How Kylian Mbappe could settle in at Real Madrid and reach brilliant new heights

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How Kylian Mbappe could settle in at Real Madrid and reach brilliant new heights
Kylian Mbappe will leave Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season
Kylian Mbappe will leave Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season
AFP
It has come as no surprise that Kylian Mbappe (25) has decided to leave Paris Saint-Germain after a number of successful seasons in the French capital. But now, after years of speculation on his next destination, it seems almost certain the answer is Real Madrid. What can Mbappe's new supporters expect from him? Where will he play? And how can he make Real Madrid better?

The evolution of Mbappe

The Frenchman will surely want to make an impact in Spain like he did in France, where he debuted for AS Monaco in 2015/16, but really started to prosper in the 2016/17 campaign. Under Leonardo Jardim, Monaco reached the semi-finals of the Champions League that season and surprisingly won the Ligue 1 ahead of strong favourites Paris Saint-Germain.

Mbappe was the epitome of that Monaco side, a feverish attacking presence that seemed impossible to contain and excited football fans around the world with his energy, unpredictability, and undeniable impact.

Since then, Mbappe has however, never seemed to rediscover the spontaneity he first displayed: his 2016/17 season is not only his best season in terms of overperformance on Expected Goals (+8.1) but also the season in which he was the most clinical, with his shooting accuracy (77.8%) and shot conversion rate (28.9%) the highest in his career over a single season.

Mbappe celebrating for Monaco back in 2016
AFP

It was also during that season that he recorded his best defensive stats, too (3.4 ball recoveries per 90 minutes, 0.24 interceptions).

In the summer of 2017, Mbappe moved to Paris Saint-Germain and quickly asserted himself as the league’s star player. More and more, he’s tended to take games by the scruff of the neck, becoming more of a soloist, as proven by the elevated number of shots and dribbles he records per game.

And there seems to be at least some merit to that; his stratospheric numbers from his first season have only increased. Over the eight full seasons Mbappe spent in Ligue 1, he was undeniably the most dominant attacking force.

Mbappe's record in Ligue 1 since 2016/17
Opta by StatsPerform
Mbappe's impressive dribbling stats
Opta by StatsPerform

New surroundings

In Paris, Kylian Mbappe was the absolute star to the extent that he at times seemed bigger than the club. And despite playing with some of the best players ever, it seemed that everything was tailored to Mbappe's wishes with others coming in a distant second or third.

Understandable for a club relatively new to constant success, with a desperation to keep one of the best players in the world happy. But in choosing Real Madrid as his next destination, Mbappe will join a club that’s bigger than any player, arguably the most successful club in world football, and one with several players fit to battle it out with Mbappe for best player in the world over the next decade or so.

Real Madrid’s manager also knows a thing or two about success, as Carlo Ancelotti is the only manager ever to win four European Cups/Champions Leagues.

It will be interesting to see where Mbappe would slot in. The Frenchman, even when playing as a striker, tends to occupy the left forward berth on the pitch, but with the ever-excelling Vinicius Junior occupying the left wing, that spot seems taken. In fact, the heat maps of the two this league season are quite similar.

Mbappe's heat map
Opta by StatsPerform
Vinicius' heat map
Opta by StatsPerform

Mbappe will most likely line up as a striker and be asked to maintain a more central role than usual. Real Madrid’s recent signings on the transfer market - or rather, the lack of certain signings - also seem to point to a more central role for Mbappe.

Florentino Perez hasn’t signed a classic number nine in a while, with Joselu clearly a backup and Brazilian wunderkind Endrick most likely starting his stint in Madrid at the Castilla, Real’s second squad.

Mbappe's arrival will likely see the pragmatist Carlo Ancelotti revert his system back to a 4-3-3, with a probable front three of Vinicius, Mbappe and Rodrygo with Jude Bellingham close behind, with the option of reverting back to their current two-striker with a 10 setup whenever more defensive security is needed.

The puzzle in terms of positioning will be very interesting but could prove fruitful. Paris Saint-Germain’s most successful season with Kylian Mbappe is arguably the 2020/21 season when the forwards Neymar and Angel Di Maria interchanged positions with Mbappe and opponent defences struggled to get a grip of the effervescent trio.

With the attacking talent and intelligence that Real Madrid have on display and with all four having a penchant for finding and utilising space, an even more frightening iteration could arise.

In terms of overall style of play, Mbappe won’t struggle to fit in at Madrid. Ancelotti doesn’t require his attackers to do too much in terms of pressing or defending and the build-up play of Paris Saint-Germain moves at a similar slow pace as that of Real Madrid.

Comparison of team styles in LaLiga and Ligue 1 during the 2023/24 season
Opta by StatsPerform

Champions League success

The one main prize that Kylian Mbappe has not won yet in his illustrious career is the Champions League, and who better to join than the club that have won the most of these, managed by the most successful manager in the competition?

Mbappe’s impact on the competition since his debut has been undeniable, as he ranks among the very best players the Champions League has seen over the last eight years despite only turning 25 last December. In fact, none of the players ranked above him in any of the categories below are younger than 31.

Mbappe's chance-creating carries
Opta by StatsPerform

Mbappe’s rise to one of the world’s best players has been so swift and the subsequent expectation has been so high that the dazzling numbers he puts up still tend to disappoint as long as he does not couple it with the fitting silverware.

It is reminiscent of the situation of Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, a player Mbappe has often been compared to, who only won his first league title 10 years into his career, fittingly enough doing it with Real Madrid. 

But even as Mbappe is searching for that crowning Champions League win, the French forward surely has done enough to warrant a prominent seat at the ‘Best Player in the World’ discussion table.

His current season with Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 is most similar in terms of style to Lionel Messi’s most productive LaLiga seasons and if Kylian Mbappe can transfer his Ligue 1 form to Real Madrid, the league might well be home again to the world’s best player.

Mbappe and similar players
Opta by StatsPerform

Note: Additional reporting by Albert Valor and Damien Shernetsky.

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