Magnificent Mbappe leads wasteful PSG past weary Real Madrid in UEFA Champions League opener

Paris Saint-Germain's French forward Kylian Mbappe (R) shoots the ball during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on February 15, 2022. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

PARIS, France — Kylian Mbappe’s late winner at Parc des Princes with just seconds left on the clock gave Paris Saint-Germain the upper hand in their UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg tie with Real Madrid on Tuesday.

When Thibaut Courtois saved Lionel Messi’s penalty, it appeared as if Mauricio Pochettino’s side had lost the game, but replacement Neymar teed up the French superstar for a spectacular late score that puts Les Parisiens in the driving seat ahead of Real Madrid’s return.

On an evening when the Ligue 1 leaders produced opportunity after chance only to find an inspired Belgium international in goal for Real or a wayward Angel Di Maria in the first half, PSG were excellent value for their victory.

Mbappe was a persistent threat to the Spanish defence, with Dani Carvajal receiving a thrashing from the 23-year-old and Nuno Mendes, who pushed forward from left-back to help the assault.

Pochettino led his team out with purpose, and their first-half push was surprisingly excellent given how mundane many of their domestic performances have been so far this season, but PSG’s creators were able to wreak havoc with Danilo Pereira and Leandro Paredes disrupting from midfield.

But, as much as Mbappe, Messi, Di Maria, Mendes, Achraf Hakimi, and Marco Verratti created, it appeared as though the goal would not arrive, and Carlo Ancelotti’s goalless game plan would succeed — until the buzzer beater.

Mbappe delivered in the decisive manner that the pre-match anticipation had rendered inevitable given the tug-of-war between the two clubs over his future, and PSG now have an efficient 1-0 lead ahead of the return to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Mbappe remarked after the game, “We wanted to be ready for this huge European night.” “These are the games that we all want to be a part of. We wanted to win, and the supporters encouraged us to do so.”

According to Opta, his 93rd-minute winner was PSG’s first in the Champions League since Blaise Matuidi (93 minutes and 44 seconds) scored against Barcelona in April 2013. Mbappe has scored seven of his previous 12 goals in competition in the second half, including a stoppage-time winner against Stade Rennais last weekend.

There is still work to be done in Spain, and the French capital side will need to be just as good, if not better, but they elevated their game when it mattered most, demonstrating that this bunch of players should not be written off.

Real had only one shot on goal, and while PSG was wasteful, they produced in abundance, while their opponents were fatigued and every bit the club built around veterans and ageing players who had seen their best days.

Between now until the second leg, a lot can happen, but there is a wonderful chance for Pochettino and his team to travel to Madrid and put on a show similar to the one we witnessed last season when Barcelona was blown away at Camp Nou.

The speculation over Mbappe’s future will continue, but this outcome demonstrated his worth to his present employers and his prospective value to long-term suitors, which will not alter until he makes a firm choice on his next move.

He stated, “I want to focus on my football.” “A lot of things are being stated. Everyone knows a little bit about everything and speaks for no reason. I was focused on assisting the squad, and I am now completely focused and satisfied with PSG. It didn’t take a match against Real Madrid for me to realise I was part of one of the top teams in the world.”

PSG already has half of the work done as they prepare for the return leg (March 9 | CBS and Paramount+), but a better Real side will no doubt be waiting for them next month as they attempt to seal their quarterfinal spot, with Mbappe set to put in another statement performance.