PARIS (AP) — Kylian Mbappé’s absence is going to make things a lot harder for Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarterfinals.
The 21-year-old forward has been ruled out for about three weeks after sustaining an ankle ligament injury on Friday against Saint-Étienne in the French Cup final. That makes the prolific Mbappé, who has 30 goals in 34 appearances this season, highly doubtful to face Italian club Atalanta on Aug. 12 in Lisbon.
Even if he does play, Mbappé will not be fully fit or match sharp in a team also without Edinson Cavani and Ángel Di María.
Di María is suspended while Cavani — PSG’s all-time leading scorer with 200 goals — left at the end of his contract in June. So did attack-minded right back Thomas Meunier, who joined Borussia Dortmund. Neither player chose to sign a short extension the way other players in European leagues did.
Mbappé also missed PSG’s return leg against Dortmund in the last 16 on March 11 because of a throat infection.
Di María was given a yellow card late in that match and has been suspended for the quarterfinals. After being substituted, the winger rushed off the bench to join a scuffle after Dortmund midfielder Emre Can’s foul on Neymar prompted some shoving between the two teams.
PSG coach Thomas Tuchel has found himself in somewhat of a similar position before.
He was without the injured Mbappé and the suspended Neymar for PSG’s first match of the Champions League campaign, a convincing 3-0 home win against Real Madrid in which Di María scored two goals.
Madrid was out of form at the time, however, which is not the case for Atalanta.
The free-scoring club is battling Inter Milan and Lazio for second place behind champion Juventus in Italy.
Against a physical side like Atalanta, Tuchel may be better off scrapping a 4-3-3 formation and strengthening his midfield in a 4-4-2 with Julian Draxler and Pablo Sarabia in the wide positions. That would mean Neymar pushing up as a central striker alongside Mauro Icardi, however, when Neymar is often better cutting in from the flanks.
Midfield is where PSG could really struggle against a team which mixes superb passing with a hard edge. While not over-stepping the mark, Atalanta’s midfield is much more physical than PSG’s.
Highly skilled, too.
Against Juventus earlier this month, Atalanta overwhelmed the opposing midfield in the first 15 minutes with an astounding 160 completed passes. Juve’s sweat-drenched midfielders appeared to be chasing shadows as the slick Papu Gómez pulled the strings for Atalanta.
Gómez rarely loses the ball, while Josip Ilicic is as imposing physically as he is technically excellent. Strikers Duván Zapata and Luis Muriel are both strong, good at holding up play with their backs to goal and very difficult to knock off the ball.
Last Friday, angered by Mbappé’s injury, Tuchel claimed Saint-Étienne’s players had been thuggish on the field and that the referee failed to protect Mbappé and Neymar.
It is a claim Tuchel has made before and perhaps masks a weakness against a physical style of play.
Atalanta will have taken note.