Neil Humphreys: Christmas comes early for Liverpool
Mbappe, Neymar injuries make perfect gift before PSG clash
Liverpool have a history with shoulders in the Champions League. One broke them. Another could make them.
Football is cruel and Kylian Mbappe's awkward fall in France's win against Uruguay yesterday (Singapore time) looked particularly painful.
But the Reds' fans were gleefully celebrating on social media like the Grinch stealing Christmas, basking in the young striker's obvious discomfort.
It's not about Mbappe. It's about Mo Salah. The Egyptian's shoulder injury in the Champions League final ended in defeat for Liverpool, a depressing epilogue to an otherwise glorious season.
Mbappe's shoulder injury isn't about revenge - he isn't Sergio Ramos - but a sense of balance being restored and the stars realigning in Europe. It's nothing personal, just strictly business.
When Mbappe's Paris Saint-Germain host Liverpool in a pivotal Champions League tie next Thursday morning (Singapore time), the Reds could do without the young Frenchman tearing past them like greyhounds chasing a mechanical rabbit.
Virgil van Dijk might be morphing into the most accomplished centre-back in world football, but even he struggled with Mbappe's freakish speed back in September. Every defender does.
Mbappe is already a man-child in a hurry, a 19-year-old slab of sinewy, stretchy muscle. Indeed, his injury came about because he'd already left Uruguay's backline in another time zone before goalkeeper Martin Campana intervened.
Mbappe's ugly fall was the result of a magnificent flying machine unable to reconfigure so many quick movements in time to stick the landing. He was too fast for his own good.
Just as he was too swift for Liverpool's back four. Their instinctive high line took on schizophrenic characteristics in the first game, despite their 3-2 victory. They weren't sure whether to stay or go. Every tentative step towards the halfway line was like waving a red jersey at a French bull.
PSG lost to an injury-time Liverpool goal, but Mbappe still scored, underlining his incalculable value.
After the match, France coach Didier Deschamps downplayed the injury and Mbappe could conceivably return for PSG's must-win game, but Salah returned for Egypt in the World Cup and was a poor facsimile of himself.
An absent or even a half-fit Mbappe presents Liverpool with a tantalising glimpse of the knockout stages. Neymar's possible absence would be an added bonus.
Indeed, the global reaction to the possible loss of two PSG forwards unwittingly became an indictment of Neymar's travails. Both the Parisians and the Merseysiders are fixated with one name.
Mbappe. The French want him in. The English want him out.
Neymar, the heir apparent to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, could almost be considered an afterthought. He left Barcelona to escape a giant shadow only to be outshone by another, younger illuminating presence in Paris.
Neymar lasted just seven minutes against Cameroon. After misdirecting a curling shot, he limped off with a groin injury.
Like Mbappe, his recovery time isn't certain. He may face Liverpool, but the Reds could theoretically shackle the Brazilian, particularly if the game is evenly poised.
PSG's last Champions League game, a 1-1 draw in Napoli, showcased their exasperating enigma. When they dominated the first half, so did Neymar, setting up the opening goal. When they struggled in the second half, Neymar vanished.
Two halves, two Neymars, it was a common tale of two temperaments. As Napoli improved, he sulked on the game's periphery. He irritated the referee. He dived. He niggled. He pushed his dark arts to the upper limits of gamesmanship.
When he was in possession, his one-track mind betrayed him. He dribbled into one dead end after another. He rarely passed. He made the game all about him, which made the game pass him by.
Once Napoli isolated Neymar on the left flank, he became a toddler in a cot, whining at his perceived injustices. He screamed in protest, but never went anywhere. He was neutralised. Harmless.
But tranquiliser guns can't stop Mbappe in full flight.
And PSG coach Thomas Tuchel must privately concur with the Scousers. If he had to pick one forward to face Liverpool, he'd pick the one who hasn't fought with teammate Edinson Cavani and hasn't been engineering a move to Real Madrid through a steady drip of media leaks.
Only one point separates Napoli and Liverpool (six) and PSG (five) and the thought of the Parisians going out in the group stages is a most unpalatable one for Tuchel's employers. But it could happen.
If Neymar is missing, then a chilly night in Paris beckons. But if the Brazilian and Mbappe are both ruled out, then it'll feel like Christmas has come early for the jolly men in red.