Possessing the perfect harmony of power, technique and game intelligence, Mbappé’s instinct when he receives the ball on the left flank is to turn and play while evaluating the possible solutions to get in behind the defensive line, aware of his remarkable attributes to ultilise as part of any solution. He often slows the play down, sometimes to a near standstill, tempting opposition players closer then use technical trickery to further commit them, enticing them to come a step closer or force a loss of their momentum, before unleashing his incredible power and technique to shift the ball long and explode into the space behind the defensive line. The following video examples show this outstanding skill in full flow and how he masters different situations by constructing differing variations of this signature skill to reach the same objective.
Mbappé’s momentary deceleration coupled with techniques that entice his opponents into a challenge provide a tactical advantage by causing them to hesitate, lose their momentum or overcommit. Orchestrating his signature move just outside the penalty area magnifies this advantage by intensifying the opposition’s dilemma and hesitancy, given that he could shift the ball inside with the right foot and unleash a shot on goal or, with equal quality, go down the channel and deliver the ball into the danger zone with his left foot
Mbappé shifts the ball and drives forward with perfect timing to take full advantage of the deceleration tactic. The technical skill on display when Mbappé shifts the ball long into the space with his front foot while simultaneously accelerating from the front leg is exceptional, as is the precise weight distribution required for him to be able to gain an advantage from an unfavourable position, while also ensuring that the ball slows down in the right area teed up ready for him to cross it with the left foot
From a tactical point of view, Mbappé’s long shift-and-catch-up move is highly effective, as it initiates a foot race to the ball, giving him the perfect opportunity to take advantage of his lightning speed. The two-to-three metres he gains over a ten-metre trajectory substantiates that advantage. When he executes this move from the corner of the penalty area with a clear perspective of the defensive line, he instantly penetrates the most dangerous area on the pitch. He is so quick and explosive that any reaction time is limited, turning one of the hardest defensive tasks – running back towards goal to defend the six-yard box from wide attacks – into an instinctive rush back towards opponent and goal with all eyes fixed on the ball.
Example 1: Turning disadvantage into advantage
Our first example perfectly illustrates the way in which Mbappé constructs his signature skill, including the required technique and the decisive action to achieve his objective. We join the action after Mbappé has taken the opposition midfield line by surprise by letting a team-mate’s pass run past him.
Example 2: Reoccurring similarities and recognisable traits
This example starts with Mbappé edging towards the corner of the box to engage with two defenders. From this point onwards, the similarities in his signature move are very apparent. He cleverly lures the defenders to overcommit in order to gain an initial advantage, before using his extraordinary technique and power to strengthen that advantage and create havoc among the opposition defence.
Example 3: Same solution, different application
In previous examples, Mbappé shifts the ball forward when high up the pitch. This time, after executing the move in a deeper-lying position, he makes the tactical decision to decelerate when short of the box. He then applies the same tactic a second time, revealing his dynamic game intelligence and providing insight into how he combines various qualities to pull off an audacious adaptation of his signature move.
Example 4: Forced adaptation, same end product
In the previous clips, Mbappé draws the defenders in close and then shifts the ball slightly infield with his right foot to get himself into a more favourable position to cross. This time, he is forced to adapt, and he displays a wonderful example of tactical-technical flexibility and physical strength to find a different solution and achieve the same objective.
Mbappé demonstrates an uninhibited desire to penetrate the defensive line. The deceleration tactic creates opportunities by enabling him to move inside, shift the ball into space, get in behind by using the outside of his right foot or, when necessary, use his physical strength to help him accomplish his objective. He has multiple possible solutions thanks to his remarkable physicality and exquisite technical balance, including the ability to effortlessly transition from low to high tempo while simultaneously orchestrating his physical movements to shift the ball and power forward on either his left or right side, as well as his ability to start and finish a move with either foot to equal effect.
He seeks to gain every possible advantage in deploying this world-class skill. He receives the ball where he has an optimal view of the game and, when possible, allows the ball to run past him or shifts it forward before unsettling and harrying the opposition. He sets his own rhythm while breaking that of his opponents. He slows the game down, puts the ball at risk without losing control of it, and when the opponent bites, he is able to get away at remarkable speed before they finish biting.