FEATURE | Where will Real Madrid play Kylian Mbappé?

The saga looks to be finally nearing its end; Moby Dick has almost been slain. Kylian Mbappé has announced what was long suspected, he will leave Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season, where it is then strongly suspected that he will join Real Madrid on a free transfer. For seven years this transfer has been the Spanish giant’s white whale.

The elusive superstar had seemingly fallen into their magnetic aura but somehow while others came smoothly to their call, the Frenchman appeared always just out of reach. Madrid aren’t used to rejection. The best always come, and they come willingly to wear their white shirt. As Mauricio Pochettino once said, “When Madrid come calling you have to listen.” 

To say that the club was obsessed with signing Mbappé purely because he rejected them would be completely unfair but not entirely incorrect. Mbappé is a preternatural talent, intelligent, remorselessly driven, and probably ranks as one of the best players in the world, and yet it has not always been obvious where the Frenchman would fit in at Madrid. 

The luxury problem 

There was always the sense that Mbappé’s arrival would upset the applecart, especially since he and his soon-to-be-teammate Vinicius Junior both have a preference for playing on the left side of the attack. This situation seemed to suggest that there would be some underlying friction between the two similar players, and conventional wisdom dictated that one of the two players would have to shift into a different position to make room for the other. 

It would be a decision that had all the hallmarks of a disaster waiting to happen as the club would be stuck in a catch-22. Do you upset Vinicius, the player who has become the face of the team for the past few seasons, the player who is helping to lead the team into the Champions League final? Or do you upset the expensive seven-year obsession, a player that you have made the biggest earner in the squad, by forcing him into a role that he has been blunt about disliking? 

However, Madrid this season have managed to alleviate some of those concerns by transitioning away from a 4-3-3 formation into a 4-3-1-2 shape. This was a shift that happened near the start of the season in response to Karim Benzema calling time on his stay in the capital, but it has had the knock-on effect of providing the club with a ready-made compromise for their future problem. 

The Mbappé blueprint 

This compromise has seen Vinicius and Rodrygo strike up an excellent partnership as the front two of Madrid’s fluid attack. The two Brazilians dovetail perfectly with Jude Bellingham sitting in the space behind the forwards as the number ten. An unfamiliar position but one that has allowed the Englishman to demonstrate his timing and reading of the game, as he drifts into the box with these late killer runs. 

It’s in this shape that you can begin to see the blueprint of where Madrid will look to field Mbappé. The Frenchman rather than dislodging Vinicius can be played alongside him as one of the two forwards. Rodrygo will likely drop back into the number ten role, which has the unfortunate effect of forcing Bellingham into a deeper position – a position he had played exceptionally well during his time at Borussia Dortmund. 

The problem facing Mbappé’s inclusion into the Madrid team was always a problem of luxury; a pleasant headache of assembling one of Europe’s most devastating forward lines without upsetting the fine balance of egos comprising these elite teams. It is a juggling act that some might struggle with, but it has been the bread and butter of manager Carlo Ancelotti’s time in the Spanish capital. The question of where will Mbappé fit into the Madrid system is quite a simple one to answer; they’ll find a way to make it work. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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