Kylian Mbappe: Forward has become 'more ruthless'
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Liverpool’s efficiency and confidence may have dropped during their slump in form, but their work rate has not – even if their press has not always been as effective as it can be. It has been a recurring theme of Jurgen Klopp’s six-year Anfield reign that Liverpool’s intensity, particularly in their counter-pressing in the final third, is rivalled by very few clubs across the continent and it has been fundamental to their success in the past few seasons.
It is also why certain players have needed time to adjust. It’s easy to forget it took six months before Fabinho and Andy Robertson became permanent fixtures in the starting eleven. Now, there’s perhaps no better defensive midfielder or left-back in Europe.
But how important it is that players in all three areas of the pitch accept that they put as many yards in when it comes to defending as they do breaking forward in attack also serves to cast a cloud of doubt over the prospect of Kylian Mbappe wearing Liverpool red next season.
Reports from France say the Reds are one of four clubs with realistic hopes of landing the Paris Saint-Germain superstar, who is out of contract in the summer of 2022, in the coming months.
It’s claimed £174million (€200m) is what it will cost to prise Mbappe away from the Parc des Princes with Liverpool, Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester City all mentioned as feasible destinations. He’s also said to want around £500,000 a week in wages, though.
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The idea that the World Cup-winning attacker would rock up on Merseyside in the summer transfer window therefore seems rather fanciful, despite Jamie Carragher’s excitement.
After all, Liverpool have had to negotiate deals scrupulously of late. They only paid £9million upfront for Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcantara in the summer, the rest made up in add-ons, and similarly paid only a guaranteed £2m for Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies in January.
The coronavirus pandemic has certainly hit the club, albeit nowhere near as hard as teams lower down the English football pyramid. Chelsea striker Timo Werner might be a Liverpool player rather than Jota if not for COVID-19.
The Premier League champions do not have the riches of a City or a PSG and have had to plan accordingly in the transfer market in recent years. Their biggest spends on the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson were offset by the club-record sale of Philippe Coutinho. Had the Brazilian not left, the duo may never have joined Liverpool.
Signing Mbappe would obviously therefore be an incredibly left-field move, despite his world-class talents. Assuming he was handed a five-year deal, the financial commitment could cost Liverpool in excess of £300m in the transfer fee and wages alone, without factoring in bonuses and other undisclosed figures.
And yet the links persist and the excitement over a possible swoop builds. Mbappe, wanted by Liverpool before he left Monaco for PSG in 2017, has made it clear he admires Klopp’s Anfield project with his public comments about the English giants in the past 18 months. The two are thought to have had phone calls four years ago before the forward opted to stay in his homeland.
But while Liverpool fans would naturally swim across the English Channel with Mbappe on their backs to have him link up with Klopp and co. – signing the Frenchman would not just represent a major change of tact in the boardroom, it would require significant tweaks on the pitch.
Regardless of whether or not Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane stay this summer – although it is seemingly likely that they both will given Barcelona’s financial struggles and Real Madrid looking preoccupied with younger alternative targets such as Mbappe – the 22-year-old is not necessarily a natural fit for Klopp.
Of course, he’s the calibre of player that you would look to make fit into any team. He is a truly generational player. He only turned 22 in December and yet has 141 goals and 75 assists from 213 senior appearances for Monaco and PSG.
At Champions League level, where opponents are generally tougher than in Ligue 1, Mbappe has 24 goals and 17 assists in 41 appearances. He’s also got 16 goals in 39 France caps.
Yet. And yet. Despite his otherworldly goalscoring pedigree, and the fact he is near certain to break the 500-goal barrier at club level provided he does not suffer numerous long-term injuries, there are question marks over whether he would really suit Liverpool.
The obvious issue is that if Salah and Mane stay, where does Mbappe play? Firmino remains a guaranteed starter so Liverpool would seemingly have to change to a 4-2-3-1 formation. But what would that mean in midfield, where Klopp has Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, Curtis Jones, Naby Keita, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to pick from?
The bigger issue than that though is whether Mbappe would adjust stylistically to the unique demands of playing in a front three for Liverpool.
Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino all put in a tremendous shift defending from the front, as stats from FBref show. Salah’s numbers are sensational.
This season, he has tackled 19 players to Mbappe’s five – albeit having played more minutes in the league – and has won the ball nine times for his team from tackles, to Mbappe’s two.
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The Egyptian has won 50 per cent of his duels when tackling a player looking to dribble past him, compared to Mbappe’s 11.1 per cent success rate.
When it comes to pressing, Salah has pressed players receiving, carrying or releasing the ball 278 times in the Premier League this season, with his team gaining possession within five seconds of those pressures on 86 occasions. That’s an average of 13 pressures a game with four successes a match.
Mbappe has only pressured opponents 92 times – and while his team have won the ball 28 times from those pressures, a marginally inferior success rate to Salah’s, the difference in volume is stark. He only averages 5.4 pressures per 90 minutes.
Similarly to Salah, Sadio Mane has 281 pressures from even less Premier League minutes than his team-mates, and has a higher success rate by four per cent thanks to his 98 successes.
Firmino, playing through the middle, has managed an astonishing 325 pressures in the league with 93 of them successful at the least successful rate of the trio.
The three Liverpool attackers don’t just win the ball back an awful lot but they press the opposing defenders at will. It is one of their biggest strengths as a unit given how intelligently they can co-ordinate their press, and their defensive efforts have helped lead to many a Liverpool goal since Salah joined in the summer of 2017.
It is not that Mbappe cannot press, but clearly his role at PSG is very different to the demands asked of the Liverpool attacking triumvirate. He is a player of huge quality when he or his team have the ball, but can he be as efficient when the opponents have it?
Mbappe has operated best for PSG waiting for his team-mates to win the ball and spring a counter-attack, floating in and around the back-line and using his pace and movement to get beyond them, rather than being the one to trigger a breakaway by winning possession for his team.
It would require a significant change in approach from the player if he moved to Liverpool. Even if he joined and Salah and Mane stayed, the Frenchman would be expected to put a shift in. There are no passengers in Klopp’s side, even if they were paid £500,000 a week.
Of course, the 53-year-old coach would surely find a way to maintain his team’s energy in the final third while getting the best out of Mbappe. It would certainly be incredibly exciting to see how the Liverpool team would involve with such a high-profile addition, and to see how Mbappe’s arrival would affect the dynamic of Mane, Salah and Firmino.
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