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PSG and Monaco have the league’s best finishers, but their game could be decided in midfield

PARIS (AP) – Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco have the French league’s two best finishers in Kylian Mbappé and Wissam Ben Yedder, yet their match on Friday might be about who copes best in midfield.

Ben Yedder has scored 103 league goals for Monaco in the past four years, while Mbappé has 131 for PSG over the same period. The France internationals even finished as co-top scorers with 18 in the coronavirus-shortened 2019-20 season, and were both on the team of the year in 2021-22.

League leader PSG is looking for a sixth straight win and Mbappé is the leading scorer this season with 13 goals.

Second-place Monaco will move even on points with the leaders if it wins at Parc des Princes, where the absence of midfielder Warren Zaïre-Emery is a big blow to PSG coach Luis Enrique. The 17-year-old Zaïre-Emery injured his right ankle last Saturday while scoring in his France debut in a record 14-0 rout of Gibraltar.

But Monaco is without arguably the league’s best holding midfielder in Youssouf Fofana, who is suspended.

The 24-year-old Fofana could actually have been a PSG player, since he was born in Paris and played as a youth for the Parisisan suburb team Red Star. Like so many other budding young players – including Mbappé – he was overlooked by PSG as it chased big names for many years rather than nurturing local young talent.

Fofana, who joined Monaco from Strasbourg for EUR15 million (USD16.3 million) in 2019, and Mbappé, who joined PSG from Monaco for EUR180 million (USD195.5 million) in 2017, are both 24 years old and teammates on the national team.

While Mbappé already has a whopping 46 international goals, Fofana’s recent goals against Gibraltar and Greece were his first for Les Bleus.

In Fofana’s absence, Denis Zakaria, who has made 49 international appearances for Switzerland and had spells with Juventus and Chelsea, could have a busy night for Monaco anchoring the midfield. Wide players Maghnes Akliouche and Aleksandr Golovin pose a potent attacking threat.

Golovin was Russia’s best player at the 2018 World Cup but his club career has been blighted by injuries. The 27-year-old Golovin looks back to his slick best and has five goals this season, where he has opened up defenses with his clever passing and found teammates with pinpoint crossing.

The 21-year-old Akliouche is yet another example of a youth who grew up in the Paris suburbs and was overlooked by PSG. Instead, he joined Monaco’s prolific youth academy in 2017. The skillful left-footer’s performances have earned him a call up by France under-21 coach Thierry Henry.

While PSG’s attack is heavily reliant on Mbappé for goals – he has scored nearly half of PSG’s league tally of 29 – Monaco spreads them around more. Ben Yedder and Golovin have five league goals each, while United States forward Folarin Balogun, Akliouche and Japan international Takumi Minamino all have three, with Minamino also chipping in with three assists.

So if Monaco does dominate midfield, then PSG’s fragile defense could face multiple goal threats.

PSG’s Milan Skriniar celebrates with his teammate Kylian Mbappe after scoring his side’s opening goal during the Champions League, Group F soccer match between AC Milan and PSG, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy. PHOTO: AP