LE SPIRO: Neymar versus Mbappé?

Ligue 1 Conforama > Spiro Blog

With Neymar and Kylian Mbappé set to feature together for the first time this season, Ligue1.com's Matthew Spiro is urging the two Ballon d’Or hopefuls to put personal ambitions to one side.

There are many areas in which Paris Saint-Germain must improve in order to conquer Europe but Tuchel's biggest challenge will be to create a harmonious atmosphere in the team. Since Tuchel took charge in the summer there have been signs of encouragement. The former Borussia Dortmund boss is a different character from Unai Emery: more extroverted and, to put it bluntly, 'more fun'. His willingness to sing his initiation song in front of the team and the press after the Trophée des Champions points to a simplicity and an openness that wasn't there in previous regimes.

Lassana Diarra and Christopher Nkunku have both stressed how "close to the players" Tuchel is, and the many videos circulating of the 45-year-old joking around with his troops on the training ground suggest a positive spirit reigns.  Tuchel has also tested different tactical formations in a bid to make PSG more malleable. The three-man defence was a feature of pre-season, and while he reverted to the four-man backline against Caen last weekend, the signing of Germany's versatile defender Thilo Khehrer is a big hint that this PSG will be more flexible and unpredictable in the coming months.

Star power

So far so good, then. But the real test for Tuchel starts this Saturday when he takes a squad that is close to full strength to Guingamp. Mbappé was afforded extra rest following his World Cup exploits, and the France star is now likely to return. Edinson Cavani is in contention to play too. Ensuring that his star trio of Neymar, Cavani and Mbappé pull in the same direction will likely determine whether or not Tuchel is a success at the Parc des Princes.

You didn't need to be an expert in body language to notice friction between Cavani and Neymar last season. Whether they were arguing over penalty taking, or failing to combine in open play, it was obvious their relationship could improve. This time, Mbappé's rapidly rising star could become an even more pressing issue. Neymar made it clear his principal reason for leaving Barcelona was to escape the shadow of Lionel Messi. He wants to be PSG's main man and win the Ballon d'Or. 

Mbappé mania

The trouble is Mbappé's exploits in Russia have seen his popularity soar inexorably. Last weekend there was a bigger cheer when the 19-year-old lifted the World Cup trophy on the pitch before the game than when Neymar netted the opening goal. Ask a random 10-year-old Parisian who their favourite player is, the word 'Mbappé' gets screamed at you before you've even finished the question. The bottom line is the Paris-born forward is threatening to steal Neymar's thunder.

'Neymar v Mbappé, the real match' was the headline on the front page of French newspaper Libération as the Ligue 1 season kicked off last weekend. Tuchel will surely be aware of the potential ego clash, and the recent comments from his respective superstars are unlikely have comforted him.

Perspective shift

While the inexplicably self-assured and ambitious Mbappé seems now to consider himself Neymar's equal, the Brazilian still regards his French colleague as "a kid". In a recent interview with France Football magazine, Mbappé cited himself and Neymar when listing five candidates for the next Ballon d'Or. "Our relationship is based on respect and reciprocal admiration," he noted. Yet recently Neymar described Mbappé as "a kid I have a lot of affection for… He's someone I try to transmit my experience to in order to help him become even better."

Maybe we are being harsh, maybe we are reading too much in to one comment. After all, Neymar and Mbappé appeared to get on very well last term. Yet given the circumstances of Neymar's exit from Barcelona, and his stated desire to be loved and cherished, it would be foolish to ignore the potential for a clash.

Litmus test in Brittany

Ligue 1 is very lucky to have two of the best attacking talents in the world game - not to mention one of the deadliest strikers in Europe in Cavani. Of course PSG are clear favourites to win the league title again. But if Tuchel is to succeed in taking PSG that next step forward - which means qualifying for the Champions League semi-finals at the very least this year and winning it within the next two years - he needs his star men to gel and certainly not be in some kind of competition with one another. Events at the Stade du Roudourou should tell us more about the pair's state of mind, and thus the size of the task facing the new manager.

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