Kylian Mbappe has scored 37 goals in all competitions this season and directly assisted another 10. In just 42 matches, these are outstanding figures. On average, Mbappe has directly had an influence in a goal once every 89 minutes he has been on the field.
Although Neymar posts a better figure – the Brazilian has contributed to a goal roughly every 77 minutes he has been on the field – injury and suspensions have restricted him to around half the minutes of his Paris Saint-Germain colleague.
Mbappe, at just 22, has been PSG’s main man this season and is posting the type of numbers that suggest he will be in the thick of the Ballon d’Or reckoning. A hat-trick away to Barcelona and a double away to Bayern Munich only add weight to his claim.
It was, however, against Manchester City – the side PSG will tackle in the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday, that Mbappe first wrote his name onto the world scene.
During the 2016-17 season, Mbappe exploded to the forefront of the sport with a couple of stunning performances against Pep Guardiola’s men. Monaco knocked Manchester City out of the last-16 stage after a 6-6 draw on aggregate in one of the great European ties in recent years.
Another such performance will push him closer to the game’s greatest individual prize – and while Mbappe undoubtedly deserves to be in the reckoning, perhaps the most remarkable thing about his current season is that he clearly remains below his absolute best.
Mbappe’s tough start to 2020/21
Indeed, his start to the season was decidedly sluggish.
“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 in the autumn.
“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 is a suggestion that the Covid infection that he suffered in August sapped more energy from him than was made public, yet should it really be such a surprise that Mbappe toiled significantly (by his standards, at least) in the early weeks of the campaign?
Following a lengthy coronavirus stoppage in French football, which saw games paused for a four-month duration from March until mid-July, Mbappe and his team-mates were thrown in at the deep end.
PSG played two cup finals within a week of each other after an intense training camp and were then whisked off to the final-8 in Lisbon, where they progressed to the final of the Champions League and came within a whisker of beating Bayern Munich.
Unlike Europe’s other major leagues, they were then expected to bounce straight back into action in league play. Although PSG were given a one-week reprieve, several stars caught Covid during that period.
For Mbappe, who was already carrying an injury, it was a further setback that prevented him from being at his brilliant best in the early weeks of the season.
With the exception of the uncertainty and stress of the Covid interruption, Mbappe had not had a significant break from the professional game since the summer of 2019 due to the demands of international duty. In other words, since he hit the big time, he has probably had a grand total of eight weeks of respite.
Little wonder he has been feeling the strain.
Coming back to his best
Even with his numbers picking up in the second half of this campaign, he still lacks that little bit of magic in his play that he is so capable of. The difference is that he has simply been more clinical in his goal scoring.
This is reflected in his statistics this season. With an xG of 0.63 per 90 minutes, he should be scoring at a lower rate than in the previous two campaigns, in which he has boasted more scoring opportunities. Instead, though, he is scoring at a rate virtually identical to last term and around 10% better than the 2018-19 season.
In summary, all this means is that he is getting into fewer good positions but he is still scoring as impressively as ever.
With his incredible knack for scoring when in front of goal, it is easy to surmise that Mbappe would hit even greater heights if he was finding himself in as many good scoring positions as in past seasons.
Although he is unlikely to get a proper rest over the summer due to Euro 2020, Mbappe should benefit from a brief holiday and a proper pre-season.
He may feel like he has played around 120 games this term, but he remains PSG’s ace and a star of the world game – and the scary thing for opponents is that he is only going to get better.