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    Thursday, April 4, 2024

    PSG Coach Enrique Being Proved Right as He Stands Firm in an Era of Player Power

    Kylian Mbappé could find himself on the bench again when runaway French league leader Paris Saint-Germain faces rock-bottom Clermont on Saturday.

    Mbappé is the league top scorer with 24 goals and Clermont has the second-worst defense of the 18 top-flight teams with 46 conceded. It is a golden opportunity for Mbappé, PSG’s all-time leading scorer with 251 goals, to add to his tally.

    But PSG coach Luis Enrique does not think that way.

    His priority is next week’s showdown against Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals at Parc des Princes.

    Enrique showed his authority in recent weeks by either putting Mbappé on the bench or taking him off during important games.

    It seemed perplexing.

    Mbappé was substituted at halftime away to high-flying Monaco on March 1 with the score 0-0.

    Last Sunday, the France striker could not believe it when Enrique took him off against Marseille midway through the second half.

    Mbappé was not the only one stunned by the audacity of Enrique’s move.

    To some PSG fans it was akin to sacrilege to substitute PSG’s best player in a match against its arch foe, even more so with the score delicately poised at 1-0 and with PSG already a player down following a sending off.

    A dismayed Mbappé appeared to mutter an obscenity at Enrique as he left the rain-sodden field, with the apparent insult quickly doing the rounds on social networks and the French media latching onto it in a flash.

    Enrique looked unflustered as Mbappé walked past him at Stade Velodrome and then calmly batted away questions in his post-match news conference. He was also proved right as Mbappé’s replacement, the Portugal striker Gonçalo Ramos, finished off Marseille with PSG’s second goal in a 2-0 win.

    If it is a power struggle between Enrique and Mbappé, which some French media is linking to Mbappé’s departure next season, then Enrique is more than holding his own in an era of immense player power.

    Enrique, the former Barcelona and Spain coach, has statistics on his side.

    PSG has not lost since early November and a defeat away to AC Milan in the Champions League group stage.

    PSG is unbeaten in 26 games, 12 points clear in the French league, and rotating Mbappé has also paid off.

    Four days after the Monaco game, he scored both goals as PSG beat Real Sociedad 2-1 to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.

    Three days after his substitution against Marseille, he scored as PSG beat Rennes 1-0 to reach the French Cup final, taking his total to 39 in 39 games overall this season.

    If Enrique does rest Mbappé against Clermont, it may just be to make him more hungry for Barcelona. AP


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