A month ago, French giants Paris Saint-Germain were cruising towards the Ligue 1 title and high on confidence, having topped a Champions League group that also consisted of teams like Liverpool and Napoli.
Thomas Tuchel’s men were drawn against Manchester United in the last 16, a team that had its own share of struggles until mid-December. Based on the quality of players and their respective league forms, PSG were considered outright favourites in the tie.
However, an injury crisis and their opponents’ resurgence under interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has really shaken up the odds. Star striker Edinson Cavani and talisman Neymar will be missing the tie after suffering injuries.
The Brazilian – arguably PSG’s best player from the group stages – is nursing an ankle injury and won’t be taking the field again until mid-March. Coping with the loss of their best player is never easy and a herculean task awaits the French giants in the Champions League.
The burden of filling the void left by the absence complete player such as Neymar must be shared by the entire team as one player surely can’t take it all onto himself to make a huge difference. But if one player in the PSG squad can come close, it has to be Kylian Mbappe.
The Frenchman scored three goals and bagged four assists in the Champions League and was hence directly involved in the same number of goals as Neymar.
However, goalscoring is just one aspect of the Brazilian’s wide set of skills. He is also the most creative player in the squad, with 3.6 key-passes per 90 minutes. Statistically, Neymar is more creative than any player in the competition this season, except Lionel Messi (3.6).
The absence of Neymar places the creative burden on Mbappe and Angel Di Maria. The Argentinian has been phenomenal in Europe this season and his role will be crucial in the knockout stages.
Another aspect of Neymar’s game that stands out is his impeccable dribbling abilities. At 5.4 dribbles every 90 minutes, the Brazilian is statistically the best dribbler in Europe this season and by quite a margin.
Again, it’s Mbappe who comes close in terms of taking players on and the expectations and requirements from the Frenchman will be really high in the knockout stages.
The youngster will be hoping that Di Maria relieves some of the creative burden from him. The Argentinian can surely perform freely with the midfield offering him more support and the likes of Marquinhos and new signing Leandro Paredes providing him cover.
The absence of Cavani and Neymar comes as a massive blow to PSG, but they don’t necessarily need to find like-for-like replacements. Goals need to arrive and the manner in which they do is immaterial.
A combination of Thomas Tuchel’s brilliance, some set-piece magic, stepping up of fringe players and Mbappe playing the best game of his life can help PSG overcome the Champions League tie despite missing two key players.