Kylian Mbappe produced two lethal first-half finishes as Paris Saint-Germain got their latest bid for Champions League success off to a winning start by beating Juventus 2-1 at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday.
Mbappe’s two goals were stunning, the first coming after an outrageous scooped assist by Neymar inside five minutes and the second at the end of a superb move midway through the first half.
PSG were cruising at half-time before being given a wake-up call early in the second half as substitute Weston McKennie headed Juventus back into the game.
Yet Juve are a faded force compared to just a few years ago and came to the French capital without several key players, including former PSG star Angel di Maria.
They could not find an equaliser and the Parisians claimed their first three points in Group H.
“I was very pleased with the team,” said PSG coach Christophe Galtier. “Winning in difficult circumstances can only make us stronger.”
Mbappe, along with Galtier, had come in for stiff criticism in France in the 24 hours leading up to this game for laughing when a question was put to him in the pre-match press conference about his club’s decision to travel for last weekend’s league visit to Nantes by private jet rather than take a more environmentally friendly train.
The World Cup winner’s performance here suggested none of the negative headlines had remotely bothered him, as Mbappe confirmed exactly why PSG were so desperate to keep him at the end of last season when he seemed set to depart for Real Madrid.
“We knew before this game that we had weaknesses but we are working to improve,” Mbappe told broadcaster Canal Plus.
He signed a new deal in Paris to 2025 with the aim of leading his hometown team to a first Champions League title after a decade of disappointing defeats and occasional humiliations at the business end of the competition.
“I have a new role in the side now. The coach wants me to be someone who can hold the ball up, to get in behind and also that I act as a link between Leo and Ney. I am trying to adapt to that new role while also scoring goals.”
– Electrifying –
He needed just five minutes to get the breakthrough on a balmy evening after linking up brilliantly with Neymar, one of his rivals for the limelight in PSG’s squad of superstars.
Mbappe, coming in from the left, supplied Neymar before continuing into the box to meet the Brazilian’s delightful return pass with a volley across goalkeeper Mattia Perin into the far corner.
Juve actually very nearly equalised in the 19th minute when Arkadiusz Milik’s header from Juan Cuadrado’s cross was parried by Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It was 2-0 just three minutes later, as Mbappe played an electrifying exchange with Achraf Hakimi this time before sending another first-time strike past Perin.
With Marco Verratti and summer signing Vitinha robbing balls in midfield, Lionel Messi slipping in between the Juve defence and midfield to play intelligent passes, and Mbappe seeking to deploy his electrifying pace, PSG looked impressive.
But Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri sent on McKennie for the ineffective Fabio Miretti at half-time, and the United States international reduced the deficit in the 53rd minute.
Leandro Paredes played a short corner on the left to Filip Kostic, and his cross was headed home by McKennie with Donnarumma caught in no-man’s land.
Mbappe had squandered a great chance to make it 3-0 moments before that when he chose to shoot into the side-netting rather than pick out Neymar at the back post.
The home side then had Donnarumma to thank for a fine save to keep out a Dusan Vlahovic header, but a bigger margin of victory for PSG would not have been undeserved, with Perin keeping out a late Neymar volley.
“We could have got a positive result. But PSG are an extraordinary team with fantastic players, and they had several chances too,” admitted Allegri.
Mbappe has nine goals in six games for his club this season, and has scored eight in his last seven Champions League appearances.
If he keeps playing like he is just now then this could well be PSG’s year at long last.