No footballer is hotter property in world football today than Kylian Mbappe. Having made his senior debut international debut barely 18 months ago, the Paris-born striker is already the player every youngster dreams of being and every coach would love to sign. Not only is he a two-time Ligue 1 champion but he is also a World Cup winner having been named the best young player at this summer’s tournament. Quite literally, everything is at Mbappe’s feet.
Having already scored more than 20 goals in both of his two full seasons in professional football – 26 in 2016/17 for Monaco and 21 for Paris Saint-Germain last term – he is highly valued and hugely cherished by both his club and country. He has the mix of pace, agility and confidence that no one can match. “Donetello” – as he is called by his teammates due to his resemblance to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – is highly tipped to take over from the duopoly of Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the World Player of the Year.
Yet today he is in Liverpool and at Anfield. Up against a fellow youngster, who has risen through the ranks just as quickly. Trent Alexander-Arnold, in many ways, is Liverpool’s Mbappe; a home-grown player who used to kick of ball around the city suburbs and until recently was unknown. Now, like his French-counterpart, Alexander-Arnold is a key part of his hometown club. Despite playing in a different position to Mbappe, Alexander-Arnold has many of the same qualities; speed – both with and without the ball –, fine close control and the willingness and ability to beat his opponent. Fearlessness is a quality both have in abundance.
But what Mbappe and Neymar represent as part of PSG’s attacking trident is the toughest test that the young defender has faced so far in his Liverpool career. Since making his debut in October 2016 at the age of 18, Alexander-Arnold has gone on to establish himself as Liverpool’s first-choice right-back. playing in a UEFA Champions League final and gone to the World Cup as part of the England squad. Albeit it may not be up to the heights of Mbappe, it is still some achievement.
PSG’s start to the season will have done little to quell the anticipation of the challenge that Alexander-Arnold and his defence face this evening. Mbappe, Neymar and Ederson Cavani – having returned from a World Cup injury – are scoring goals galore. They are the most formidable front-line in football, both in terms of goals and price tags. But Liverpool’s start to the season, and especially that of their defence, sees them going into the contest with equal reason to be confident.
The fascination arises from how Alexander-Arnold and his fellow full-back Andrew Robertson will cope with the movement and trickery of the PSG starlets. Ensuring that Mbappe and Neymar are not able to cut inside and drive in towards the penalty area must be a top priority. Likewise, they must stand their ground and not allow the twists and turns to leave them dizzy. It may be clichéd, but concentration will be as telling a factor as any other.
Following on from Liverpool’s run to the final last season, it would be assumed that a barnstorming evening at Anfield will follow. But the first five matches of this Premier League season suggests otherwise. More controlled, measured and robust play has been the order of the day from Jurgen Klopp. Rather than losing their heads and control when they relent from their high press and quick transitions, Liverpool are showing more capability at dictating the terms – losing fewer points and matches, in the process. By commanding most of the 90 minutes of play – albeit through clever movement and pressing rather than possession – Liverpool are being taken more seriously.
One will wear red, the other blue. If you cut them both open they would bleed those colours too. What Mbappe and Alexander-Arnold represent is that placing faith in youth pays off, even in the short-term. Both have adapted to professional football at the highest of levels with ease and their careers – quite remarkably – are only just beginning. Those spectators sat on either touchline for this Champions League encounter will be in for a treat; they will be up close and personal to two of Europe’s best young players.