Out of sorts and overworked: What's happened to Mbappe?

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Kylian Mbappe PSG
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While his goal output may still be high in Ligue 1 this season, the France World Cup winner has struggled for form in the Champions League

It is little wonder that Paris Saint-Germain have decided to prioritise Kylian Mbappe’s new contract over that of Neymar.

The World Cup winner may not quite match his Brazilian colleague in terms of his raw goal-producing output – Neymar scores or assists on average 1.26 times every PSG appearance compared to Mbappe’s 1.16 – but in terms of sheer reliability, there is no contest between the two players.

Both signed in the summer of 2017 but since that time, Mbappe has played an astonishing 41 times more than his colleague – virtually an entire season’s worth of games. He stands just a single goal short of 100 for the club, having played 135 matches.

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Could Mbappe's relentless availability and desire to play, though, be contributing to a downturn in form?

Remarkably, it has been close to a year since the 21-year-old netted in the Champions League.

His last goal in the competition arrived on December 11, 2019 in a 5-0 romp against Galatasaray. Five assists have followed since, yet more is expected of the man predicted to be a superstar for the next generation.

Mbappe, though, has been playing games at a relentless pace for years now. Since making his senior debut exactly five years ago to the day, he has already played 234 matches for club and country.  

Moreover, with the exception of the coronavirus stoppage, which brought an end to competitive action in France for more than four months, he has barely had a single break since moving to PSG.

Kylian Mbappe GFX PSG

The conclusion of the 2017-18 campaign, his debut season in the City of Lights, was rounded off with a successful trip to the World Cup. There was some brief respite the following year, but in the summer of 2020 came the Champions League Final 8 followed swiftly by the resumption of Ligue 1.

Mbappe went to Portugal for that tournament severely hampered by an injury sustained in the Coupe de France final against Saint-Etienne, playing the quarter-finals against Atalanta barely four weeks after suffering the injury.  

“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.

“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.”

There has, of course, been a hangover. In Ligue 1 he has generally managed to disguise his tiredness with sheer talent, scoring nine times and creating five more in eight games – outrageous given the circumstances – but against stronger opponents like Manchester United and RB Leipzig he has been uncharacteristically mute.

Moreover, the relentlessly high level that fans are used to seeing from him has briefly vanished. Performances can oscillate between the very good and the mediocre. It was surprising, for instance, to see him fluff a handful of chances in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Bordeaux.

Indeed, Thomas Tuchel has even resorted to pulling Mbappe out of domestic games early in a bid to preserve him. He has only played the full 90 minutes in Ligue 1 three times this season and yet he is the player PSG lean on more than any other, Neymar included. 

Mbappe suffered a Covid-19 infection at the start of the season, which may be partly to blame for the edge disappearing from his game, and had a fortnight off with a thigh injury at the start of November, but uncertainty over his future cannot help either.

Kylian Mbappe Ramon Calderon Real Madrid PSG GFX

If he is not exactly in an arm wrestle with PSG just yet over a new deal, there is something of a standoff in proceedings at the moment.

In the meantime, Real Madrid are gathering their resources in a bid to swoop for a player they believe can inherit the mantle of Cristiano Ronaldo at Santiago Bernabeu.

"Without a doubt, Mbappe is the player most desired by all and it would be great news for our team," former Madrid president Ramon Calderon told Goal this week. "He is a player who, being very young, has already managed to attract the attention of all the fans and presumably his best moment is yet to come.

"What the big clubs always need is to have the best players in their primes, regardless of their age."

Mbappe’s prime may still be five or six years away, and while his next decision will not necessarily be decisive in the direction of his career, it will be very important.

It would be understandable if it all was having an adverse effect on his performances.

There promises to be no relent before Christmas. PSG face a must-win match against Manchester United on Wednesday in the Champions League, while their league position dictates that rotation will have to be carefully managed in the weeks ahead.

If PSG’s long-term aim is to retain the superstar, their short-term goal must be to get him back to his full capacity. A lack of depth, an excess of fixtures and an inability to guarantee his future, though, may mean that it is some months before we see Mbappe at his absolute best on a consistent basis once more.

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