Football Features

Neymar vs. Kylian Mbappé: How PSG would line up if each leading figure got their way

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:51, 21 May 2019 | Updated: 15:55, 14 September 2021

There appears to be a civil war brewing at Paris Saint-Germain.

When Neymar signed for the Parisians back in 2017, it went without saying that he would be the focal point of the locker room. The big dog that the whole team revolved around, much in the same way that Leo Messi was at Barcelona. In fact even more so, as PSG intended to recruit players specifically to keep him happy.

But in that same summer, PSG signed teenage sensation Kylian Mbappé. Where’s the problem there? Well, injuries and an alleged lack of professionalism have seen Neymar miss crucial chunks of the season whilst Mbappé has constantly been around, pumping out goals.

The 20-year-old has 59 goals in 86 games for PSG, that’s more than Neymar. Whilst the Brazilian is obviously a superior player, in terms of consistent and reliable performances, it’s Mbappé that has always shown up for PSG.

And what’s more, when both men went to the 2018 World Cup with glory on their minds, Neymar made a fool (and meme) of himself whilst Mbappé equalled records set by Pelé and helped France win the whole tournament. He became a national hero.

Yet and still, it seemed as though PSG were going to pander to Neymar with signings. Recruit the players he wants. Rumours abounded of Brazilians who didn’t necessarily bring what the club needs being recruited at enormous cost. Then Kylian Mbappé, having just won the UNFP player and young player of the year awards, spoke about perhaps needing a “new project” elsewhere.

Alarm bells must have been ringing around the Parc des Princes because PSG released a club statement the very next day affirming that Mbappé would be staying with the club and that they both had a shared ambition. But do they? And will they alter recruitment to be less focused on keeping Neymar happy with his chums? And if they do, how would that look?

We’ve come up with two ways PSG could line-up next season; one if they recruit for Neymar, the other for Mbappé. Who’s in what side? Have a look!

Team Neymar

Neymar likes his friends, and hey, who doesn’t? Of course, your friends aren’t always your best team-mates, but the way PSG’s recruitment has been shaping up, if they keep on listening to Neymar then the side could end up revolving around him, and not in a good way.

David de Gea is linked heavily with PSG as he seems hesitant to sign a new contract, and Man Utd are terrible so that makes sense. Rumour is that PSG want him to wait his contract out, but Neymar must be sick of losing by now (ditto De Gea) and would probably ask that he be signed now. Would De Gea be a great pick-up for PSG? Probably. But is he a necessary one?

Speaking of necessary, Marquinhos anchors the defence. The Brazilian has been a magnificent servant to PSG and will continue to be so. And if Neymar has his way he will be surrounded by compatriots. Thiago Silva next to him in the middle and Dani Alves to his right, both veterans in their mid-30’s but crucially, they are Brazilians that Neymar adores – Alves, in particular, is very much on his wavelength.

At left-back would be the dynamic Alex Sandro, who has been linked with a transfer to Paris. This is a three-for-one as far as Neymar is concerned because Alex Sandro is both brilliant and Brazilian, whilst also being a former team-mate of Neymar’s back at Santos. The pair won the Copa Libertadores together, adding the Champions League would be great symmetry.

In midfield, Marco Verratti obviously anchors things but next to him is Allan. The Brazilian was a target for PSG in the January window but in the end, that move amounted to nothing. Word is they will go back in for Allan – and whilst his skill-set could be very useful, his cost and age would make him a baffling transfer. But hey, Neymar needs his mates.

Kylian Mbappé leads the line in attack with Neymar behind in the no. 10 role and Angel Di Maria is given the right flank to work from. On the left is the final import: Coutinho. Neymar’s best bud from the Brazilian youth teams. Barcelona hoped to pair the two in Catalunya before Neymar absconded to Paris, so a reunion in the French capital would definitely please both men.

Given Coutinho’s struggles this season, he’d be available for a cut-price below what Barcelona paid for him. Who knows if he’d rediscover his best form in Paris, but he’d definitely be a high priority get for any Neymar-led recruitment. This team would have seven Brazilians in it and may struggle for consistency given some of the players are pretty old, but on their day they could be quite good.

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Team Mbappé

Little is known of what Mbappé wants, but it’s easy to theorise given he clearly isn’t a fan of what PSG are currently doing re: Neymar. Alphonse Areola keeps goal here because there’s really no reason to rush David de Gea when the Frenchman is perfectly capable.

In defence, young French World Cup winner Presnel Kimpembe benches Thiago Silva for the good of the side, partnering Marquinhos. Dani Alves is benched or allowed to leave, Neymar’s partner-in-immaturity may be able to produce on occasion but his loudness and obvious favouritism could be seen as a problem.

On the left, it’s still Alex Sandro that comes in because, honestly, that would be an incredibly smart move for PSG to make. There are but a handful of left-backs better than the Brazilian, so get that talent locked down!

In midfield, we switch to a three with World Cup winner N’Golo Kanté at the base. Mbappé was part of that World Cup winning squad and they all knew what value Kanté had as a defensive counterbalance, which is especially as important because you don’t want to work your forwards too hard defensively.

Ahead of him are Marco Verratti (of course) and Ander Herrera, rumoured to be joining on a free transfer. Herrera offers the kind of relentless professionalism and effort level that seems to typify the way Mbappé conducts himself. Then Neymar’s on the left of attack (in the perfect spot to link with Alex Sandro) with Mbappé leading the line in the no. 9 shirt; Edinson Cavani has either been sold or benched.

On the right is the big money buy: Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman is another World Cup winner and absolute icon of French sport. He’s announced he’s leaving Atlético Madrid and on July 1st, his release clause drops to a manageable €120m.

Griezmann’s passing and playmaking abilities are legendary and the way he is able to find opponents behind lines of opposition defence and at acute angles makes him so potent. He’s a dangerous force with and without the ball, and at the World Cup, his ability to find Kylian Mbappé was superb and conjured so much of France’s goal threat out of nothing. Imagine them pairing up in an attacking side? The results could be sensational.

Would Team Mbappé be better than Team Neymar? They’d certainly have a brighter outlook for the future, being a younger and leaner side. Moreover, without as many Brazilians, Neymar’s worst instincts may be reigned in and he may return to the kind of danger he used to carry. Then there’s the fact that pairing the world’s second and third best players in the same attack with Mbappé would give PSG the supreme firepower (balanced by Kanté and Herrera’s defensive effort) to genuinely challenge for that elusive Champions League.