Paris Saint-Germain are Champions League semi-finalists for the first time, but they had their two main men to thank on Wednesday night to get them there.
Both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar put on assists either side of the 90-minute mark to complete a sensational late turn-around against a bullish Atalanta side in Wednesday’s quarter-final tie.
While Neymar enjoyed a fine game overall, his earlier misses in the match forced the half-injured Mbappe to come on and change the game and spare his team-mates’ blushes.
Both players are £150million-plus superstars who hold the key to PSG’s success in the Champions League’s home straight – but which one is the leader that their team is more likely to turn to in the Ligue 1 champions’ hour of need? Sportsmail tries to find out…
While Mbappe and Neymar can be categorised together as PSG’s main men up top, their personalities couldn’t be more different.
The former is the local boy from the 19th arrondissement of Paris, who quietly goes about his goalscoring business and combines his goalscoring pedigree with not a shred of ego in sight.
Compare that to Neymar, whose exudes a personality both on and off the pitch. Whether it be the fancy tricks or the lavish Parisian parties, both the highlights reels and the morning headlines are dominated by the ‘box office’ Brazilian winger.
While Mbappe has scored more goals and has enjoyed a better relationship with PSG and its supporters since his arrival, the statistics prove that the more controversial Neymar is the still better player in front of goal.
The Brazilian averages more goals and assists than his French team-mate, who has played a whopping 40 more games for PSG despite the pair arriving at the same time in 2017.
The reason why Neymar has played fewer games is due to his off-the field antics.
Among the 28-year-old’s rap sheet includes consistently picking up league and cup suspensions ‘coincidentally’ before his birthday parties and going AWOL after a return move to Barcelona was blocked.
This has angered head coach Thomas Tuchel at times, who has disapproved of the ‘party image’ Neymar brings and it makes Mbappe, who has been more available, scored more goals and less likely to cause embarrassment to the club, the more ‘professional’ player.
Yet PSG’s players and manager are still adamant that Neymar is the PSG leader.
While many are keen to point out the late-night antics and the Barcelona transfer saga, Neymar brings a world-class attitude in training which his team-mates are quick to notice.
It has been noticed by Tuchel, despite the earlier criticism about his lifestyle.
The coach said in January: ‘There are a lot of words to describe Neymar. He is very decisive for us, he closes spaces, he defends.
‘He is the leader we hoped for and it’s a really good time for him.’
Midfielder Marco Verratti describes the Brazilian as ‘a leader who plays and always trains hard, an example for all’, who is ‘determined to take PSG to the top.’
Mauro Icardi, who has the joy of playing inbetween Mbappe and Neymar, says of the Brazilian: ‘People may see it differently from the outside, but the reality is completely different.
‘We all know very well what kind of footballer Neymar is, and when you really know the man, you can only get along with him because he’s someone very different from the media reports.
‘Great players are the first to set an example. He’s a guy who’s always happy and gets along really well with everyone. He has humility.’
Neymar’s controversial relationship with PSG is something Mbappe embraces too. The young Frenchman is happy to display the supporting role in the Neymar show, even though he brings his own qualities to the pitch.
Whilst discussing a potential rift between him and Neymar after his successful 2018 World Cup tournament, Mbappe said: ‘When I arrived in Paris, there was not a debate. It was him (Neymar) who was the superstar, that I had come to shoulder (and) help.’
And help he does – out of Neymar’s 70 goals for PSG, Mbappe has been on the pitch for 56 of them. The Frenchman may only have assisted 16 of them, but it implies that Mbappe acts as a distraction to allow the Brazilian to play to the best of his ability.
That could explain why Neymar sprung into life against Atalanta on Wednesday night as soon as Mbappe came on.
The Brazilian was wasteful and lacking in inspiration until Mbappe came on. PSG looked more potent in attack after the Frenchman’s second-half arrival and Neymar went on to both lay on an assist the PSG equaliser before setting up Mbappe’s assist for the winner with an incisive and quite simply world-class through ball.
So overall, while Neymar is the loud voice in the dressing room that PSG’s players can learn off, he cannot justify this personality without having Mbappe on the pitch with him.
The pair have been on the pitch for 62 matches for the French champions, who have scored a whopping 206 goals in those games. That’s an average of over three goals per game.
The pair have a close bond off the pitch too and are often spotted at parties together. Their relationship was shown by their two-man embrace on the floor after PSG’s winner against Atalanta – even though Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was the eventual goalscorer.
That relationship will be vital when PSG step out for their Champions League semi-final next week. It may just bring home their club’s first European trophy in 25 years.