“Planet Mbappé”, read the headline of this morning’s newspaper l’Equipe. For some time it has seemed like this is his world and we are all living in it, especially after his World Cup performances. But just when it seemed that he could no longer polish his status as the best soccer player in the world, he proved again on Sunday night that there is always another level to his game.
Not only did he score a brace for PSG in a 3-0 win against Marseille at the Vélodrome to equal Edinson Cavani as the club’s all-time top scorer, but he also set up Lionel Messi for the other goal and terrified the defense. of Marseille at all times. It’s true that the absence of Samuel Gigot and Chancel Mbemba helped Mbappé work his way through midfield and the hosts’ back three, but PSG were also missing key players.
They weren’t big favorites before this match. His form has been shaky at best since the World Cup, winning just six of his 10 league games, being knocked out of the Coupe de France by Marseille three weeks ago and losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich. in the first leg of their last match. 16 tie in the Champions League.
The club has been embroiled in rumors of infighting and went to the Vélodrome without Neymar, Renato Sanches and Achraf Hakimi. A win for Marseille would have put them two points behind the leaders, who were also looking down on Monaco and Lens before dropping points earlier in the weekend. There has been a palpable sense of concern at PSG of late, with the sticky nature of their win over Lille last weekend fresh in mind.
Having Kylian Mbappé and Messi gives any team a chance, but there was a feeling his depleted team would capitulate in the seething atmosphere of the Vélodrome, opening up the title race. That didn’t happen, largely due to Christophe Galtier’s tactics. Despite their investment in the QSI era, PSG have always been at their best as a counter-attacking team, especially since Mbappé arrived. His engine in midfield, Marco Verratti, breaks up the opponents’ game and unites them so that his own side advances. At the back, relatively quick-footed for a centre-back, Marquinhos has been a reassuring presence, and the two were the line through the club’s dominance over the years.
This season, however, Marquinhos seemed to have taken a step back. At just 28, the Brazilian has been forced to play alongside an ever-changing cadre of defensive teammates and at times seemed mentally shaken, a situation hardly helped by his World Cup own goal against Croatia. . Verratti has had a decent season but, between suspension and injury, he had only started three league games in 2023, with last week’s win over Lille being the only time PSG have recorded a win this year with him. On the side.
In the absence of Neymar, the dynamic Sanches (who has been a regular when he was fit, Galtier clearly trusted the midfielder from his time at Lille) and Hakimi, the coach opted to play a 3-5-2 against Marseille. . Galtier was comfortable with his side relinquishing possession, as they had been during their successful spells with Lille and Saint-Étienne, and the formation allowed Verratti and Marquinhos more space and time to anticipate Marseille’s forays into their half, the team took a compact and deep form. defensive form.
Marseille had plenty of the ball, but did little with it, save for one or two wasted chances early in the game. It may pain PSG fans to hear it, but this version of PSG has a lot in common with Galtier’s teams at the Sainté, albeit with more talent. Mbappé’s pace and Messi’s creativity are world-class, but there are clear parallels to the relationship between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Romain Hamouma a decade ago, or between Hamouma and Max-Alain Gradel two years later.
Galtier may lack experience at the highest level, but we hope this match has shown him the value of sticking to his principles. He has shown his value for over a decade in Ligue 1, and they should guide PSG for the rest of the season, especially with Neymar a doubt for some time. Some fans may not like him, but the results surely will, especially with their tie against Bayern Munich still within arm’s reach. With the evidence of their 3-0 win in Marseille, a little more of this old-school Galtier could be the tonic needed to revive what seemed to be a wasted and dying season for the team.
We have spared no praise for Monaco this season. Philippe Clement’s side managed admirably to shake off a devastating Champions League exit in what was essentially a pre-season, slowly rising through the ranks while balancing a tight fixture list and displaying admirable resilience. On Sunday, however, the rigors of a tight fixture list finally caught up with them and they were beaten 3-0 by in-form rivals Nice. Monaco have been weakened by injury, illness and having played 120 minutes in the week, so this may just be a momentary hiccup. Outside of the French and European Cup, they remain well positioned to push for a return to the Champions League, something that seemed highly unlikely at the beginning of September.
Monaco were one of the beneficiaries of Lens’ shock draw in Montpellier. Despite losing Téji Savanier and Elye Wahi, the hosts turned in a determined performance to move six points clear of knockout, a great testament to the strong relationship between manager Michel der Zakarian and this team. A push for Europe is too high an order this season, but the enthusiasm seen in his earlier spell at the club appears to be slowly returning, giving the neutrals another side to follow.
Finally, a word for Auxerre. They struggled for much of the season, their summer signings failing to click, and they decided to replace old manager Jean-Marc Furlan with Christophe Pélissier. After some encouraging results, they quickly lost seven matches in a row. However, with time to lie down on some January loan signings, they have now gone four games unbeaten and come out of the bottom four. The arrival of youngsters on loan such as Han-Noah Massengo, Matthis Abline and Isaak Touré has helped, as has Romanian goalkeeper Ionut Radu, who has been confident behind a three-man defence. Auxerre is not out of the woods yet, but its recent improvements offer a stark reminder of Pélissier’s talents as a coach.