Paris Saint-Germain have a Kylian Mbappe problem. Actually, they have a couple.
Not only does the young forward have a contract that expires in 2022, thereby making him vulnerable to a hostile approach in the summer, but he has endured a season in which there is growing disquiet over his form.
It is a measure of just how good the World Cup winner is that a season in which he has scored 12 league goals and laid on a further five assists in Ligue 1 – 14 goals and eight assists in 22 outings overall – should be considered cause for concern, yet that is the nature of the sphere in which the Bondy native operates.
Certainly, the start he has made under Mauricio Pochettino has been less than impressive.
His role has not significantly changed, yet in the four matches he has returned just a single assist. The statistics show that nine chances have come and gone – not one has been taken.
It was a match in which PSG, like Mbappe, struggled for fluidity. The striker, however, best personified this as he made poor decisions and spurned presentable opportunities, most notably when he was played through on goal only to be denied by Paul Bernardoni.
It is a period in which nothing is quite falling for him. Bernardoni’s fine save was just the latest moment in a run in which Mbappe has been the victim of marginal offside calls and has persistently been on the wrong end of the fine margins required to score a goal.
At Stade Raymond-Kopa, it appeared to be getting into his head, materialising as poor decisions or a desire to do too much in possession.
“There are times when you are fitter in front of goal and others when you are not,” Jesus Perez, standing in for the Covid-stricken Pochettino on the PSG bench at the weekend, reasoned.
“The most important thing for us remains that he fulfilled his role well, did the things he was asked to do and had opportunities. It's just a matter of time. We must not forget that he has just played four matches in 13 days. He has played a lot of games in recent months.”
Indeed, the burden of expectation placed on Mbappe since July, when PSG finished the 2019-20 campaign with a couple of domestic cup victories, has been enormous.
“The comeback has been complicated, especially physically, because we reached the Champions League final and we hardly had any preparation. Many players tested positive for coronavirus and some went with their international teams,” he told the club’s official website shortly after the new season began.
“For me, the feeling is that I'm in the 60th game of the season and not in the ninth. We've had a marathon of games. Generally, when you get to a Champions [League] final, you have a holiday, but we got to the final and we didn't have time to rest.”
The pace of fixtures has been unrelenting – PSG have played 14 times since November 20 – while Mbappe is already up to 25 matches in this late-starting season with club and country.
Throw in a positive coronavirus test in September and the fact that he has been expected to carry the team in the 11 games Neymar has missed, and it is little wonder that he is showing significant signs of fatigue.
“He’s got no place at PSG,” Jean-Michel Larque, a Saint-Etienne legend and a former PSG player, argued on RMC last week. "I’m not going to drill into his skull to find out what’s going wrong, but he’s making everything complicated.
“Why’s he trying a rabona pass? Why’s he doing 12 step-overs but going nowhere?
“He needs to be detoxified. He needs a cure for his football, which is totally polluted by unnecessary gestures. What makes a boy like that strong is his speed, but you can’t see that anymore.”
Larque’s words are strong but Habib Beye, the former Newcastle defender and now a prominent pundit in France, says this is a storm that Mbappe must be given the chance to ride out.
“There’s not been any time for him to recover or reprogramme himself after the Champions League final,” he told Canal+. “We should allow him to go through this difficult period on the field.
“You can’t forget that he’s only 22 years old and that he has set the bar so high that everyone is demanding. And we’re right to be.
“Leave him on the field. He’s not going to be good for one, two or three matches. It doesn’t matter. We have to tell him that he will return to his best level.
“When I hear that Mbappe has to be taken out, that he’s no longer of the level of PSG, at some point you have to be careful with what you say. He’s set the standard so high, you have to be indulgent.”
The real Mbappe, however, is still there. When we get a chance to see him, however, may well depend on his opportunities to rest.