Football

Mbappe taking over the mantle from Messi & Ronaldo as world's best

PSG star stamps his class with hat-trick against Messi's Barca

Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe scored a sizzling hat-trick as the French side battered Lionel Messi's Barcelona 4-1 in a Champions League Round of 16, first-leg tie at the Nou Camp yesterday morning (Singapore time), prompting some pundits to wonder if this is the "change of guard" moment.

One of the key men in France's 2018 World Cup triumph as a teenager, Mbappe again stood tall on a big occasion in his first match at Nou Camp, promptly cancelling out Messi's penalty in the first half before striking twice after the break.

He also became the first player to net a treble away to Barca in Europe's elite competition since Dynamo Kiev's Andriy Shevchenko in November 1997, over a year before Mbappe was born.

Former Manchester United captain Rio Ferdinand told BT Sport that Mbappe clearly stands out among his peers.

"It's for everybody to catch up to him now," he said.

"This guy is going to take over the throne from Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo when they're done with it."

Barca forward Antoine Griezmann, Mbappe's strike partner for France, believes that the 22-year-old will be "at the same level as Leo Messi or Cristiano", while former England and Barca striker Gary Lineker said this could be the "changing of the guard" moment.

Despite missing the injured Neymar and Angel di Maria, PSG found their groove and took just five minutes to cancel out Messi's 27th-minute spot-kick.

Mbappe pulled the French champions level with a classy piece of control and finishing to complete a flowing team move also involving Marco Verratti and Layvin Kurzawa.

Mbappe, who had not scored in the Champions League knockout stage for two years before this game, smashed PSG into the lead in the 65th minute, while Moise Kean made it 3-1 with a header five minutes later.

After being denied his third goal by Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Mbappe completed his treble by curling the ball past the German into the top corner in the 85th minute.

Mbappe has a year left in his PSG contract and former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker Michael Owen believes the Frenchman should be proving himself in La Liga or the English Premier League.

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino would clearly be hoping that his star player stays.

"Yesterday in our training session, he asked me how many times I had won at the Nou Camp. I said once with Espanyol, and he assured me that tonight I'd win for a second time. He's a top guy," said Pochettino, who played for and coached Barca's city rivals.

Barca had lost 4-0 to PSG at the same stage in 2017, before recording a miraculous turnaround by winning the second leg 6-1 at the Nou Camp.

Incumbent coach Ronald Koeman, however, expressed doubt over a similar comeback in the return leg on March 10.

Calling the defeat a "cold bath of reality", Koeman said: "I could lie but, when you lose 4-1 at home, you have very few chances." - AFP, REUTERS

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