Real Sociedad – PSG: Kylian Mbappé’s untouchable status, a challenge for the Champions League

Club still in the Champions League race, I have only won one football match in almost three weeks and I only use my best player part-time

Real Sociedad – PSG: Kylian Mbappé’s untouchable status, a challenge for the Champions League

Club still in the Champions League race, I have only won one football match in almost three weeks and I only use my best player part-time. Who am I ? Hint: My Qatari landlord had dinner on February 27 with President Emmanuel Macron.

This summary of the last few days is of course elliptical. Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) is heading well into its round of 16 second leg, Tuesday March 5 (at 9 p.m., to be followed live on Le Monde), against Real Sociedad in San Sebastián (Spain), in very difficult circumstances. atypical – and we are not talking about the proximity of the French border, which adjoins the Basque province of Gipuzkoa.

No, it is rather a question here of the managerial-media soap opera which was grafted onto the sporting agenda after Kylian Mbappé confirmed to his managers his decision to leave the Parisian club at the end of the season. Because since this announcement on February 15, the two parties have entered into a risky dynamic.

For the French star, the cost of the breakup is currently being paid in playing time: Kylian Mbappé was only fielded for 138 out of 270 possible minutes on the pitch. A measly 51% presence, in total break with previous habits, which saw the player rarely spared, not even during the caricature 9-0 inflicted in January on the fans of Revel (Haute-Garonne) in the 32nd finals of the Coupe de France football.

Economical and sometimes provocative communication

Friday March 1, the disconcerting scene of Mbappé being replaced at the break, during PSG's trip to Monaco (0-0), and finishing this Ligue 1 match in street clothes in the stands, as if the stakes on the pitch were no longer his, was disturbing. It's hard not to see it as a sanction, or at least as pressure from the club's management, against the backdrop of exit negotiations, while the player's contractual future should be written in another Real, that of Madrid, 450 kilometers away. south of the Cantabrian shores.

In his economical and sometimes provocative communication, coach Luis Enrique stuck to a sporting explanation. “Sooner or later we will have to get used to playing without Kylian. » He highlights a long-term issue which is not just a backlash: you don't come out of a cycle of seven seasons with such an influential player without anticipation. Especially when the Asturian promises that “next season we will have a much better team”.

But does this new rule, applicable in Ligue 1 where PSG are nine points ahead of Brest, also apply to the Champions League? Can Paris do without its best director (11 goals in 2024) while a place in the quarter-finals – a level not reached since 2021 – stretches out its arms after the reassuring success (2-0) of the first leg, February 14th ? Asked on March 4 about the presence of his center forward at the kick-off of this round of 16 second leg, Luis Enrique had fun maintaining the ambiguity: “It could be yes, it could be no. Who knows ? » Given the stakes, however, non-tenure seems improbable.

A victory in nine games for Real Sociedad

The Mbappé case is special. His treatment, however, reminds us that the Parisian club is adept at rotations and that it must guarantee the physical freshness of its troops. Time has passed since November 2023 when, in Newcastle and Milan, PSG suffered a defeat against intense formations. The team then seemed to reach its athletic limits. There is no doubt that Real Sociedad, in its combative and eye-catching style, will try, on Tuesday evening, to impose a similar challenge on the Parisians who have not provided a very convincing performance recently (two draws against Rennes then at Monaco in Ligue 1 ).

The luck that Paris has is that the Basque team is doing significantly worse. Since their excellent run in the group stage, the Txuri-Urdinak (white and blue in Basque) have faded. They have not won at their Anoeta stadium since November 26, 2023 and have only one victory in their last nine outings. Regularly affected by injuries, the smallest budget among the clubs having finished first in their group offers a profile theoretically controllable by the Parisians. Even if its attacking leader returned: Mikel Oyarzabal, from Zubieta, the local training center, like 60% of the group.

All this remains theoretical. PSG displays a stubborn fragility in tough matches and sometimes oozes doubt, when the threat of elimination looms. As such, the first hour of the first leg, where the team suffered pressure from the Basques without being able to express themselves, serves as a warning. “If we play the same way, with the support of our public, I am confident,” wants to believe Imanol Alguacil, the Real coach. A message to seriously consider on the Parisian side, to avoid discovering how “remontada” is said in Euskara (Basque).