MNM potency and Mbappé double spearheads PSG’s opening UCL win over Juve

By Samindra Kunti in Paris

September 6 – Kylian Mbappé and PSG pushed past Juventus with a 2-1 win to open their Champions League campaigns, but concerns remain about the Parisians’ defensive set-up if they are to go all the way and win their first European Champions League title. 

The French number seven stole the show with an impeccable brace to, and at the age of 23, become the youngest player ever in the Champions League to score 35 goals.

But the bravura of the famous MNM trio up front belied the vulnerability of the home defence in particular when substitute Weston McKennie handed Juventus more impetus in the second half.

By then, PSG should have had a 3-0 lead but instead, McKennie reduced the 2-0 deficit with a free header in the box following a mistake by Gianluigi Donnarumma. And so, PSG at times suffered after the break.

“Technically, the first half was very good,” said PSG coach Christophe Galtier. “In the second half, we hesitated a bit on the goal. That gave them hope and made things tough. Champions League is about suffering and there is always a feeling that fate is on our heels. Winning in moments of difficulty strengthens the team.”

It took PSG just five minutes to ignite their new Champions League campaign with a fabulous strike from Kylian Mbappé.

Neymar’s assist was exquisite, a scooped-through ball that spoke of his sizzling form this season. It was a pass of a player at ease with himself and the world, full of confidence. It was the 21 first goal and eighth assist with the involvement of the MNM trio.

In these first, opening weeks of the season, the trio has already been far more productive than all of the last campaign – Messi, Neymar and Mbappé have all returned to form.

After 22 minutes, Juventus were on the canvas, torn apart by Mbappé’s brilliance. The lightning-heeled striker was at the end of a simple but clever exchange of passes with Achraf Hakimi and fired it past the visiting goalkeeper with unerring precision. The pace and precision of PSG’s attack were too much for Juventus.

The Italians indeed played the part of a team that has struggled to get more shots on goal than Sampdoria, Monza and Spezia in Serie A. It’s easy to get drawn into MNM-mania.  PSG were out to make a statement and it was the kind of barnstorming first 20 minutes that pleased the home support.

The flipside of PSG’s attacking power is that it leaves the team structurally incapable of playing cohesive, modern football because the forwards don’t drop back to defend and occupy space. It’s the tactical conundrum that will define his team’s European season.

In general, PSG had eight men behind the line of the ball. PSG’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness and may yet again be its undoing.

Galtier will seek greater cohesion between his stars because he knows that on the European stage PSG needs to be a unit to prevail.  “Every year there are 8 or 9 teams who believe they can win it, and finally there are favourites who don’t go all the way, surprises, and incredible scenarios,” said Galtier.

“That the club has the ambition to win is legitimate, but that we are favourites, I don’t think so.”

On the evidence of Tuesday night, Galtier’s assessment might well be accurate. Manchester City thrashed Sevilla 4-0 and Real Madrid came good in the second half to breeze past Celtic Glasgow 3-0.

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