FEATURE | Can PSG ever be a success without Marco Verratti?

This article is taken from the new GFFN 100 2021. The GFFN 100 ranks the top 100 players in French football over the past 12 months, see the full list and read all 100 profiles right here on GFFN.

The old saying ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ is more than applicable in football, especially in an age where superstar players rule the game. We saw what happened to Liverpool in the 2020/21 Premier League season when they lost Virgil Van Dijk, Jordan Henderson and others, whilst Barcelona are starting to realise just how integral Lionel Messi was to the club on and off the field. Sometimes, you can take these players for granted and fail to truly appreciate what it is they bring to your team until they aren’t there and you notice how important they are to any form of success. At the moment, there’s one player in Ligue 1 whose reputation seems to grow with every game he doesn’t play.

Marco Verratti’s injury record is startling, annoying and somewhat depressing for admirers of the Italian conductor, but the record is also telling. It’s telling that when Marco Verratti doesn’t play, Paris Saint-Germain are a significantly worse team. Is that a criticism of the rest of the PSG midfield and team? Not intentionally. Does that show just how good Marco Verratti is? Absolutely. If he was fully fit, he would probably be undisputedly the best midfielder in Europe and in the world, but the injuries and the absences fuel the lore around Verratti, fuelling the mystique of his wonderful ability.

The Italian’s 2021 was been a mixture of the spectacular and the inconsistent, with the spectacular coming in sporadic moments for PSG and during Italy’s Euro 2020 run and the inconsistency coming in his few and far between appearances at club level. We saw in the summer of 2021 just how influential he could be, with Italy boss Roberto Mancini desperate to bring Verratti back into an already impressive midfield, strapping up his fragile knee in as much blue tape as humanly possible. There was no coincidence that when he made his first start of Euro 2020 against Wales in Rome, he ran the show like an orchestral conductor. In the last 16 game against Austria, there was a stark difference in how Italy played when Verratti was taken off. Against Belgium in the tournament defining quarter-final, he set up Nicolò Barella for the opener.

The PSG midfielder only completed two games in the entire tournament: against Wales in Rome and the final against England at Wembley. It was clear to see just how much Verratti pulled the strings in that final, with Italy pulling England back after the Three Lions had raced into an early lead. Despite his late arrival at the tournament, no one created more chances in Euro 2020 than Verratti, and only Georginio Wijnaldum won possession in the final third more than the Italian did in the tournament. He was everywhere, and made his mark for the eventual champions of Europe.

Under Mauricio Pochettino, his role varied. Against Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 tie last season, Verratti was deployed as an almost hybrid central midfielder/left-sided attacking midfielder, finding himself closer to the box than usual in a bid to create a stronger line to Kylian Mbappé and to close down the Barcelona defenders on the ball. It worked a treat, with Verratti instrumental to a big win in Spain, but he then missed the Bayern Munich quarter-final clash, indicative of his recent career in Paris – following up a fantastic performance by… missing a chunk of time with an injury.

It’s impossible to praise Verratti’s performances when he does play without acknowledging that he has a unique position in the PSG squad due to his constant injuries. If anyone else had as many issues as Verratti does, there’s a high possibility that the club would have sold them years ago. But such is Verratti’s talent – and perhaps PSG’s inability to build a cohesive midfield without him – that the Parisians simply cannot be successful without him.

A recent example of this was in the Champions League group stage games against Manchester City. If you compare the two games, there wasn’t much difference in how PSG set up – defend deep, invite City onto them and hit them on the counter attack. They lined up both games with the exact same game plan but in Paris they had Verratti, in Manchester they didn’t. PSG won in Paris but lost in Manchester. In the latter game, the defenders didn’t have anyone to hand the ball off to. Verratti brings a calmness and a level of midfield authority others simply can’t.

That sort of influence is what PSG lack without him and are finding impossible to replace. No one in world football is quite like Marco Verratti. No one has the ability and temperament to dribble past four players and pass the ball on with ease yet somehow still find a way to argue himself into a booking. His 2021 was been mixed but it’s one that Verratti will look back on with great fondness due to a handful of games in June and July where he was untouchable.

Like the most elusive of boxers, no one got close to Verratti. But in order to take Paris Saint-Germain to the next level, he needs to find a way to be involved on the pitch in big games more often. Do PSG’s hopes of winning the Champions League rest on the shoulders of Marco Verratti? No, but they stand a far better chance with him in the team than on the treatment table.

Tom Scholes

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