Paris Saint-Germain

Absence of Marco Verratti underlines his importance to Paris Saint-Germain
November 27, 2014 3:52:03 PM PST
By Jonathan Johnson

"He sees the game before the other players, like Andrea Pirlo," that was one of the many compliments that former Paris Saint-Germain manager Carlo Ancelotti paid young Italian midfielder and serial risk-taker Marco Verratti during his 16-month spell in charge of the French giants. Admittedly, there was as much criticism as there was praise during this time, but the 55-year-old's positive words always outweighed the negative.

Ancelotti left Paris back in June of 2013, so has missed watching the last 17 months of Verratti's development up close, but Carletto will be pleased to know that it is now not just the 22-year-old's vision that is Pirlo-esque. The pint-sized midfielder has now developed into an undisputed member of PSG starting XI, building on his promising debut season under the now-Real Madrid tactician and honing his immense technical gifts.

Recently, the same daredevil style of dribbling that once infuriated his former boss drew praise from all who were either at -- or tuned in on television -- Le Classique between PSG and Olympique de Marseille. The Azzurri star displayed nerves of steel as he dribbled the ball from inside his own penalty area away to safety, much to the delight of the adoring Parc des Princes support.

Not only is Verratti an immensely popular member of Les Parisiens' starting XI, he is now one its most integral parts. The pint-sized midfielder has gone from being a plucky young teenager and protege of the experienced Thiago Motta in the middle of the park to one of the cornerstones of Laurent Blanc's star-studded team.

When Verratti is unavailable through suspension or injury -- more often the former than the latter -- his teammates miss him. This was clearer than ever in both the 3-2 win away at FC Metz last Friday and the 3-1 win over Ajax in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

Although PSG won both matches, it was clear that the midfield was severely weakened by his absence with an adductor problem. Against Metz, Thiago Motta, Yohan Cabaye, Adrien Rabiot and Clement Chantome between them could not compensate for his absence and the team lacked its usual consistency and ability to retain possession of the ball, which cost them two quick-fire penalties at the start of the second half.

While in the win over Ajax, an under-strength midfield of Rabiot, Blaise Matuidi and Javier Pastore lacked the ball-winning and retention qualities that he brings, not to mention his ability to create chances from deep.

Verratti's availability this weekend against Nice would have been a timely boost for coach Blanc, who has also been deprived of the services of Motta, Cabaye and Matuidi in recent weeks. However, injury has kept the Azzurri star out once again and PSG's will be poorer for it.

This season, the Italian has become more than just a player who can intercept the ball, keep hold of it and make the odd telling pass. The tenacious midfielder has stepped up and is now becoming a key contributor.

In his debut season in Paris, the PSG No. 24 laid on three Ligue 1 goals and last year he went one better with four. This campaign, he already has that many and it is not even the halfway stage yet.

Verratti also added his first goal in PSG colours -- with a header of all things - in Les Parisiens' thrilling 3-2 win over Barcelona in the Champions League.

Two of his assists this term have also bore significant resemblance to the man Ancelotti compared him to in the quote at the start of this piece.

In providing Edinson Cavani and Jean-Christophe Bahebeck with goals against Bastia and Toulouse respectively -- thanks to some sublime chipped passes over the top from quickly taken free kicks -- the Italian maestro has displayed shades of Pirlo in goals where he gets to play the architect. While the two have styles of play that differ considerably, there are one or two clear and unmistakable similarities.

Although he's beginning to sound like a perfect player, there is a catch.

Verratti is still yet to master his dirty habit of picking up yellow cards, either for dirty fouls or for talking his way into the referee's notebook. Currently he leads Ligue 1 with five yellow cards from 12 appearances alone, well his way to surpassing last season's total of 10, which was an improvement on 11 in his debut campaign.

But perhaps that is what makes Verratti such an endearing player and a watchable talent. The former Pescara Calcio man plays with such passion and such vivacity that it is too easy to forgive him for his considerable streak of ill discipline, even though it would aid the development of his game tremendously.

He still has time though. At just 22, Verratti has the world at his feet and crowds in the palms of his hands. This may only be his third season with PSG, but it is already difficult imagine the French champions' midfield without him.

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