Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe is racing against time to be healthy enough to feature in Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg with Manchester City after head coach Mauricio Pochettino revealed that a decision still has not been made on his availability.
The France international is suffering from a calf contracture and was unavailable for the 2-1 win over RC Lens in Ligue 1 this past weekend and he was seen limping at the airport before Les Parisiens flew to Manchester for the showdown.
Speaking at his pre-match interview on Monday, Pochettino revealed that Mbappe will train alone on the eve of the game and the Argentine and his staff will make a decision on the day as to whether or not the 22-year-old can start at Eithad Stadium
“Kylian will train on his own,” said Pochettino. “We will see if he is able to start or not. We have not yet decided on his availability. We will see in training and then make a decision on the day of the game.”
Teammate Marco Verratti still hopes that Mbappe is able to play some part this midweek and feels that the former AS Monaco man and Brazilian superstar Neymar have the ability to provide potentially game-winning moments.
“We are up against the best players,” said the Italy international midfielder. “A little stroke of genius from Neymar or Kylian can change the game.”
Should Mbappe not make it, here are five attacking options Pochettino could turn to to pick up the slack.
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It goes without saying that Neymar will be on the field. He’s guaranteed to start when fit, it would be a stunning decision from Pochettino to leave the Brazil international out of what is arguably PSG’s biggest match of the season and one where they badly need the $268 million man to enter talismanic mode for 90 minutes or more.
We have already seen the Samba star dominate a Manchester team away from home this campaign with a majestic display as the Ligue 1 giants won 3-1 in the UCL group stage back in December and more of the same is required here — with or without Mbappe.
Neymar will be there from the off, the question is only how will he adapt to being the lone superstar. Will he be the focal point of the attack, or will Pochettino opt to replace Mbappe with another striker, allowing Neymar to both be the facilitator and the scorer.
2. Angel Di Maria
Not quite as untouchable as Neymar as he ages but still extremely important, Di Maria rolled back the years in the first leg with 45 excellent first half minutes and a strong showing up until he tired around the hour mark.
The 33-year-old chipping in defensively should free up Alessandro Florenzi to bomb forward whenever possible and the less defending that the Italian has to worry about, the better, as the flanks remain relatively undamaged by Mbappe’s potential absence.
Di Maria being spared the physicality of the Lens clash suggests that he will feature from the off for the best part of the encounter. Without Mbappe, however, look for him to be less able to prioritize his defensive duties, and be more needed orchestrate the attack alongside Neymar.
3. Mauro Icardi
The real concern for Pochettino approaching this one is how to replace Mbappe through the middle with Icardi more of a predatory target man figure without the searing pace that PSG’s No. 7 used to devastating effect against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
The former Tottenham Hotspur boss could gain choose another option with more speed, but if he does, he loses the finishing prowess of Icardi who has been in decent form in front of goal since his return from injury and fitness issues.
With 90 minutes and a VAR-cancelled goal in his legs from the weekend, the Argentine is probably the best bet to start and lead the line if Mbappe can’t go.
4. Moise Kean
The most obvious replacement for Mbappe in terms of his speed and finishing is the Italian who has enjoyed a productive loan spell from Everton and is now closer to the hot prospect that he once was with Juventus a few years ago.
Kean has found the back of the net against the likes of Barca as part of PSG’s journey to this point but has struggled to make as much of an impact of late since he tested positive for COVID-19 and was dismissed by Italy’s national team from March duty with muscle fatigue.
His recent struggles suggest he’s probably a better bench option, though one that could change the game late on if PSG are chasing a goal.
5. Pablo Sarabia
The wildcard in all of this and one that would take some rejigging to accommodate is the Spaniard who started the recent win over Lens and can do a good job out wide both domestically and on the continental stage.
Sarabia and Julian Draxler are of similar profiles, but the German is no longer really considered an attacking option after his gradual conversion into a versatile midfielder and the use of the Spaniard would also likely mean that one of Neymar, Di Maria or Icardi starts on the bench with Verratti sure to play as a makeshift No. 10 once more.
Like Kean, the 28-year-old is probably a smarter substitute to bring on if the tide needs turning — potential finalists Real Madrid know all about his ability to produce match-saving moments of magic out of nothing.