Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Kylian Mbappe makes it all about him as PSG and Benfica stay unbeaten in UEFA Champions League play

PARIS — Kylian Mbappe was once again the center of attention at Parc des Princes on Tuesday as he scored a penalty hours after his latest controversy in a 1-1 draw with SL Benfica. The France international put the home side ahead with a first half before Joao Mario leveled with a second half spot kick for the visitors.

However, it was all about Mbappe’s pre-match behavior which ensured that he was the constant talking point instead of what he did on the pitch. During Tuesday afternoon, it broke that the former AS Monaco man is unhappy at PSG and feels “betrayed” by the club’s leadership after extending his contract months ago.

The reports escalated to the point that sporting adviser Luis Campos was obliged to speak publicly before the game kicked off. Although the Portuguese transfer specialist played down the reports and denied any hint of a coup behind the scenes, the damage had already been done — tongues were already wagging.

Without Lionel Messi, Christophe Galtier went for Pablo Sarabia in attack alongside Mbappe and Neymar and involved in some early pressure. It died down after that and required a penalty for the deadlock to be broken when Les Parisiens’ No. 7 stepped up to slam home.

Benfica were far from dead and buried, though, and the Portuguese giants found a way back into the encounter through a silly Marco Verratti foul. Joao Mario equalized with aplomb and a disallowed late acrobatic effort from Mbappe was the closest the hosts came to settling the affair and the closest he came to being PSG’s hero.

“The only thing that I can say is that Kylian is a friend and is very happy here each day,” said Sergio Ramos after the match. “He did not leave last season and I do not believe the rumors now. We are focused on what we are doing — we do not read the press.”

The 1-1 result leaves Group H in a curious state with PSG and Benfica both five points clear with a possible six to play for after Maccabi Haifa’s 2-0 win over Juventus. Galtier’s men can advance with a home win over the Israeli side next time out while Roger Schmidt’s side could worsen the Old Lady’s woes in Lisbon.

“The only thing that we lacked a bit here was determination, I feel,” added Ramos. “It is the little details which make the difference. This was a physical team which works well technically. The most important thing is to keep going and to finish top of the group.”

What will linger for some time, though, is the feeling that Mbappe is evolving into a potentially unmanageable character after this latest episode. His undoubted brilliance does make him indispensable for PSG, but his persona makes him very hard to relate to — for supporters and teammates alike.

Mbappe may well end up succeeding in his battle to occupy the same position that he plays with France, but the question is what the actual cost will be on this Parisien side. Galtier may have them unbeaten, but consecutive draws lead them into what will be a tough Classique against bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille this weekend and they remain very much a work in progress.

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