Kylian Mbappe’s swift evisceration of Manchester United underlined football’s enduring obsession with pace

Kylian Mbappe's swift evisceration of Manchester United underlined football's enduring obsession with pace

Searing, blistering, explosive, electric, lightning, frightening, real, genuine, deceptive. It can come in bags and in abundance, or simply to burn, but however we describe it, football has an enduring fascination with pace.

After 27 minutes at Old Trafford, we got our first fix of the night. A pass along the right flank instantly attracted Kylian Mbappe and, in turn, his marker Victor Lindelof. The angle of Mbappe’s approach to collect the ball as it span down the line gave a heavy clue about what was about to happen, and you suspected that Lindelof had worked it out too.

Mbappe sent the ball 10 yards in front of him, like the mechanical hare being set off before the start of a greyhound race, and thoughts suddenly turned to Gareth Bale’s scorching 2014 Copa del Rey humiliation of Marc Bartra. Like Bale, the sheer force of acceleration briefly sent Mbappe the wrong side of the touchline and – for one quaint moment – he, Lindelof and the galloping, yellow-socked assistant referee Alessandro Costanzo were neck and neck. Not for long.

The increasingly labyrinthine tactics and counter-tactics of modern football are designed to find an edge, to outnumber the opponent in key areas, and yet they still often revolve around pace: who has it, who doesn’t and how to mitigate against either of those things. With Neymar and Edinson Cavani absent, Mbappe was the headline entry in the pre-match “key battles” sidebars, and even there Lindelof’s name looked terrified by the prospect.

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