The PSG World Cup winner has so far suffered a bad season, judged by his own standards, but was flawless in Neymar’s absence to punish Barca
Camp Nou could have been a graveyard for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, but, after four years, Barcelona’s home stadium has become the scene of probably the biggest night of Kylian Mbappe’s club career.
Without the support of Neymar and Angel Di Maria, the 22-year-old destroyed the Catalans himself, scoring a hat-trick while PSG established an overall 4-1 advantage in the last 16 of the Champions League.
It will happen as a crucial moment in his career.
Barcelona needed a win with at least four goals difference when they famously finished La Remontada with a 6-1 victory. On that occasion, however, they had Luis Suarez and Neymar in their ranks, as well as Messi to encourage their return.
They do not seem to have artillery that would worry PSG in such a way at the Parc des Princes on March 10.
Even when PSG broke up in Catalonia, Mbappe simply started writing his legend. He scored his first goal in the Champions League a few days earlier, and, exactly a week later, the second will help Monaco eliminate Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola from the last 16.
Since then, the striker has won Ligue 1 on four occasions and played the lead role while France won the 2018 World Cup, establishing himself as a true superstar of the game.
However, he may never have presented himself with such a commanding and complete performance as the one he performed against Barca.
Even before Lionel Messi brought the host from the white spot, it was obvious that Mbappe was ready to accept the PSG threat.
He was powerful and direct from the start, but his opener relied on as much finesse as he created space when he was clearly not there before he rammed the ball into the roof of the net and Marc-Andre ter Stegen simply waved at him.
His second, which was a turning point in the equalizer, was a relatively simple shot after Alessandro Florenzi blocked the reduction. However, it was a smart way to put himself around the penalty spot to wait for such rubbish to fall in his way.
When he added a fourth PSG with the kind of curling that the all-time French great Thierry Henry would be proud of, it simply served to kill.
“I’m happy for him,” Barcin Antoine Griezmann said RMC Sport his international teammate after that. “They’ve criticized it a lot, but it happens when you’re in the spotlight for a short time.
“As soon as he plays weaker, we criticize him. It’s pretty easy. But I believe PSG have a future star, one who will be at Leo’s level. [Messi] and Cristiano [Ronaldo]. He had a really great match. “
Sometimes this season, Mbappe, plagued by injuries and illness, is to blame for complicating his game, to the point that former PSG player Jean-Michel Larque has claimed he “has no place” at the club.
This was a spectacular return to form at the time. This is Mbappe long hailed as the successor to Messi and Ronaldo as the biggest in the game.
“Mbappe, what a huge player!” the injured Neymar sprang on social media as the match unfolded.
For Mbappe, whose contract with PSG expires in 2022, it was not just a statement of intent of what he could produce in the final stages of the Champions League, it was also a timely reminder to his club that a player destined to be at the top of the game might and the next decade.
“The PSG shirt is dear to my heart,” he told RMC after fixation. “It would be stupid to decide on your future in one match.
“It’s true that it’s a long-term reflection. I’ve always said I’m happy here. A game like this makes me even happier.”
Given that Neymar needed to sign a new contract urgently, it seems that PSG believed that the Brazilian would be the center of their project in the years ahead, and it is not clear yet whether Mbappe will be satisfied with a supporting role.
At Camp Nou on Tuesday he proved he is capable of the grace of any stage, and in form and motivation PSG would do well to keep him in their corner.