week – and which Mbappé said “shocked him as much as everyone else”. He said he had just been “taking a nap” when the reports began to boil up just hours before the Champions League game against Benfica Lisbon and was “stunned” afterwards. “I want to make it clear that it’s completely wrong. “
At times, it had even been rumoured recently that Mbappé could end his contract early after French investigative portal “Mediapart” reported on a social media discredit of the striker orchestrated by PSG. “I try to do the best I can on the pitch. When I start to get involved with other things, I get tired quickly,” Mbappé said when asked about the affair. “When you play for PSG, you know what you’re getting into – the good and the bad.”
Apart from the last half-sentence, they were statements entirely to the liking of the club’s management after days of silence. But this Sunday at Prinzenpark also seemed to work a bit on the principle of “one hand washing the other” – in a luxury Qatari washbasin, of course. Because before Mbappé’s club management got what they wanted in the mixed zone, Mbappé had got what he wanted on the pitch.
Instead of the usual 3-4-2-1 under Christophe Galtier, PSG played a 4-3-1-2 system against Marseille. Mbappé was not the only centre-forward as usual, but nominally played together with Lionel Messi in the forward line. In real terms, however, he often dropped to the left wing.
It is no secret that Mbappé himself prefers this solution – similar to that of the French national team – and does not like to play as the clear number nine. This is probably one of the reasons why he wanted to sign one in the summer. According to the latest reports, the fact that PSG did not comply with this wish was a central reason for his dissatisfaction. After the 0-0 draw against Reims on the previous matchday, he once again used an ironic hashtag in his Instagram story to point out that he was fed up with being a striker.
So now Galtier was accommodating Mbappé – in the very week that departure rumours and reports of his star’s growing discontent have been doing the rounds. There had already been speculation in recent days that the 23-year-old was looking to increase his power within the club. So is this now starting to influence the tactical direction?
4-3-1-2: A system with a future?
Not surprisingly, Galtier denied any connection at the press conference. “The last few games have been slow,” he explained. “We started the season well, but the opponents adjusted very well to us. Against Marseille, I wanted to use my three strikers in their best positions.” In doing so, he said Mbappé should “only act as a centre-forward on long balls” and move out to the left for the rest of the game. In doing so, Galtier continued, “we wanted to quickly shift our play to the outside so that Marseille’s defence could get going and Neymar could move into the penalty area.”
His plan – or Mbappé’s plan? – worked well in any case, the close result still somewhat obscuring the Parisians’ dominant display. “It is very likely that we will continue to refine this system,” Galtier held out the prospect. “After the Benfica game we had a training session to work on it – and I was not satisfied. In the final training session on Saturday, I was. At the end of the session, I received very positive feedback on the new system.” That one of them came from Mbappé should not be too unlikely.