Paris – Kylian Mbappe had already won the World Cup and scored in the final, but he had not yet produced a Champions League performance on the level of his devastating display that blew away Lionel Messi and Barcelona yesterday.
His hat-trick, capped by the emphatic finish at the end of an 85th-minute counter-attack, secured a stunning 4-1 win for Paris Saint-Germain — without Neymar — in their last 16 first leg that leaves the French club on the brink of the quarter-finals.
The 22-year-old terrorised Barcelona right-back Sergino Dest all evening long and led PSG’s fightback after they fell behind to Messi’s first-half penalty.
“When Kylian shines in the big matches it makes the difference,” captain Marquinhos told French broadcaster RMC Sport after a result that should help exorcise some old demons for the Qatar-owned club.
Much of the talk coming into yesterday’s match was about what happened the last time these sides met in Catalonia.
Four years ago, at the same stage of the competition, PSG arrived at the Camp Nou having won the first leg 4-0 and departed on the end of a historic, humiliating 6-1 hammering.
Yet that game has turned out to be devastating for Barcelona.
PSG responded to the embarrassment of the infamous “remontada” (Spanish for “comeback”) by buying the architect of their downfall that night, paying a world record fee of 222 million euros (US$264m at the time) to activate Neymar’s release clause.
Barcelona squandered the money received and now find themselves in possibly ruinous debt while also having squandered the last years of Messi at his peak.
If last season’s 8-2 quarter-final demolition at the hands of Bayern Munich was not to be the end for the Argentine with Barcelona in the Champions League, then Mbappe’s devastating display surely is.
PSG did not even need Neymar, who is nursing a groin injury, to pull off a memorable result for recently-appointed coach Mauricio Pochettino.
Nor did they need Angel Di Maria, who is also sidelined.
Will he stay in Paris?
Amid all the talk that Neymar is close to signing a new contract to keep him in Paris beyond the end of his existing deal in 2022, yesterday’s game was a reminder of the importance of Mbappe to the PSG project.
He humiliated Barcelona and in doing so may well have convinced Real Madrid president Florentino Perez of the need to find the funds to bring him to the Bernabeu.
Mbappe’s contract expires at the end of next season. He has not yet decided whether to sign a new deal with his hometown club.
It could still get far worse for Barcelona, should Mbappe end up in Madrid and PSG decide to replace him with Messi, whose own contract expires in June. That is possible.
Inevitably, Mbappe was asked about his contractual situation in the wake of what is his signature Champions League performance for PSG.
“The question often comes up but it is not only that. It would be, in inverted commas, ‘stupid’ to make a decision about my future based on one good or bad game,” he said.
“It would be ridiculous to say I wasn’t going to sign a new contract if we had lost.
“It is a long-term thing, my decision won’t be based on one or two games, but I have always said I was happy here and I am even happier after a match like this.”
Last season’s beaten finalists will surely not let this first-leg advantage slip, even if Neymar may not be fit for the return.
Without the Brazilian alongside him, Mbappe became just the second player to score a Champions League hat-trick against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, following in the footsteps of Andriy Shevchenko, who achieved the feat for Dynamo Kiev in 1997.
Mbappe is also, after four and a half years at the club, now PSG’s third top scorer of all time.
With 110 goals, only Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic remain ahead of him.
“I always wanted to give my best for Paris Saint-Germain. These colours mean a lot to me,” said the former Monaco star.
“I have not always had the breaks and maybe there will be other games where I don’t turn up, but I will never hide. I might make mistakes, get things wrong, but I will never hide.” — AFP