France's attacking headache will soon be Real Madrid's as Kylian Mbappe continues to struggle as a striker

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PARIS —France are into the semifinals of UEFA Euro 2024 after seeing off Portugal in the quarterfinals this Friday in Hamburg. Les Bleus have not been at their best this summer in Germany but produced another winning display, albeit one that took them scoreless through 120 minutes, and demanded nerves of steel during a penalty shootout, to advance past the Portuguese and their ageing talisman Cristiano Ronaldo in revenge for their 2016 final defeat on home soil. Didier Deschamps’ French side still remain impressively solid in defense, but downed Roberto Martinez’s Selecao at Volksparkstadion to set up a semi against favorites Spain while still not finding any teeth in attack.

In many ways, France’s Euro 2024 story has been the same as Paris Saint-Germain’s this past season, with the struggle to get the absolute maximum out of Kylian Mbappe from start to finish the dominant theme — sometimes too much so. Logically, some of the difficulties encountered in Paris with Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Bradley Barcola and Randal Kolo Muani have continued with Les Bleus in terms of plenty of chances created, but precious few of them being taken. Even outside of those three Parisien teammates, though, the issue of the French captain and his best position has remained a constant challenge for Didier Deschamps and his staff to try to solve.

On top of the PSG trio of Dembele, Barcola and Kolo Muani, there have been unsuccessful attempts to incorporate Antoine Griezmann and Marcus Thuram into the attack with former focal point Olivier Giroud barely getting a look in during his final outing before international retirement. The main issue with those combinations, some of which did not even include Mbappe as he missed the Netherlands draw, has been identifying the right fixed point in the attack with enough creativity around that player to enable the new Real Madrid signing to align himself on the left so that he can cut inside.

Arguably the best example of this was the 1-1 draw with Poland in Group D when Mbappe started through the middle with Barcola on the left and Dembele on the right — one of Luis Enrique’s regular front three pairings with PSG this past campaign — which produced the same issues. The skipper barely lasted the opening 45 in the mixed central role before forcibly placing himself on the left yet only scoring when Dembele won a penalty despite a handful of very good opportunities for France.

Will Mbappe’s issues persist at Real Madrid?

Why, then, should it be any different once he has joined Real this summer and Carlo Ancelotti starts to try to bed him in alongside the likes of Vinicius Junior, Jude Bellingham and Rodrygo? The expectation is that Mbappe will fill the void created in the middle but that will logically eat into Bellingham’s impact if he maintains the same forward-thinking approach he has had to show during his debut season at Santiago Bernabeu. Vini Jr. is also very comfortable on the left occupying almost exactly the same role as the one which the man from Bondy covets on the field and Rodrygo must already know that he will be the last player to be considered in that star-studded pecking order.

Ancelotti is known for getting the best out of superstar names and getting oversized egos to coexist yet this could be one of the biggest challenges of his career given the potential for a front line featuring Mbappe, Bellingham and Vini Jr. It could be that the Italian master surprises us all and goes for a totally different system which requires buy in outside of multiple stars’ comfort zones but on paper at least, it is shaping up to be exactly the same headache for Ancelotti that it has been for Deschamps in Germany and Luis Enrique in Paris.

Further underlining the situation with Les Bleus this summer has been the fact that Mbappe is now captain which was not the case with PSG and will not be the case — at least not immediately — with Real. French hopes understandably cling to their talisman which is something that Luis Enrique rallied against over the second half of last term when he sought to build towards a future version of PSG without Mbappe and it generated no end of controversy outside of the UEFA Champions League where he remained a key figure. In Madrid, he will not be Los Blancos’ only star player and that itself suggests that he will have to fit in and make the efforts that Ancelotti asks of him.

Perhaps inevitably, it appears as if Mbappe is headed for the same moment that Cristiano Ronaldo experienced in his first few years with Real. That means a transformation into a profile of player capable of forgetting his tendencies while out wide and focusing on a truly instrumental central-based position. This is unlikely to be an overnight reinvention, though, so the question is how long will it take for that unavoidable change to take place and dictate the way that he plays on the field for both Real and France?

It should be considered fitting, then, that the beginning of Mbappe’s next transformation act — after going from Neymar’s protégé to peer before evolving into PSG’s figurehead — could be traced back in the future to France’s quarterfinal win over Portugal here which may well have just ushered in the end of Cristiano Ronaldo’s international career.

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