Kylian Mbappe is no natural midfielder


Three months into the 2021/22 season, and the world is still waiting for Paris Saint-Germain to be transformed into the football version of the Harlem Globetrotters.

They have the biggest stars, play in one of the world’s biggest cities, and their kits even come from Air Jordan. And yet when they have taken to the pitch this season, PSG looked more like a team with Blackpool Tower on their arms rather than the Eiffel Tower (Ian Holloway’s 2010/11 Tangerines were much more entertaining, for the record).

Mauricio Pochettino is not well suited for what PSG are trying to build, it is a given at this point. But his stars do not pull on either.

Lionel Messi has not made an impact in France yet, and questions are creeping up on whether he will ever do so at this stage of his career. Neymar is past his best and plays like Jack Grealish without giant calves. But many of PSG’s problems stem from using Kylian Mbappe as number nine.

The 22-year-old is the safest bet among players of his generation to win a Ballon d’Or sometime in the next decade. It has felt like an inevitability since he broke onto the stage with Monaco five years ago. He has already posted his resume and scored a ridiculous number of goals at the highest level. However, that does not mean that he is a center forward.

Mbappe struggled to lead the line once again in PSG’s 2-2 draw against RB Leipzig, rejecting a host of chances while not looking like a “number nine” at all.

All his chances came on counterattack, sprinting into a whole half of the space (which is standard against Bundesliga teams). Not all teams will be able to afford PSG that kind of space, and Mbappe does not have the instincts of center forwards like Robert Lewandowski or Karim Benzema to compensate for that.

Georginio Wijnaldum made a statement on Wednesday night when he brought his PSG career to life. This is not to say that he should play at the front, but it showed that if smart football players play in their best positions, there is a greater chance that they will help you score goals.

Even though Messi was absent from the draw at Red Bull Arena, PSG’s front line still looks terribly unbalanced without a natural striker at the top. Despite all their riches, they still lack a direct path to goals and a player to unite all their superstars.

If (when) Mbappe moves to Real Madrid, he will be joined in the attack by Benzema, who has surprised many fans with his late Ballon d’Or increase. Vinicius Jr. also comes into his own, and recruiting Mbappe to join him on the sidelines is a daunting opportunity. This is partly because the guy who plays between the two is one of the most natural midfielders in the industry.

PSG have no one with Benzema’s profile in their squad right now (Mauro Icardi is far from that and is too busy with internet quarrels with his wife anyway). Pochettino – or whoever succeeds him in the end – can continue with Mbappe as number nine, but that will only get them so far.

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