Analysis: Will France’s reliance on Mbappé be their downfall or salvation?

France are many people’s favourites to win Euro 2024. Didier Deschamps’ squad is undoubtedly talented enough, but whether they are crowned champions in July will almost certainly depend on the form of Kylian Mbappé.

After years of courting, Real Madrid have finally got their next Galáctico.

Last week, it was announced that Kylian Mbappé will pull on their famous white shirt after spending a few summers fluttering his eyelashes at the Santiago Bernabéu from the confines of Paris.

The prospect of the European champions adding arguably the world’s best player to their ranks is a frightening one.

But before trading the blue and red of Paris Saint-Germain for the glistening white of Real Madrid, Mbappé has one big objective first: captain his nation to their first European Championship title since 2000.

France have had their own Galáctico for over seven years now. Since making his debut in March 2017 as an 18-year-old, Mbappé has scored more goals (47) and delivered more assists (28) than any other French player.

His combined 75 goal involvements is 23 more than Antoine Griezmann in second, and only the Atlético Madrid man has played more minutes (7,015) than Mbappé’s 5,970 since Didier Deschamps gave him his debut all those years ago.

In short, he has basically been ever-present and ever-deadly.

Most goals and assist since Kylian Mbappé debut for France

Still only 25, Mbappé’s international CV is glittering.

His four goals powered France to World Cup glory in 2018, becoming the youngest French goalscorer in World Cup history and just the second teenager, after Pelé, to score in a World Cup final.

Four years later, he took home the Golden Boot at the 2022 World Cup with eight goals. Ultimately, Les Bleus fell at the final hurdle against Argentina, but not before France’s phenomenon had become just the second player in history to net a hat-trick in a World Cup final after Geoff Hurst.

So far, his efforts in pursuing the Jules Rimet trophy have been more fruitful than his quest for Henri Delaunay silverware; Mbappé’s only prior European Championship appearance came at the delayed Euro 2020, where France were knocked out in the last 16.

Their number 10 had a tournament to forget, failing to score despite taking 14 shots, registering 1.7 expected goals and totalling 35 touches in the opposition box – a record number at the tournament for any player not to score.

Kylian Mbappé performance Euro 2020

He also missed the decisive spot-kick against Switzerland in the last-16 shootout, seeing his penalty saved by Yann Sommer as France were dumped out after surrendering a 3-1 lead.

It is, of course, extremely disingenuous to suggest Mbappé’s underperformance in Euro 2020 was the sole reason for France’s failure.

Deschamps received a lot of criticism for the way he set his team up in their last-16 clash, opting to play a makeshift three-man defence comprising players far more comfortable in a back four. Football is a team game after all.

But it is often won by the superstars, and it is difficult to overstate just how important Mbappé is to France’s success.

For a start, France have won 47 out of 66 games in which he’s started (71.2%).

That percentage drops to 55.5% when he doesn’t start (15/27).

And his output across France’s last two campaigns – the 2022 World Cup and qualifying for Euro 2024 – has been staggering.

In Qatar, Mbappé was involved in 49 open-play attacking sequences that ended in a shot for France.

That is, he either took the shot himself, created the chance for a teammate, or was involved in the build-up; only Lionel Messi (53) could better that tally.

But looking at Mbappé’s involvement as a proportion of France’s overall open-play shots shows just how much their attacking play was funnelled through him.

He had a hand in 19.4% of all France’s open-play shots at the World Cup, the highest proportion of any player from any side to reach the knockout stages.

World Cup 2022 - Sequence Involvements by Player

The reason so much of France’s attacking output goes through Mbappé – you know, other than him being an outstanding individual talent – is because his teammates give him the ball whenever possible.

Of all forwards who played more than 180 minutes in Euro 2024 qualifying, only Spain’s Lamine Yamal (83.0) averaged more touches per 90 than Mbappé’s 78.8.

To put that figure into context, not a single forward in the Premier League averaged as many touches per 90 as that last season.

The job of feeding Mbappé largely falls to France’s left-back Théo Hernández, who looks to get the ball to his captain at every possible opportunity.

The Hernández-to-Mbappé pass was comfortably France’s most common combination during the qualifiers.

In fact, Hernández’ 181 passes to Mbappé in open play was the most of any single player to another in the whole of the qualification process across all teams.

Théo Hernández passes to Kylian Mbappé Euro 2024 qualifying

As his sequence data from the World Cup shows, it’s not just his goals that France rely on Mbappé for. He also makes an enormous contribution creatively.

During Euro 2024 qualification, Mbappé led his country for chances created from open play (17) as well as leading the team for assists (five). Since he made his debut, only Kingsley Coman (0.32) and Griezmann (0.29) average a higher expected assists value per 90 than him (0.24).

France’s recent friendly against Luxemburg highlighted just how much of an inspiration Mbappé can be.

The French captain had a hand in each of France’s three goals, as well as taking nine shots and creating four chances. Overall, he was involved in 13 of their 21 total shots (61.9%).

He was then rested for France’s final game before Euro 2024, a friendly against Canada in Bordeaux on Sunday night.

Limited to just 16 minutes of game time, Mbappé still had as many shots (2) as anyone else on the French team as Les Bleus laboured to a 0-0 draw.

It might sound silly to say about a player with 44 goals in 48 games coming off the back of a Ligue 1 and Coupe de France double, but Mbappé didn’t enjoy the most harmonious season at PSG.

He was initially kept away from the first team during pre-season after refusing to sign a new contract and was left out of PSG’s matchday squad for their opening Ligue 1 game against Lorient.

He recently opened up about that experience in a press conference: “They told me straight, without any third party, straight to my face. It was very clear. I was spoken to so violently that I was convinced that I wasn’t going to play [again]”.

His season ended rather acrimoniously too, with Mbappé reportedly informing PSG in February that he wouldn’t be signing a new deal.

He was largely ineffective in the Champions League semi-final defeat to Borussia Dortmund, and was left out of the squad for the last two games of PSG’s league campaign before returning for the Coupe de France final.

There was little fanfare, no pomp, no ceremony at his departure despite the fact he leaves as PSG’s record goalscorer.

France will hope now that the Madrid saga is over – and Mbappé spoke of his “immense pleasure” at joining his new club – they will have their captain and talisman firing once again.

Given just how much of France’s attacking play is channelled through their captain, Mbappé’s form in Germany will go a long way to dictating how far they go.

If he reaches the levels he is capable of – and the ones the world saw 18 months ago in Qatar – France will be extremely difficult to stop.

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