Laurent Blanc's Big Mistake: Starting Naive Marco Verratti over Yohan Cabaye

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterApril 8, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08:  Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea and Marco Verratti of PSG batlte for the ball during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain FC at Stamford Bridge on April 8, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The stage was set for Paris Saint-Germain to claim a priceless, famous aggregate victory over Chelsea and advance to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals on Sunday.

Fresh from Les Parisiens' 3-1 victory, journalists emerging from the Parc des Princes last Wednesday murmured in agreement that the tie was "70-75 percent" in favour of PSG—all they had to do was hold out at Stamford Bridge for 90 agonising minutes.

Laurent Blanc was able to rest almost every key player in their 3-0 win over Reims at the weekend too, starting only Thiago Silva, Salvatore Sirigu and Edinson Cavani (for 60 minutes).

One player who perhaps would have started that game had he not been suspended was Marco Verratti, as he had a certain amount of making up to do after a naive performance in the first leg.

He dodged the fixture, though, and started at the Bridge. However, Blanc should not have been so quick to reintroduce him. As much as Verratti comes across as naive, Blanc does too in this particular faux pas.

Yohan Cabaye was average against Reims, certainly, but he was surely the better pick for the midfield three in what was PSG's most important fixture of the year.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08:  Head Coach Laurent Blanc of PSG looks on during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain FC at Stamford Bridge on April 8, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Verratti gave the ball away in a dangerous area in the first leg, forcing Silva into a rash challenge that conceded a penalty. Eden Hazard duly converted, giving Chelsea the away goal that won them the tie.

In the second leg, he gave the ball away consistently, lingering on it for too long and failing to move the ball quickly between the lines on counter-attacks.

He surrendered possession deep in his own half on one notable incident that led to Andre Schurrle smashing the crossbar with an effort from outside the box.

Paris Saint-Germain set up in a counter-attacking 4-3-3 that relied on finding Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura early and often. Instead, Verratti tiptoed between challenges in flashy fashion and hurt the overall game plan.

Now Verratti was not the sole reason PSG lost the tie overall, but it's time to debunk the myth that he's the next Andrea Pirlo and everything he touches turns to gold.

He's a phenomenal talent, has a great passing range and tackles firmly, but he's 21 years of age and it shows. Blanc appears to buy into the myth that Verratti is ready to go in the biggest of games, opting to leave £20 million man Cabaye benched.

In the 55th minute, Blanc rectified his error and swapped the two. Cabaye proceeded to lift a beautiful quick ball into Cavani's feet on the run only for the Uruguayan to lift an easy finish over the bar.

Could the Frenchman have found room for one or two more of those had he started the contest in place of his team-mate? The smart money says "yes."

Could the result have been different—favourable, even—had the former Newcastle United man played 90 minutes? Again, the smart money says "yes."

There are those in Paris that disagree with Nasser Al-Khelaifi's decision to award Blanc a new contract, and it's nights like this that validate the fears.

PSG have been far from perfect this season for a number of reasons and Blanc, arguably, is at the root of most.

It's the finer details at this level that win or lose you a tie, and PSG must now regroup, settle for the Ligue 1 title and focus on the Coupe de la Ligue.