Mbappe to Real Madrid, Here We Go: Where will France captain fit among Champions League winners?

Mbappe at Madrid opens unlimited avenues for the club to explore and Ancelotti’s vast experience at big clubs will be key to unlocking the star’s true potential.

Published : Jun 04, 2024 22:14 IST , CHENNAI - 9 MINS READ

File photo: Mbappe has been at the top of world football, both at club-level and the international stage with 334 goals and 157 assists in 450 career appearances.
File photo: Mbappe has been at the top of world football, both at club-level and the international stage with 334 goals and 157 assists in 450 career appearances. | Photo Credit: AFP

File photo: Mbappe has been at the top of world football, both at club-level and the international stage with 334 goals and 157 assists in 450 career appearances. | Photo Credit: AFP

Real Madrid won its 15th UEFA Champions League (UCL) title this season under seasoned coach Carlo Ancelotti and just when one might think it can’t get any stronger, the Spanish side adds star-forward Kylian Mbappe to its armoury.

Mbappe has been at the top of world football, both at club-level and the international stage with 334 goals and 157 assists in 450 career appearances.

At just 25, he has won 15 trophies at Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and even the FIFA World Cup with France.

The only trophy missing in his collection is the UCL title and what better place to achieve European Royalty than the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Here’s how Mbappe can fit in the current Madrid squad under the helm of Ancelotti and if his addition could back-fire an already well-oiled Spanish giant.

Life at Madrid before Mbappe

Although Ancelotti played a 4-3-1-2 formation on paper, his attacking setup went beyond the confines of it and was very fluid.

Madrid lost its trusty striker, Karim Benzema at the end of last season after 14 years with the club. Ancelotti replaced him with new signing Jude Bellingham and played him in a false 9 position which worked wonders for him.

The Englishman scored 23 goals in his first season and acted as an attacking pivot to Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo who played as the front two. 

Vinicius, although had a central role on paper, played extremely wide on the left wing. Rodrygo on the other hand rarely operated on the right wing but was seen central, parallel to Bellingham for additional support. This was because Madrid was heavily reliant on the left hand side since Vinicius and Bellingham preferred to use the half-spaces on the left.

It is no secret that Mbappe’s preferred position on the left flank. His stellar record for France where he has scored 46 goals and given 31 assists in 77 games speaks for itself. He helped his nation reach the final in the last two World Cups operating on the left-wing. 

Even for PSG, despite being a centre-forward on paper, Mbappe was mostly seen drifting towards the left. As shown in the graphic above, the majority of his touches in the final third have been on the left.

Mbappe on the flanks

If Ancelotti is forced to play Mbappe on the flanks, where he likes, either Vinicius or Rodrygo will be sidelined despite being in firing form. 

Vinicius is an extremely one-dimensional player who is brilliant on the wings but struggles in other positions. With 24 goals and 11 assists this season, the 23-year-old is one of the contenders of winning the Ballon d’Or and hence is indispensable. To accommodate Mbappe, he will either be forced to move to the right or the bench.

With Bellingham shining as a false nine, Rodrygo will have to either make way for Mbappe or Vinicius. Although he has been an exceptional ‘super-sub’ for Madrid in the past two seasons, he recently solidified his place in the starting 11 but now the spotlight will move away from the Brazilian sensation.

Mbappe prefers playing on the left-wing, but he has been playing central for PSG this season under Luis Enrique and Los Blancos could explore Ancelotti’s preferred 4-3-3 setups to accommodate all three. (Mbappe, Vinicius and Rodrygo)

Formations Ancelotti could explore:


A basic, 4-3-3 formation like Madrid’s golden days of the ‘BBC’ (Gareth Bale, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo) could be on the cards with Mbappe in the vanguard.

Vinicius and Rodrygo are wide and traditional wingers, but without an out-and-out striker, they are often forced to fill central positions up front. Mbappe has scored 44 goals for PSG this season as a centre-forward and could continue to do the same in this setup.

However, unlike his French predecessor (Benzema), Mbappe is much more than a poacher. Mbappe’s strength is not his finishing and goal-scoring ability but his movement on and off the ball. 

He is one of the fastest players currently with the ball at his feet which makes him a crucial asset in counter-attacking football. Playing him as a lone centre-forward restricts his movement and the Frenchman will not be able to unlock his true ability.

4-3-3 (Attacking)

To relieve Mbappe from the sole central responsibilities, Ancelotti could opt a 4-3-3 formation with an attacking midfielder to support his new signing. In this case, Bellingham would be given the number-10 attacking pivot role. 

