It is as if Paris Saint-Germain have finally got with the times.
For so long the capital club has been focused purely on the performance of their superstars. It seems now as if they have learned to watch what is happening elsewhere, and adjust accordingly. Tactically the early signs of PSG under new manager Christophe Galtier are exciting. Partly because you can see what they are trying to do, rather than nuanced things that are too difficult for average fans to identify. And on Sunday you should not have been late for kick-off, because PSG took the lead against Lille after just nine seconds, Kylian Mbappe the man on target.
“I want to make a dedication to my technical staff,” said Galtier after the game in an interview with Prime Video. “It’s a goal that we will not see again you can imagine. Go and watch the Spanish or German leagues and you will see goals like that. I also give a little nod to our Under 19s, who did it in the Youth League against RB Salzburg last year. Bournemouth and Rayo Vallecano did it too. But to do it in training and film it is one thing, it’s another to do it in real life.”
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But how exactly did the Parisians pull off this precocious masterpiece?
Phase 1: Mbappe, Mendes and Vitinha take flight
This kick-off was prepared. When Neymar makes his pass to Marco Verratti four players are already prepared to race into the opposing half. Achraf Hakimi and Vitinha on the right, Kylian Mbappe and Nuno Mendes on the left. Unlike his other three team-mates, Hakimi will start the orchestra in a gentle fashion, walking across the half-way line whilst the others sprint.
After five seconds, Vitinha, Mbappe and Mendes are already at the same level as the Lille defensive line. Better in fact, as they are arriving there with momentum. Mbappe takes the path behind Jose Fonte, taking care to slow his run just before reaccelerating to avoid an offside call whilst Bafode Diakite and Gabriel Gudmundsson leave Mendes completely alone on the left flank. The options for Lionel Messi are multiple, and they are almost all equally dangerous…
Phase 2: The role of Neymar
The Brazilian is neither the scorer nor the maker of the decisive pass on this goal but his role is vital. It is he who takes the pass back from Verratti. At first he pretends to lose interest in the ball by turning his back on the game, as if a long ball was going to be triggered. An action that makes what comes next even more effective.
With one step, the Brazilian turns around to claim the ball at his feet, leaving Benjamin Andre a good two metres behind him. His one-touch delivery to Messi is perfect so the Argentine has a clear path on where to put the ball.
Phase 3: Messi’s velvet pass
Up until this stage Messi has had nothing to do. On the right of Verratti at the time of kick-off, he only springs into action once the Neymar counter-balance move has been made. Like a quarterback, the left-footed Messi scans the field before receiving the ball. Two long options are available to him. The easiest is towards Mendes, completely alone with space in front of him. The most risky, but also the most dangerous, is towards Mbappe.
His decision is made quickly and he directs his body for a pass with the inside of the left foot. All in a moment. The rest is velvet. With the perfect spin and the right power the ball lands in the perfect place, between the two centre-backs. The spin put onto the ball slows it down after it bounces, all Mbappe has to do is finish.
Phase 4: The finish
Messi’s cake has arrived perfectly all good to go, it just needs the frosting. Despite the high bounce, Mbappe chooses the right finish. He has options because of the incredible amount of time and space thanks to Messi’s quick, pin-point delivery. He can go round the goalkeeper, side foot it into the corner or even play in Vitinha who has burst through alongside him.
The options presented to Mbappe demonstrate the artistic talent on show as well as the beautiful choreography design by Galtier and his staff. With a finish fitting for the beauty of the goal Mbappe went for the subtle lob. A nine-second ballet. Beauty is sometimes so short-lived.
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