Kylian Mbappe netted a sublime Champions League hat-trick for Paris St-Germain to upstage Barcelona’s Lionel Messi on his own turf and draw comparisons with Brazilian Ronaldo.
At the age of 22, Mbappe has already won the World Cup with France and his latest showing signalled his capabilities of being the heir to Messi’s throne.
A display of ice-cold finishing allowed PSG to take a commanding 4-1 lead into the last-16 second leg at Parc des Princes on 10 March.
“It is clear that he is a great footballer, today he has shown it with this hat-trick,” said PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino. “The great players are creating a path and these three goals put him in the media spotlight.
“We had no doubts and we are happy for him, it’s normal, there are going to be rumours [about him leaving]. What is clear is that he is happy in Paris and we all want to find the best way.”
‘The alpha dog in football’
Mbappe had netted just one goal in nine previous knockout games in the competition with PSG but turned that statistic on its head in ruthless fashion.
The night started with Messi opening the scoring from the penalty spot but he was left watching as his superiority slipped away.
Mbappe, whose contract with PSG ends in 2022, danced past fellow Frenchman Clement Lenglet to smash in the equaliser, stroked home from 10 yards for the second and curled in a delightful third.
“You say he’s the future, but he is now,” former England midfielder Owen Hargreaves said on BT Sport. “PSG have to lock him down real quick. Everyone will find enough money for Mbappe.
“It was a performance like the old Brazilian Ronaldo. You’re not signing anyone other than Mbappe at the moment. He ripped the life out of every Barca player. In that form at 22 with a year left on his contract, he is an absolute diamond.”
And the numbers make pleasant reading too.
- Mbappe became the first player in Champions League history to score a hat-trick against Barcelona in the knockout stages.
- He is only the third player to score a Champions League hat-trick against Barcelona, after Faustino Asprilla for Newcastle and Andriy Shevchenko for Dynamo Kiev (both in 1997).
- He has now scored 24 Champions League goals. Only Messi, with 25, has scored more before his 23rd birthday.
- Of players with 20 or more Champions League goals, Mbappe has netted the highest proportion in away matches (71% – 17/24).
Ex-England midfielder Joe Cole added: “Mbappe is the best player in the world at the moment. His link-up play, his work-rate off the ball – he is the alpha dog in football.
“If you want to build a team you go and get Mbappe. He is the most influential player on the planet. How good can he become? At 22 you compare his stats to the other greats and he has got 10 or 15 years ahead of him.
“Any of the big clubs, he is my number one target.”
Antoine Griezmann was left disappointed at full-time but gave his French compatriot the biggest compliment by saying: “Kylian Mbappe had a great night. PSG has a great star for the future, who will be at the level of Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.”
Barcelona ‘a shadow of its former self’
The future looks bright for Mbappe and PSG, but Messi and Barcelona are in a dark period.
The Argentine is 33 and his future at the club is far from certain having requested a transfer last summer and coming to the end of his current deal this season.
Manager Ronald Koeman has tried to mend an ageing squad but they look far from their imperious best with the league title looking lost too, eight points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid who have a game in hand.
The defeat against PSG meant they lost back-to-back home games in the European Cup for the first time in their illustrious history, while they were also defeated by a margin of three or more goals for only the sixth time in the competition.
“We have to admit that they have been superior,” said Koeman. “They have shown that they have a more complete team than us. We have to accept it, improve things.”
Hargreaves said: “Barca had no power, no togetherness. Messi looks disinterested, it’s hard to criticise him but tonight he didn’t look emotionally invested in the game.
“You’d have to do your due diligence before signing Messi, whether he is carrying an injury or not feeling well. The 34-year-old Messi, if he plays like that, it will be a gamble.”
Barca can look to 2016-17 when they turned around a 4-0 first-leg deficit to stun PSG 6-1 in the second leg, but another turnaround looks almost impossible with no Neymar or Luis Suarez at their disposal any more.
Cole added: “It is not his [Koeman’s] fault, I don’t think it’s his fault at all. It’s a thankless task. That was the best team in the world for a long time and it is now a shadow of its former self.”