More than Kylian Mbappe: How PSG’s epic Champions League comeback showcased the French star’s supporting cast

Everything around Paris Saint-Germain since the start of 2024 has been about Kylian Mbappe. Anything related to the French giants that was not about the France international has quickly been turned into something which is ultimately linked with the 25-year-old and his future. From the eternal saga over Mbappe’s proposed move to Real Madrid this summer to a tug of war between whoever the French superstar’s future employer is and Les Bleus ahead of the Olympic Games in Paris as well as Luis Enrique building towards a future without him — Mbappe is always there.

Even the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal with Barcelona was as much about the man from Bondy as it was Barcelona’s unexpected triumph and the brilliance of young gems Pau Cubarsi and Yamine Lamal — the latter also shone for 30 minutes on Tuesday before going off. Mbappe’s opening leg no-show prompted all kinds of debate and criticism in the French capital with barely anybody coming to the defense of PSG’s No. 7. That perhaps best illustrates just how self-centered and divisive the former AS Monaco man has become in his current Parisien environment, which he appears to believe he has outgrown.

And yet. Tuesday’s sensational 4-1 win over Barca in Catalonia was not all about Mbappe. In fact, up until the final 30 minutes, much of this midweek’s reverse Remontada was achieved despite the PSG talisman with Luis Enrique’s collective vision coming to the fore to spectacular effect. Sure, Mbappe got the two final goals of a 6-4 aggregate success, including the killer go-ahead strike from the penalty spot before a predatory late sealer at the expense of international teammate Jules Kounde. Up until then, though, France’s national team captain had been riding premium class, almost exclusively without getting his hands dirty, only silencing the noise around him late in the day.

“I have always been proud to be Parisien since I arrived,” said a relieved Mbappe postgame, visibly satisfied by the outcome and plaudits. “Even if we had lost, I would have still been proud. It is not because I am experiencing good or bad times that my pride takes a hit. I am proud to represent the club of my country’s capital city — it is special for me having grown up there. Living special evenings like this one as a Parisien is great. Of course, I want to win the Champions League with Paris. We have a great team and we will do everything to reach Wembley.”

Focusing solely on Mbappe, though, would be overlooking brilliant two-legged showings from Tuesday’s MVP Ousmane Dembele and Vitinha. Captain Marquinhos also made some massive late interventions, which were as crucial as his teammates’ goals at the other end, and Bradley Barcola ripped into Barca’s defense at will. Dembele, in particular, was electric both in Paris and Barcelona and came back to haunt former boss Xavi and his ex-teammates with two superb finishes and the penalty which Mbappe converted to lead for the first time since early in the second half in Paris.

Luis Enrique’s second leg gameplan was executed to perfection, with PSG inflicting the defending La Liga titleholders’ two lowest percentage possession games in living memory. Les Parisiens also made history by becoming the first team in 25 attempts to overturn a first leg home loss in a quarterfinal. Much of this was not solely down to Mbappe, and it is hard to make a strong case that he was even a key part of it. Half time statistics showed him to be the PSG outfielder with the fewest touches and while his full-time expected goal total managed to be his best output in a UCL game this campaign, the vast majority of it came from the penalty he took, and the final goal, which fell into his lap. With only fewer touches recorded in each of the two legs against Real Sociedad, it’s the lack of involvement that tells the truer tale of this tie for Mbappe than the xG numbers.

The Neymar and Lionel Messi parallels from the 2017 Remontada will not be lost on many with the legendary Argentina international being made the face of a comeback in which the Brazilian was the catalyst. The big difference this time being that Mbappe as the Messi of this particular situation is the one expected to move on instead of those truly responsible for much of the work. Could we be about to see Mbappe come up against potential future club Real in the final at Wembley? It is a possibility but one which requires the Spanish giants to eliminate defending champions Manchester City on home soil.

Whatever happens, the noise around Mbappe is unlikely to die down anytime soon until there is at least clarity regarding his future — possibly if Real have exited the UCL from Wednesday, but especially if they are also semifinalists. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron is also unlikely to stop courting his star performer for the Olympic Games this summer and even admitted as much earlier this week: “I have not yet spoken with him about it but I hope that his club will allow him. I have confidence in the French and the European club but the problem is the Euro before. The clubs must play the game in order for us to have a great show and that is one of my fears.”

Borussia Dortmund can and will have their say in the semifinals after overcoming Atletico Madrid in a similarly wild scenario to PSG’s own triumph on Tuesday and Real’s fate against City could have huge implications for Spain’s UEFA coefficient ranking depending on how Bayern Munich fare. It is, though, an enormous opportunity for Mbappe and this Parisien side to reach the final and it is one that they must not fail to take. The route is favorable and the French superstar’s supposed last dance with Paris is working out more or less according to his plan — so far. 

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