Last Sunday, Kylian Mbappe put Paris Saint-Germain back at the top of Ligue 1 with two goals against Lyon which showed why he is the most coveted striker in his sport.
A volley from the left foot opened the scoring. A classic strike from Mbappe, accelerating past Lyon’s final defender and beating the goalkeeper with a precise right-footed finish, saw PSG claim fourth in a 4-2 victory.
It also made the 22-year-old Mbappe the youngest player with a century of French league goals.
Four nights later, Didier Deschamps, France coach, observed that with Mbappe these performances have become so routine that the French public imagine they should happen every time he takes the field.
“I know, of course, how much is expected of him,” Deschamps said, admitting that France’s first World Cup defense match Mbappe won as a teenager, “was not his best game.” In fact, his 77 minutes against Ukraine are among the worst of his 40 appearances for France’s senior jersey.
The Blues took the lead, at home, before losing two points at the start of the qualifying group, they will always be confident of winning but which involves long and potentially dangerous journeys.
The furthest away is the expedition to Kazakhstan, where the world champions today will face temperatures that are expected to drop well below zero and synthetic terrain.
The ride to Nur-Sultan, about eight hours by plane, at least gave Deschamps ample opportunity to “talk calmly” with his prodigy, as the coach had promised to do after the 1-1 flat draw against a Ukrainian team which, through its coach Andrei Shevchenko’s confession, had devised a specific anti-Mbappe plan. “Our strategy was to cover the space where there might be individual situations,” Shevchenko said.
By thwarting Mbappe he had achieved something that in the past two months Barcelona – where Mbappe scored a Champions League hat-trick – and Lyon – among several French clubs – have failed spectacularly.
If there was a hint of self-congratulation about Ukraine’s head coach, it was entitled to it.
In October, Shevchenko’s Ukraine, although a team weakened by withdrawals due to Covid-19 infections, came to Paris and lost 7-1 to France in a friendly. Mbappe scored and scored a goal within 45 minutes of being on the pitch.
Deschamps’ analysis of last week’s contrasting performance centered on Mbappe’s isolation from his teammates and his instinct to try to shake off the chains of a targeted man.
“With the quality he has, I understand that the opponents will take special measures to limit his influence,” said the France coach. “It’s up to him sometimes to rely on others rather than launching into a dribble, looking for the pass so that he can then recover the ball from a teammate. ”
There is no doubt about the range of different strengths that attacking partners who line up with Mbappe can offer their star colleague, who likes to attack from wide positions.
Deschamps is dogmatically loyal to Olivier Giroud of Chelsea, for his qualities as a target man and his hold-up game. Antoine Griezmann, the beloved Barcelona striker for his movement, is an automatic choice in Deschamps’ strongest XI.
There is no shortage of pace options on the opposite flank to Mbappe’s either: from Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman, to Manchester United’s Anthony Martial, to Ousmane Dembele, now fit and fit in Barcelona.
But it’s also easy to argue that the Frenchman with the perfect all-round play to complement the skills of Mbappe, a center-forward who is both a devastating finisher and universally admired for his selflessness and ability to make room for the others, is the attacker. Deschamps has not selected since 2015.
This is Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, whose relationship with France coach deteriorated irreparably five years ago and whose excellent, reliable club form – he has scored eight goals in his six last matches in Madrid – apparently doesn’t put him closer to Deschamps’ thoughts, nor add to the 81 caps he won between 19 and 28.
“I don’t understand it and a lot of people don’t understand it,” said Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane of Benzema’s continued omission from the national team. And keep in mind that Zidane and Deschamps are good friends, so close that Deschamps has identified Zidane as his potential successor as France coach.
Benzema might like the sound of this. But unless France stumbles badly at this summer’s European Championship – and they’re in a tough squad, along with Germany and Portugal – that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Deschamps is hired to hold this position until the end of the 2022 World Cup, when Benzema turns 35.
Posted on March 28, 2021 7:14 AM