In our column last week, we lauded Kylian Mbappé as the wonder kid who helped Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain achieve a dominant start to the season. After Tuesday, the team has broken out to an incredible start in the UEFA Champions League, qualifying for the knockout stages after four games – out of six – with a staggering 17 goals for and an impressive zero goals against.
Regardless of the negative press surrounding Les Parisiens, they are arguably the best team in Europe this season. In 11 games, PSG has won nine times and drawn twice. Detractors are quick to cite their weaker competition in Ligue 1 compared to other top leagues in Europe, but their performance in the Champions League should serve to settle those doubts. Against reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, PSG netted three goals en route to a comfortable win.
Besides Mbappé, Paris has assembled a collection of some of the best talent in the world. Uruguayan talisman Edinson Cavani is the team’s veteran, a striker of class who holds down the attack as he approaches the club record for goals. Neymar, the subject of soccer’s biggest – and shadiest – transfer, is a talent on par with the best players in the world. Midfielder Marco Verratti is an Italian star who manages the tempo of the game in the center of the pitch. Angel Di Maria is another veteran who performs with absolute class and is in some of the best form of his career.
Behind a star-studded attack and midfield are Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Dani Alves, three hardened Brazilian veterans who shore up any rare error PSG may commit.
Make no mistake, they are far from the most likable team. Neymar and Alves have attracted much media attention for their antics and attitude problems. Manager Unai Emery has had to deal with a dressing room full of egos that could rival even Real Madrid’s. As it stands, he has done an incredible job, and the team could not be performing better.
Going into the Champions League group stage, many pundits – ourselves included – believed Bayern and Scottish champions Celtic FC would pose strong tests to PSG. But the Red and Blues responded thunderously, scoring goal after goal and outclassing every team they have faced so far.
Of course, success this early into a season is not a guarantee. Bayern faced PSG without its world-class keeper, Manuel Neuer, who was injured at the time. Ligue 1’s best, Monaco and Lyon, have yet to cross paths with PSG. The real tests will come then. Les Parisiens will also face a challenge if and when they run into Real Madrid, Juventus or a fated rematch against Barcelona.
The question then becomes whether or not this fiery start is sustainable – we believe it is. Unlike Manchester City, which has also had a scorching start to the season, PSG plays in a much easier league, has more depth with players like Lucas, Julian Draxler, Thomas Meunier and Javier Pastore, and boasts the third best player in the world, Neymar.
Even when resting players throughout the long season, PSG can and will consistently field lineups replete with class. While there is little to be impressed with in the team’s assembly – the state of Qatar practically backs the team and supplies it with nearly unlimited funds with which to buy players – there is much to wonder at when it comes to its play on the pitch.
Upon Neymar’s arrival to the club, pundits and fans alike wondered if this move would elevate PSG to a stratospheric status akin to that of Barcelona and Real Madrid. After this great start, that conversation has gained traction. PSG is headed in the right direction.
Now let us see if they are here to stay.
Vanessa Craige and Paolo Santamaria are seniors in the School of Foreign Service and the College, respectively. “NOTHING BUT NET” appears every Friday.