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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Kylian Mbappe's arrival leaves Unai Emery with new selection dilemma over PSG's stacked attacking options

French teenager could make his debut this weekend, but how the PSG manager fits him and the rest of his attacking players into the team remains to be seen.

Kylian Mbappe, right, alongside fellow PSG summer recruit Neymar during training ahead of the Ligue 1 match against Metz. Christophe Simon / AFP
Kylian Mbappe, right, alongside fellow PSG summer recruit Neymar during training ahead of the Ligue 1 match against Metz. Christophe Simon / AFP

Unai Emery, the manager of mega-squad Paris Saint-Germain, was hardly going to call it a crisis when one of his superstars returned from the international break unfit, but he reported it as a setback, nonetheless.

“The injury to Angel Di Maria is perhaps the worst news we have,” Emery said. Note the "perhaps". From some angles, Di Maria’s temporary absence from PSG’s plans might be doing Emery a favour.

The club who have since the start of France’s season committed close to €400 million (Dh1.76 billion) on acquiring the services of two new attacking players has its first opportunity on Friday night to fit them both into a forward line already replete with gifted stars.

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Kylian Mbappe, the teenager PSG have signed for a season on loan from Monaco with an obligation to then make him a permanent recruit - with a payment, next summer, of up to €180m - should make his first appearance for PSG at Metz. Neymar, the most expensive player in history, should be alongside him for a period of the game.

What will be delayed, even beyond Tuesday’s Uefa Champions League match in Scotland against Celtic, is the question of how Di Maria, who may be out for much as three weeks, slots into the expensively assembled front six of ambitious PSG.

The Argentine will be wondering, too, along with almost everybody bar Neymar - chief emblem now of PSG’s aspirations – how Emery is going to manage this complicated jigsaw.

Some of the South American contingent, such as Neymar and Edinson Cavani, the Uruguayan centre-forward who was Ligue 1’s leading scorer last season and whose goals have already propelled PSG to the top of the table after four games this term, may be rested from the starting XI at Metz, given their long travels back across the Atlantic last week.

Meanwhile 18-year-old Mbappe has had three days to take stock of the sort of scrutiny, he, as the most valued teenager in football and Ligue 1’s highest-profile Frenchman, will attract.

Mbappe scored his first goal for France last week. He was then part of a chastening home draw against Luxembourg three days later. His starting position in his sixth international was to the right of the central striker, and although Mbappe did not have his most effective game, it may be in that position he has to find a niche in PSG’s stellar attack.

Neymar favours the left fork of an attacking trident, and Cavani spent a good deal of his early career at the club grumbling when he was not put at centre-forward.

Mbappe is a superb goalscorer, although given that he is so young, and has barely half a season’s experience as a regular starter behind him – Monaco used him largely as an impact substitute until he turned 18 last December – questions about his best role are still open.

Those whose status at PSG seem potentially diminished by the arrival of yet another star will be making their cases. Di Maria is one. Julian Draxler, the brilliant German who joined the Paris club in January, is another.

“I have no special status at PSG and have to compete like everybody else,” he told reporters after his country’s 6-0 win against Norway.

But after a performance this week in which, moving smoothly across the forward positions, Draxler scored one goal for his country and provided a fine cross for another, he made a point to his club employers: “I think I sent out a good signal.”

Mbappe, unveiled in a showy presentation on Wednesday, signalled that his move to the French capital felt right partly because it took him closer to home. He grew up in Bondy, on the outskirts of Paris.

PSG, backed by Qatari money, are keen to associate him with their locale. Amid all the glamour signings – several Brazilians, the Uruguayan Cavani, the Italian Marco Verratti – PSG have made in the last six years, it has been noted they have largely failed to make use of the fertile footballing production line that is greater Paris.

So Mbappe must fly a flag of sorts, as well as live up to the hype, and the fee. He is obliged to look over his shoulder, too, at the Monaco he has left. They are the defending Ligue 1 champions, and so far, their sales of several young players from last season’s exciting squad have not yet cost them points.

Monaco, who meet Nice on Saturday, share the summit of the league with PSG, are tenacious and will take some shaking off.