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Mbappe has replaced Messi as the world's best player: PSG's UCL hopes hinge on French forward's fitness

13:00 GMT 08/03/2022
Kylian Mbappe Lionel Messi PSG Champions League GFX
The 23-year-old is surrounded by fading forces, which is why PSG so badly need him available for Wednesday's Champions League clash with Real Madrid

Paris Saint-Germain discovered just how tough life can be without Kylian Mbappe at the weekend as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat at Nice.

Mbappe missed the trip to the Allianz Riviera due to a suspension, but the silver lining was that PSG would have him fresh for Wednesday’s Champions League visit to the Bernabeu.

Those plans, though, were scuppered during a training ground clash with Idrissa Gueye on Monday.

Initially, the news was grim: Mbappe would more than likely miss the game.

As the day wore on, though, the prognosis gradually improved, though it remains questionable just what sort of impact the World Cup winner might be able to have in the Spanish capital.

“There’s one PSG with Kylian and another without Kylian,” Nice boss Christophe Galtier reasoned after watching his side shutout the Ligue 1 champions-elect on Saturday.

Even Lionel Messi was unable to unpick the Nice defence as the Parisian side turned in the type of lacklustre performance that followers of the French game have become all too accustomed to seeing when Mbappe is not present.

PSG have won just one of the three Ligue 1 matches in which he has sat out this season in comparison to 18 of 24 in which he has played. Furthermore, they average just a goal per game without the striker and 2.2 when he’s on the field.

Real Madrid know only too well the damage Mbappe can cause, of course.

He produced a thrilling performance in the first leg at Parc des Princes, which was capped in the final seconds with the goal that separates the sides ahead of the midweek showdown.

It was far from an average strike, too. He danced between two players in a seemingly effortless manner before firing the ball into the corner with the aid of a slight deflection.

The very best players show up in clutch moments, and Mbappe, having only turned 23 in December, has made a career of doing just that.

Indeed, he is now a player who is absolutely indispensable to PSG – far more so than either Neymar or Messi, who were considered to be his equals when the season began.

This explains why the Parisians are so desperately scrambling to have him sign a new contract.

It’s not that they’re concerned about losing face after signing him for €180 million in 2018 after a one-year loan, it’s not that he would strengthen one of their European rivals – it’s that they know he is now the greatest player in the world and simply cannot be replaced.

If Mbappe is not fit enough to take to the field on Wednesday, that fact could become starkly evident on one of the biggest stages.

Messi has managed to conjure only flashes of magic since arriving in Paris, while Neymar and Angel Di Maria appear to be similarly fading forces. Beyond them, PSG offer little menace.

This was a side, after all, designed to be carried offensively by its front three. In reality, it is Mbappe who has been shouldering the burden for all 11.

Psychologically, it would be a huge blow for the squad if their talisman is not present in Madrid. Qualification may even hinge on the fact.

In some ways, it would be a fitting Champions League goodbye to Paris if his last action for the club was to score a brilliant winner against the outfit he is apparently destined to join in the summer.

It would not be, however, the fairy tale ending that we have grown used to Mbappe enjoying throughout his young career – and will no doubt continue to experience for many years to come, wherever that may be.