Hugo Ekitike can't replace Kylian Mbappe - but PSG do have a gem on their hands: Five things we learned as French champions' young forward shines in Cerezo Osaka pre-season defeat

Hugo Ekitike PSG 2023-24
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The 21-year-old grabbed a goal and an assist on Friday, and should be in for a bigger role in at Parc des Princes this season

Hugo Ekitike grabbed the opener and assisted Paris Saint-Germain's second to mark a fine performance in an otherwise disappointing 3-2 defeat to Japanese side Cerezo Osaka in Friday's pre-season friendly.

Ekitike's opener came in fine fashion, the young Frenchman meeting an angled ball from Warren Zaire-Emery for a close-range stab. He almost had a second, too, but saw his effort ruled out for a narrow offside in the build up.

Osaka played their part here, and suddenly didn't make things easy for the Parisians. Jordy Croux equalised midway through the first half, latching onto a mistake from new signing Milan Skriniar and running through for an easy finish. Ekitike almost created a PSG second before half-time, but Ismael Gharbi had a header saved.

Ekitike eventually grabbed his assist in the second half, though. After receiving a pass from Vitinha, he swivelled slightly and flicked the ball into space with a controlled backheel, right back into the Portuguese's path, who couldn't miss. Still, PSG couldn't hold onto their lead, as Osaka substitute Sota Kitano bagged the home side's second after a well-constructed move, rattling a long-range effort into the far corner with Gianluigi Donnarumma glued to the ground.

And a third came shortly after, albeit amid controversy. Haruki Arai appeared to foul Cher Ndour in the PSG box, but play was waved on. The youngster found former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who hit a wonderful curled effort into the top corner.

PSG manager Luis Enrique will likely be displeased with the result here, but with Ekitike rounding into form, he might just feel better about the likely loss of Kylian Mbappe that is on the way.

GOAL looks at what we learned during the clash at Nagai Stadium...

  1. Ekitike looks ready to step up in Mbappe's absence
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    Ekitike looks ready to step up in Mbappe's absence

    PSG will likely need a new striker at some point within the next two weeks, and doing so will require an expensive venture into the transfer market, with an inflated price required to attempt to replace the presumably outgoing Mbappe. And while they can surely do better than Ekitike, the Frenchman has done enough to suggest that he's capable of playing regular minutes in Paris.

    Ekitike has now scored in two of PSG's three pre-season outings, taking advantage of some rare opportunities to play regular minutes. His goal here was excellent, a perfectly-timed run to get on the end of a wonderful pass from Zaire-Emery, complete with a tidy finish.

    The 21-year-old was unfortunate not to have a second to his name, after being caught narrowly offside while running through on goal, but he did snag an assist, with a delightful backheel into the path of Vitinha, who buried the Parisians' second.

    It's easy to forget that the former Reims man is still just 21, and less than a year ago was regarded as one of the better young players in Ligue 1. It appears that he might now be ready to deliver on that promise.

  2. Zaire-Emery's class will ensure a Verratti sale won't hurt

    In one of the most eye-catching Saudi Pro League transfer links of the summer, Marco Verratti has been rumoured to be on the verge of joining Al-Hilal on a three-year deal, less than 12 months after penning a new long-term contract to stay in Paris. The money, of course, can be a draw, but here is a player who projects to be vital for the Parisians this season.

    Still, it looks like the Italian won't be around in a few weeks, with the two sides only needing to agree on a transfer fee to send him to the Middle East. And although the two clubs are reportedly far apart in their valuation, this one looks likely to get done. Verratti, accordingly, took in most of the game from the bench, scowling with the look of a player who looks like he might not be long for the club.

    It's a good thing, then, that his replacement is already playing at such a high level. Zaire-Emery isn't really a secret at this point; the teenager was excellent for spells last season. But he's looked even better this pre-season. Luis Enrique has entrusted him with a more fluid role thus far, allowing the young Frenchman to pull the strings from centre-midfield.

    And it's paid dividends through three games, with Zaire-Emery showing exactly why he's so highly thought of. It will be interesting to see what happens come the start of the season, as the 17-year-old is clearly still a bit raw, but Luis Enrique has never had a problem letting youngsters have a shot.

  3. Selling Marquinhos would make no sense
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    Selling Marquinhos would make no sense

    Marquinhos reportedly angered the PSG hierarchy earlier this week by suggesting he wants an amicable solution to the Mbappe saga that has rattled the club in recent weeks. It was, objectively, a fairly sensible insight, especially from the club captain

    But it has apparently landed him on the chopping block. Still, letting him go would be a potentially shambolic decision. Marquinhos wasn't at his best here, but PSG were a far more settled side when he was on the pitch. And it was Skriniar — not Marquinhos — that can be faulted for the Osaka goal.

    It's easy to pick at some faults in his game these days. He has certainly lacked mobility over the last 18 months, while occasional defensive errors have hurt PSG. But he's still an excellent distributor, reliable defender, and club captain.

    PSG aren't notorious for being sensible — that much is clear. Still, selling one of their most crucial players wouldn't necessarily be a shrewd move.

  4. Skriniar needs to shake off the rust

    Skriniar hasn't played a competitive club match since February due to a back injury, and it showed here. He was largely culpable for Osaka's first goal, misjudging a long ball, and allowing the opposing striker to run in behind — while showing a worrying lack of pace to chase him down.

    There were other mistakes, too. Skriniar was a bit loose in possession and didn't seem to have the best understanding with Marquinhos. The Brazilian was substituted after 50 minutes — likely a planned move — but Skriniar should probably have considered himself fortunate to be the one still on the pitch. A late slide tackle prevented an Osaka fourth, but it stood as a rare moment of class in an otherwise worrying performance.

    This will all take time to work. Skriniar hasn't played much football in recent months, and all new signings, regardless of club, need an adjustment period. Still, the Slovak is already one the more senior members of this squad, and will be expected to deliver on his top-class potential. That means ironing out the mistakes as soon as possible.

  5. Neymar will need time
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    Neymar will need time

    When will Neymar finally return? On Friday, the camera kept panning to shots of the Brazilian on the bench, but he was not called on by his manager to play. It must be hard to watch your team lose to this side, especially given that an injection of quality in the attacking third was badly needed — especially when the Parisians were chasing the game late on.

    Still, it appears he's not quite ready yet. Whether it be a case of Luis Enrique not willing to risk him, or deeming him surplus to requirements in an admittedly low stakes game, the attacking midfielder will have to wait another few days before seeing the pitch.

    Why, exactly, Luis Enrique is being so careful isn't exactly clear. The Parisians have played three friendlies now, and the manager has had ample time to see some fringe squad members play. And it is admittedly frustrating to watch PSG struggle to break down a diligent block without their most creative force. Neymar's time will surely come soon, but his scowls suggest he feels like he's ready to go already.