Kylian Mbappé‘s claim to being the world’s most gifted young player is undisputed.
Since debuting in December 2015, and breaking Thierry Henry’s 21-year-old record to become Monaco’s youngest-ever player, the reigning Golden Boy has been directly involved in a goal once every 87 minutes for club and country, scoring 49 and assisting a further 29 in 109 senior appearances.
The French wonderkid has proven his talent on every level, scoring prolifically for Monaco and continuing to do so after his high-profile switch to PSG, breaking records on the international stage in between.
With 12 France caps to his name, we have only been blessed with glimpses of what the Paris-born prodigy can produce with Les Bleus and will likely need to wait for the World Cup for him to be truly unleashed. At club level, though, his talent is beyond doubt.
Kylian Mbappé has now been directly involved in 78 goals in his senior career for club & country.
49 goals ⚽️
29 assists ?️
He has scored or assisted once every 86.7 minutes since making his debut in December 2015. pic.twitter.com/yyKyFkRDol
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 27, 2018
But as the teenager prepares to face his former club in Saturday’s Coupe de la Ligue final, the biggest indicator of ability is not the incredible output of goals; Mbappé has fulfilled two different roles for his current and previous employer, playing each to perfection.
Starting up front with Radamel Falcao in Monaco’s Ligue 1-conquering 4-2-2-2 formation, the 19-year-old now finds himself in a front three, transforming himself from a fearsome frontman into devastating winger.
By no means a different player – even for France U19s Mbappé’s ability to play across the entire frontline was clear – but given the new side, formation and style, seeing even more of his special talent was to be expected.
So, ahead of the rematch of last year’s Coupe de la Ligue final, we’ve taken a look at what exactly those changes have been and what his former side can expect.
All of the take-ons
The starkest contrast in Mbappé’s game this season compared to his time at Monaco has been the rate at which he takes opponents on.
Due to PSG’s 63.1% average share of possession, compared to Monaco’s 51.5% last season, combined with the fact he is no longer the primary outlet for his team, the fleet-footed forward enjoys more touches in far deeper areas, which is terrifying. Now averaging 53.7 touches per 90 compared to last 36.7 season as a result, the famed dribbling ability of Mbappé has come to fore.
Whereas for Monaco his pace would be exploited by hovering on the last shoulder of defence, for PSG, the No.29 shirt becomes a blur as the leggy figure wearing it embarrasses isolated defenders with breakneck speed, and break-ankle skill.
Kylian Mbappé for Monaco last season: 44 games (2635 minutes), 26 goals and 10 assists.
Kylian Mbappé for PSG this season: 36 games (2788 minutes), 19 goals and 14 assists.
Two different roles in two different sides—he plays both incredibly. pic.twitter.com/0aLzkHLpYV
— Jake Entwistle (@JakeEntwistle) March 22, 2018
His intelligent off-the-ball movement is still evident – a product of PSG’s fluid attack and the occasional absence of Edinson Cavani – but if there were any reservations about Mbappé’s ability to carry the ball when watching him at Monaco, a quick survey of Ligue 1 full-backs to have come against the Paris iteration will soon quash any doubts.
He has completed exactly double the amount of take-ons (100 vs 50) and the increase from 56.1% to 62.5% in success rate is further evidence to back up the claim that one of the most frightening dribblers in Europe has been set loose.
Rather than using his sheer speed to leave defenders in his wake when running onto the ball, he now combines this extraordinary physical gift with his incredible technical ability. This has unleashed a ball-carrying menace that relentlessly attacks the opposition full-backs, usually leaving them in a heap thanks to his explosive change of direction or mind-bending manipulation of the ball.
Receiver turned provider
Another metric to have shot up since Mbappe’s move to the capital has been the number of chances created. Again, the more consistent dominance of PSG in contrast to Monaco – especially in the Champions League – has played its part in such an increase, yet there are still factors specific to his alternate play style.
Firstly, as with his dribbling, there is the increase in volume. Mbappé has created 58 chances (2.2 per 90) in the league and Champions League combined this season compared to his 37 in 2016/17 (1.6). The greatest example of his transformation is seen looking solely at his Champions League numbers.
Creating just six chances in six starts in Monaco’s run to the semi-final, Mbappé’s role as the outlet for Jardim’s side was seen in the extreme. Whether waiting patiently on the shoulder of the last defender to spring a counter attack, or finding himself as the furthest man forward in the box, the fact he scored as many goals as he did create chances for his teammates emphasises his existence on the periphery of build-up play.
Oh my god, Kylian Mbappe is special. How the heck is he 19?! pic.twitter.com/chufaE8dhE
— Ashwin Raman (@thefutebolist) March 11, 2018
Beyond the volume of chances created, Mbappé’s new position has also seen the type of service he provides alter slightly. Often the recipient of through-balls from the likes of Bernardo Silva and Thomas Lemar last season, the 19-year-old’s shift deeper and wider has resulted in playing them slightly more himself.
In the league and Champions League last season, the then-Monaco forward created two chances from through-ball situations; this season has seen that number increase to six. While clearly not striking numbers at face value, it has increased from 5.4% of his total chances created (37) to 10.3% of his 58 for PSG this season, yet another indication of how Mbappe has assumed the responsibility of not only finishing chances, but producing them.
Despite the obvious evolution in his numerical output, one truth can be applied to his time at Monaco and PSG: Kylian Mbappé is a delight to watch.
While part of a new team has amplified the talent fans and pundits gorged upon last season, the fact remains it has always been there. Supreme athletic attributes, outrageous technical talent and incredible in-game intelligence make watching Mbappé a must.
His overall output has remained strikingly similar – despite the heavier lean towards assists for PSG – because of Mbappé’s ability to translate his deep, deep pool of qualities across multiple roles; and his mastery of them.
The intelligent off-the-ball movement we saw cause havoc last season is still evident in his current form, just as the heavy feints and bamboozling trickery we see more of now were very much a part of his game under Jardim. Whether inhabiting the left-hand channel a la Monaco or darting down the right as he often does for PSG, he oozes confidence and produces immense quality.
The numbers are simply a product of his world-class ability; they themselves do not make him world-class. Saturday provides an opportunity to silence those who think otherwise.
The final awaits
When the two sides met in December, Mbappé’s performance was remembered for his misses, wrongly so. Yes, a player of his quality is expected to score given the opportunities on offer in that game, but to reduce such a display to ‘did he score?’ is unfair.
Monaco’s defenders could not deal with his pace, movement or trickery, and the reason so many brilliant opportunities fell his way is because he had played a vital role in creating them.
Saturday will likely be no different. Leonardo Jardim deserves huge credit for the way he managed Mbappé last season, and he of all people will know what sort of monster they created: the 19-year-old may now be tapping into more facets of his extraordinary talent, but they have been there since the beginning.
Monaco 1-4 PSG FT:
4': Draxler ⚽
27': Lemar ⚽
44': Di Maria ⚽
54': Cavani ⚽
90': Cavani ⚽
PSG win the Coupe de la Ligue! ? pic.twitter.com/QCRSXhSvS8
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) April 1, 2017
As it happens, Mbappé will be hoping for a repeat of last season’s final on a collective level. Individually, however, the teenager’s ability was stifled by a commanding Thiago Silva performance.
Now in part of the more dominant side, Mbappé will relish another opportunity to torment the 33-year-old Andrea Raggi as he did in December. This time, expect the final product to match.