Can Blaise Matuidi Develop Further into One of the World's Best Midfielders?

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Can Blaise Matuidi Develop Further into One of the World's Best Midfielders?
Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

French international midfielder, Blaise Matuidi, is about to embark on his fourth season with Paris Saint-Germain when they kick off against Stade de Reims on Friday evening.

He has already played over 100 league games for the Parisians, and Friday will be his 300th game in Ligue 1.

The Toulouse-born midfielder is already one of the best players in Ligue 1, but the former Saint-Etienne star is pushing himself closer and closer to Europe’s elite. But will Matuidi ever be classed as one of the world’s best, or is he already there?

As a term, "central midfielder" is a little vague. You have your deep-lying playmakers like Andrea Pirlo, and then the more defensive but dynamic players like Bastien Schweinsteiger. You then have the all-action superstars like Yaya Toure, Arturo Vidal, Anders Iniesta and Matuidi’s international team-mate Paul Pogba.

With opinion in football usually split on most subjects, even some of those names will draw debate over their own credentials—everything is subjective. People will also mention the likes of Luka Modric, Mesut Ozil, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva, but you would probably class them more as attacking midfielders.

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Matuidi comes under the box-to-box category. He is allowed to attack while not giving up his defensive responsibilities. He is asked to get up and down the pitch as often as possible, bridging the gap between the two sides of the game.

In order to be recognised as world-class, you have to be perfect defensively and give the back line protection through a mixture of strength and positional sense.

Your passing has to be effective but simple, and you are in charge of moving the ball forward as quickly as possible without losing possession.

You really need to have the energy of about three players. You must possess the engine to cover every blade of grass without question. It has to look like you are everywhere you need to be, exactly when you should be.

Without the ball at your feet, you have to push forward into the box, timing your runs to perfection, getting beyond the attackers in order to create confusion and space for your team-mates. Then when the opportunity strikes, you have to be clinical in the final third.

That doesn’t just mean scoring goals—although it helps—but you need to show that understanding for the game and know when it’s better to pass than to go solo.

Listing all the qualities that a top-level box-to-box midfielder needs to have, you can’t help but realise that Matuidi has all of these in his locker.

His cardiovascular ability is easily one of the best in the world. So often, with a few minutes remaining during a game, Matuidi is the player running the ball down into his own corner, mopping up trouble before it even develops.

He is tireless, a fierce but fair defender and a leader all over the pitch. Not many players in Europe can match his running ability. It’s not that he is the quickest player, but his drive and determination see him fly past players who just don’t have the same desire.

David Vincent/Associated Press

Matuidi just about ticks all of the boxes, but there are two reasons why he isn’t often mentioned as being world-class.

Firstly, he has always played his football in Ligue 1. Not that it has stunted his development, but the league itself isn’t as glamorous as its European counterparts, and therefore—unless you are Zlatan Ibrahimovic and you’ve made your name outside of France—you are never fully respected until you play in one of the more recognised leagues.

Yohan Cabaye had played in the Champions League, had been part of the Lille side that beat AC Milan in the San Siro, he was also a French international, but until he moved to England he was virtually an unknown. Only PSG’s appearances in the Champions League have given Matuidi further exposure.

The second factor is one that he can work on, and you can already see improvements for both club and country. Frankly, he just doesn’t score or create enough goals.

Scoring goals is sometimes difficult in a side like PSG when you have Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and others all demanding the ball, but it’s possible.

Up until his move to Paris, Matuidi had only scored seven league goals in seven seasons for both Troyes and Saint-Etienne. He picked up one goal in his debut season in Paris, but after finding his place in the side and growing with confidence, he has scored five in each of his last two seasons.

Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

You can also see in his performances for France that he is developing more of a clinical edge in front of goal. It may have only been against Jamaica, but he got two goals in the last warm-up game before the World Cup, and he scored in the 5-2 win over Switzerland in the group stage.

There is a distinct possibility that Matuidi could, and probably should score 10 league goals this season.

On the flip side, he just doesn’t seem to have that creative spark in the final third. In three seasons he only has two assists for PSG.

This will be a huge year for Matuidi. He just turned 27 in April; he is now in the peak years of his career, and now is the time to show the world that he deserves to be mentioned alongside the best of the best.

Another impressive run from PSG in the Champions League, with Matuidi at the fore of the play, along with an increased presence in front of goal, should see one of Ligue 1’s greatest finally included in the same breath as the world’s greatest.

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