“You don’t know what you’ve got, till it’s gone!” The immortal words of 1980’s American glam rock band Cinderella and definitely the feeling for Laurent Blanc going into Wednesday’s Champions League second leg fixture against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
It must feel like there is always something going against the Parisians when it comes to this stage. Two years ago it was an injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then the Swede was sent off a year later – but PSG prevailed.
Now, the former France national team boss faces a race against time to get both Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi ready for the club’s biggest game of the season. Both have been named in PSG’s travelling squad, but in a press conference this week, Blanc wasn’t full of confidence that his French workhorse would be able to play.
"Blaise is currently undergoing tests, we'll follow his progress very closely, the medical team is working to get him fit, it doesn't look too good though - I can't lie about that. We'll see how bad his injury is, and hopefully we'll have him back in time."
Without Matuidi, PSG lose their most willing runner. The relationship that he has built with Maxwell down the left and the understanding with Ibrahimovic, cannot be replicated by anyone else in the squad. Quite frankly, he is irreplaceable.
The same can be said for Verratti. The Italian has played 26 Champions League games for PSG – he may have only scored once and added one assist, but his overall influence can’t be forgotten. He is the metronome of the midfield, he dictates how and when PSG play.
Since Verratti joined in 2012, he has grown up on the field and the Parisians have grown into Europe’s elite competition. In his first season PSG averaged 454.2 passes per game – according to WhoScored – this season their average has climbed to 703 passes.
Last year the average dropped to 537, but they did play Barcelona four times out of the 10 games – understandable. In the Champions League alone Verratti’s average passes per game has jumped from 53.3 in the 2012/13 season to 83.2 this campaign – showing just how important he has become to how PSG play.
Only Thiago Motta averages more passes in a game over a 90-minute average, but only by four. Motta will undoubtedly take his place as the midfield general, but the important factor will be who partners the veteran.
Adrien Rabiot is the first choice, and although his minutes on the pitch don’t come near to either Italian, his average passes per game stands at 67.7 – it’s more than Matuidi, but obviously it falls short of fully replicating Verratti’s influence on the game.
If both of Blanc’s usual starters fail to begin Wednesday’s game, the French coach will likely call upon Javier Pastore to play in the midfield three. The Argentine is better known as being a playmaker. At both Palermo and his early days in Paris, he played as a No.10 – and even last season he excelled in this role.
Playing him deeper, you do gain a player who loves getting on the ball and someone who can create more chances than others, however, you do lose a player that wins the ball back and is not afraid to put his foot in. In the toughest matches, especially against a team like Chelsea, you need to match them physically and with toughness. PSG may struggle to do that with Pastore and Rabiot – compared to Matuidi and Verratti.
No matter who Guus Hiddink plays on Wednesday, PSG’s success is going to depend more on who they put on the field, rather than who they are up against.
If Matuidi and Verratti are unable to play, their replacements will need to step up and play possibly their best game of their season – but even that might not be enough to cover the void left by two of Europe’s best midfielders.
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