This will be a win-win for both the players since Bellingham will continue to play in his new-found creative position down the middle and Mbappe will no longer be forced to stick to a tactical setup and could roam around freely in the final third knowing he will have Bellingham to fill his space.

4-3-1-2 (False 9)

In case Madrid chooses to continue its current 4-3-1-2 setup, Mbappe will play in a new false 9 position, previously occupied by Bellingham. Playing him this deep will be a bold move by Ancelotti but the player’s profile perfectly fits the part. 

With Vinicius and Rodrygo continuing their unconventional work on the wings as the front two, Mbappe will be in the sweet spot to either carry the ball himself into the final third or receive cut-back passes from the flanks inside the box.

This will also give him the freedom and control of the team’s attack but he will have to work on his distributional play to adapt into this new role.

This formation could also work with Vinicius and Mbappe playing as the attacking pair and Bellingham continuing in his current false 9 position as mentioned earlier. In that case, there will be no space for Rodrygo in the mix and he will get the shorter end of the stick.


Lastly, there is also the ultra-attacking formation of 4-2-3-1 with Mbappe at the forefront and Vincius, Bellingham and Rodrygo playing as the attacking midfielders on paper. This formation gives Los Blancos the chance to be more fluid and keep switching positions mid-game.

The downside to playing this way is that Madrid will no longer be able to follow its possession-based build-up play down the middle since it will have a thin midfield and also add extra pressure on its backline.

Midfield Conundrum

The addition of Mbappe will force Ancelotti to take risks and play key players out of position.

Bellingham could be forced to play deep as a central midfielder and go back to his box-to-box role as he did in his previous club, Dortmund. Although he is comfortable playing there, he will no longer be a star in the side. 

He only had 12 goals and 16 assists in his 92 appearances for Dortmund which is essentially because his role didn’t need him to play in the final third, but act as a glue between the back-four and the front-three, like Toni Kroos and Luka Modric did all these years.

The problem with this is that Valverde is already operating as the number 8 and if Bellingham is moved behind, the Uruguayan will be forced to play more of a defensive role.

This will ultimately affect Aurrlien Tchouameni and Camavinga’s playing-time since only one of them can be enforced at once as the holding midfielder. Veteran Modric will also be used occasionally which makes the midfield extremely stacked.

Who will be benched?

If Ancelotti opts to focus on Bellingham, Vincius and Mbappe as the front three, the 23-year-old Rodrygo will spend more time on the sidelines.

Even Endrick, the 17-year-old wunderkind, who will be joining Madrid from Brazil this season will struggle for game-time.

Although young, the Brazilian has been amazing for both club and county and has the potential to break into the side’s starting lineup. With Mbappe joining as well, Ancelotti might struggle to give his new young signing minutes on the pitch even as an occasional substitute.

Others like Brahim Diaz and Dani Cabellos, who are quality players will unfortunately be sidelined through no fault of their own because of the depth in Madrid’s squad. Even young prospect Arda Guller will most likely be sent out on loan for a couple of seasons.

The ‘Mbappe Effect’ could backfire 

Mbappe’s addition is undoubtedly an amazing transfer move by Madrid, especially since the attacker was a free-agent, however, this addition could create underlying problems in the squad.

Mbappe prefers to play as a left-winger but with Vinicius sticking around, he will be forced to play central. This could create a spat between both the players. There were reports that Mbappe and Neymar Jr - who played on the left wing - had some problems and didn’t meet eye-to-eye at times during their time together at PSG.

The Frenchman loves to be the ‘main man’ of his side but that might not be possible in Madrid, at least in the initial months. With Bellingham becoming a cult favourite for the Madridistas, Mbappe will have to share the spotlight with his English counterpart.

A similar thing happened at the Spanish capital during the Galacticos era between 2003-2005. Madrid had a star-studded lineup comprising Luis Figo, David Beckham, Ronaldo Nazario, Zinedine Zidane and Roberto Carlos and despite having it all, they failed to win a league or European title.

This was because of the ego-clashes and lack of focus in defense which made it easier for opponents to score past their side. Mbappe isn’t the best when it comes to defending from the front. He only made two interceptions and one successful tackle in Ligue 1 this season which is extremely low compared to Bellingham’s 12 tackles and 21 interceptions in La Liga.

Unlike PSG, Madrid maintains a high line and presses aggressively up front but with Mbappe’s limited defensive output, it could face more pressure at the back and concede more often.

Mbappe at Madrid opens unlimited avenues for the club to explore and Ancelotti’s vast experience at big clubs will be key to unlocking the star’s true potential. Mbappe is a serial match-winner whose sheer individual ability is enough for a game to turn on its head. 

In conclusion - the other clubs in Europe are in big trouble.

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