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Kylian Mbappe provides PSG inspiration to remind Lionel Messi of invincibility

The Independent
The Independent
 2021-10-20

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In no surprise, the stats are already swirling. You probably already know how many times Lionel Messi has been on a hat-trick, but graciously handed over a penalty to one of his teammates instead.

If you are fortunate enough not to be suckered into the sphere of social media that revolves around whether the Argentine is greater than Cristiano Ronaldo and vice versa, the answer is nine.

When Messi told Kylian Mbappe to take the spot-kick in the closing stages against RB Leipzig, after he’d already bent the Champions League game to Paris Saint-Germain ’s will, it was celebrated as an example of his selflessness and Goat status.

At Parc des Princes, it felt like more of a “thank you” to the France international. Messi will naturally dominate column inches, headlines, Twitter talk and Ballon d’Or conversations following the 3-2 victory , but he was largely invisible before Mbappe offered him the platform to remember he can be invincible.

It was the 22-year-old that supercharged PSG and plugged in Messi, who for the greatest part of Tuesday night’s fixture seemed to be a phantom of the mind, a player that we used to know but no longer existed.

He switched from right to left with Julian Draxler, shifted centrally, dropped deeper and drove into space before being dispossessed. The first half bypassed him and as PSG suffered in the face of Leipzig’s verve and aggression, it was Mbappe’s speed and confidence on the counter that lifted them from the abyss.

His disguised finish for the opener had dumped all over the visitors’ strongest spell in the encounter. It was Mbappe’s unselfish pass that served Messi his first decisive moment on 67 minutes, and he won the penalty that wondrously drew a Panenka from the great wonder.

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The France star could have stepped up himself, but stepped aside. “It’s normal, it’s respect. He’s the best player in the world, it’s a privilege he plays with us, I’ve always said it,” Mbappe said.

“There’s a penalty, he takes it. Period. For the second, he said, “Take it’.”

When Josko Gvardiol slid in on Achraf Hakimi with 94 minutes on the clock and referee Marco Guida reviewed the incident on the pitch-side monitor, everyone inside the arena was prepping for another Messi treble.

The scale of pressure he has been under since joining PSG, where he has neither fitted in nor looked anywhere close to himself for a full game, could have been considerably reduced had he slotted the kick that Mbappe wildly skied.

This wasn’t like any of the other times Messi had gifted away a penalty: the great engaged in great generosity.

It was more of a nod to Mbappe’s performance and how significant he had been for him and the team.

The act could also aid PSG’s long-term ambitions of keeping the future Ballon d’Or winner and constructing a devastating cohesion between Messi, Mbappe and Neymar without having a detrimental effect on the side’s balance.

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The Brazilian was absent through injury on Tuesday night, but the Ligue 1 behemoths still shaped up as a collection of individuals bought as part of an opulent brand rather than with strategic football intelligence.

Then Mbappe happened and he enlivened the greatest player of a generation to render that immaterial on the night.

Messi’s thank you was the least he could offer in return.

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