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Kylian Mbappe transfer news: Should PSG star or Vinicius Junior play on the Real Madrid left wing?

Kylian Mbappe PSG Vinicius Junior Real Madrid
© IMAGO

Real Madrid are going Galactico all over again. Beginning a little over 20 years ago, Florentino Perez was minded to spend big on one blockbuster signing every summer.

Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham were signed in quick succession and it was up to the manager – Vicente del Bosque and latterly Carlos Queiroz – to work out a way of getting them all to play together.

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When Perez returned to the club as president in 2009, having initially resigned in 2006, he brought with him the Galactico policy all over again with Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo coming in with Real Madrid breaking the world transfer record twice in a single summer. Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso, meanwhile, were also added that summer. It would be up to Manuel Pellegrini and then Jose Mourinho to make it work.

And now, with the financial effects of Covid-19 disappearing in the rearview mirror and the completion of the Bernabeu restoration works, the 14-time European champions are again ready to resurrect the Galactico masterplan.

Galacticos are back at the Bernabeu

For the seasons 2020-21, 21-22 and 22-23, Madrid actually ran at a transfer fee surplus with expensive and aging players jettisoned in favour of long-term younger players coming in.

That pattern of prudence was upended by the acquisition of Jude Bellingham last summer for a fee of €105 million. Manager Carlo Ancelotti suddenly had a new – and welcome – problem to solve; how to fit Bellingham into the team.

Sensing an opportunity to try something different while the Englishman settled, he thrust Bellingham into an advanced role closer to the opposition box than a classic midfielder’s role. The results have been nothing short of spectacular.

This new, hybrid midfielder/striker version of Bellingham has made it to the pantheon of the game already, being named among his peers as one of the best players in the world in 2023.

It was not an orthodox solution for Bellingham but one which was expertly planned by Ancelotti, one of the most adaptable coaches around. The Italian is very much a players’ coach, much like Zidane, and is not wedded to a particular formation of philosophy.

Jude Bellingham, Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid
© IMAGO – Jude Bellingham, Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid

It’s why he’s the perfect man to work out the conundrum that is about to come his way.

While Madrid won’t have to pay a penny to Paris Saint-Germain for Kylian Mbappe, he will be coming with Galactico financials attached owing to his mammoth wage demands and signing-on fee. But what should Madrid do in order to get the best out of the 25-year-old? And how will his arrival impact Vinicius Junior?

Vini more than a winger

The question of Vini v Mbappe might not be on the level of the Messi v Ronaldo one of the last decade and a half, but it is one worth asking. Vinicius’s end product has skyrocketed over the past two seasons and he is genuinely among the best players in the world.

He is 23, tied to Real until 2027, and is a cornerstone of Ancelotti’s team this season. Vini has scored seven LaLiga goals – six in his last six – and provided four assists across 16 matches this term and is benefitting from the Bellingham transfer as much as the England international is.

Ancelotti has subtly altered the game of Vini in order to accommodate Bellingham. Featuring, by and large, in a split-striker system in tandem with fellow Brazilian Rodrygo, Vini is now part of an old-fashioned strike partnership, albeit one tweaked for the modern game.

Bellingham plays at the tip of a midfield diamond with Rodrygo dashing right and Vini dashing left to make space for the on-rushing midfielder-cum-striker to score.

Vinicius Jr, Real Madrid
© IMAGO – Vinicius Jr, Real Madrid

But Vini is much more than a decoy run. He possesses a striker’s instinct these days; witness his first goal against Barcelona in Spanish Super Cup back in January – when he scored a hattrick – for an example of that.

He doesn’t only drift to the touchline, looking to go one on one with a full-back. He is comfortable with a Madrid team-mate outside him and takes up positions in the so-called “half space” in the attack.

In the pummelling of Valencia in November, he scored a brilliant goal from the “half space” and poached another one at the back post. These were not winger’s goals.

Luis Enrique transforms Mbappe again

Mbappe, meanwhile, has been undergoing a transition of his own. It was back in 2022 when the World Cup winner was tasked with ploughing the lone furrow in the PSG attack; he was the focal point with Lionel Messi and Neymar employed as chief creators in behind him.

Bluntly put, he didn’t like it and made then-coach Christophe Galtier aware in no uncertain terms. He even went so far as to put a post on his Instagram account hashtagged “pivot gang” in reference to the role his manager had him play. It was a brattish remark but one which revealed Mbappe’s distaste for being a lone front man.

New PSG boss Luis Enrique doesn’t appear to care about that. He has regularly, through the winter, played Mbappe as a No.9 with Bradley Barcola and Ousmane Dembele either side of him. It’s not a role Mbappe likes but, unfortunately for him, he’s quite good at it. He has scored 32 goals in 31 games this season and provided seven assists.

Bradley Barcola, Kylian Mbappe, PSG
© IMAGO – Bradley Barcola, Kylian Mbappe, PSG

Intriguingly, he has been left out of the last two PSG Ligue 1 lineups. While Luis Enrique points to Champions League exertions as the main reason for Mbappe’s period of “rest”, there can be no denying that the timing is interesting.

Mbappe has confirmed to PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi that he will not be renewing his contract and intends to leave for Real Madrid and, with that, his place in the team has gone up in smoke. No doubt PSG will count on him further on in the Champions League campaign but for now there looks to be a rupture again between the club and their star man.

If he moves to Madrid, as he inevitably will, it has been suggested that he will demand to play on the left wing as he pleases.

If you think of the Madrid side which had a Bale-Benzema-Cristiano [BBC] configuration up front, it would be natural to think of the 25-year-old slotting in where Ronaldo played.

He loves that position, cutting in from the left, part-creator, part-striker and 100 per cent effective. But that leaves the Bellingham issue to solve all over again, as his best football has come in his current hybrid role.

Right now, Madrid don’t play with that 4-3-3 where most people have Mbappe lining up in their fantasy XIs. Instead, it’s a front two with Vini and Rodrygo.

Madrid’s evolution under Ancelotti

Madrid have absorbed the losses of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Benzema but they have not sought to replicate a front three, instead they have utterly changed. The midfield three will provide the base on top of which the attackers do the damage. Bellingham is not part of that midfield; he is part of the attack.

Rodrygo, Real Madrid
© IMAGO – Rodrygo, Real Madrid

And so if Mbappe comes, it will probably be in the position of split-striker; part No.9, like he’s playing at PSG currently, and part winger, which he believes is his position.

Which side? That will be up to Ancelotti but right now it looks like Rodrygo – for all his good form – is more at risk than Vini, who is too good to leave out when fit.

So the answer to the question of who out of Mbappe or Vinicius will play left wing for Real Madrid next season might well be “neither of them”.

The only complication could be other European clubs testing Perez’s resolve for Vinicius. Would they take €150m from Manchester United for example and help take a bite out of the Mbappe costs?

But having offloaded massive wage earners like Eden Hazard and Benzema of late, it appears Madrid would already have the headroom to make the deal happen without sacrificing Vini.

And what of Endrick? The 17-year-old looks to be the most devastating teenage footballer in the world since R9, and is not coming to the Bernabeu to be a tourist. He will expect to play. And so, on occasion, you could see him lineup as an orthodox centre forward with either Mbappe or Vini to his left.

Madrid have coped well without a genuine, world class No.9 this season, although Joselu has done his best, and will carry an extra threat with Endrick in the squad next term.

However, his presence might well indicate an alternative to Ancelotti’s first-choice XI, where Vini and Mbappe play as split-strikers and ruin defences across Europe.

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