Despite Copa America Snub, PSG's Thiago Silva Is Still a World-Class Defender

Andrew Gibney@@gibney_aFeatured ColumnistJuly 6, 2016

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 14: Thiago Silva and Blaise Matuidi of PSG celebrate winning the French Ligue 1 championship following the French Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and FC Nantes at Parc des Princes stadium on May 14, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

On one hand, Thiago Silva’s omission from Brazil’s Copa America Centenario squad could work in Paris Saint-Germain’s favour this season. The centre-back will be well rested and fully fit going into the new campaign, which is always good when you are on the wrong side of 30.

For the player, it must be a blow not to be involved with his country. It hurt him after the 2014 World Cup exit to Germany. Something that it took time to get over but could be turned into a positive after Brazil’s early exit in the competition.

Regardless of whether he is picked by current or future Brazil coaches, Silva is still a world-class defender.

Inter Milan centre-back Miranda, who did make the Copa America squad, believes Silva, alongside his PSG team-mates David Luiz and Marquinhos, all merit a place in the Selecao.

"I think Thiago Silva is a great defender who deserves to be selected," the Inter man told Globoesporte, via Goal. "But it's a choice for the coach and you have to respect that. I've also been rejected and I have learned lessons.”

Silva had previously told Canal Football Club, per Goal: "I suffered a lot because of what happened in Brazil. It was not easy to digest that.”

The PSG captain paid tribute to the guidance given to him by Laurent Blanc, but his former coach insisted the 31-year-old is responsible for his own revival.

Per Goal, Blanc told reporters in March:

This is mostly thanks to him.

He had a difficult time, it can happen to everyone. His potential is still there. He can still progress, even if he laughs when I tell him that!

He regained confidence in himself and with the help of some people who helped him to maintain that trust. You had to be with him and encourage him.

When he arrived in Paris, Silva brought a level of defending that Ligue 1 hadn't seen in a long time. The former AC Milan man was head and shoulders above anyone else in the division.

Instantly, he showed that centre-backs didn’t need to dive into tackles. He kept upright, read the game and pounced when the moment was right. He quickly became a visible wall.

Regardless of how good or bad PSG played in the league, it took a gargantuan effort from the opposition to penetrate a back four with Silva involved.

There was a dip in his form before the 2014 World Cup, and at the time Blanc felt the need to defend his captain and explain the possible reasons.

"We expect such excellence from him that when he's less good, we wonder what's happened to him,” said Blanc via L’Equipe (h/t ESPN).

“He's had a tricky spell, but that could also be explained by the fact he has had some injuries. When you're certain to go to the World Cup, when you're Brazil captain—all those injuries mean you are a little bit afraid of missing the World Cup.”

Thiago Silva Statistics
Aerial ChallengesTacklesInterceptionsClearances
2012/13: Ligue 12.122.86.3
2013/14: Ligue 12.51.12.35.1
2012/13: Champions League1.623.95.7
2013/14: Champions League1.31.92.74.7
Stats from WhoScored.com

Analysing his statistics on WhoScored, you can see the dip from his debut season—both domestically and in the Champions League. As Blanc said, he set the bar so high that it became noticeable when he wasn’t at his best.

Instantly, after the disaster in Rio, Silva’s numbers jumped back up once wearing the PSG shirt. Spending £50 million on his countryman David Luiz, you would have perhaps expected the duo to share the work load, but with continuing doubts over the former Chelsea player’s ability to actually defend, Silva had to return to his imperious best.

His numbers increased all over the board. He was winning more balls in the air, forced to make more tackles, and in the league, his interceptions and clearances were more apparent.

Thiago Silva Statistics
Aerial ChallengesTacklesInterceptionsClearances
2014/15: Ligue 13.52.42.86.6
2015/16: Ligue 12.41.73.14.8
2014/15: Champions League21.31.82.8
2015/16: Champions League2.62.236.1
Stats from WhoScored.com

Last season, with the domestic challenges offered to PSG almost disappearing, his numbers dropped slightly. However, he was excellent in the Champions League, putting up his best return in terms of clearances, aerial challenges won and tackles made.

In the league, as PSG pushed forward and dominated games, Silva found himself more involved in the possession game. His average passes per game went up from somewhere in the 50-60 mark, to up at 80.6—something that was noticeable in their 9-0 win over Troyes last term.

PSG were more commanding, more in control, with the players pushed higher up the pitch, Silva was allowed to push higher up and almost play like a midfielder.

At times it does seem that he is a little immune to criticism, there have been moments where his mistakes could have been punished further, if not for the lack of quality among Ligue 1 opposition. Mistakes are instantly forgotten when they don’t lead to goals.

During the 2013/14 Champions League campaign, it is often forgotten that it was Silva who gave away the penalty that put Chelsea 2-1 up and minutes away from the quarter-finals. He then capitalised on some terrible defending to head PSG level and the French side advanced on away goals.

What goes in Silva’s favour is his high level of performance, even when PSG struggle. When you look at the Ligue 1 defeats to Lyon and AS Monaco last season, plus the game at the Etihad Stadium when Manchester City knocked them out of the Champions League, the Brazilian was still excellent and the numbers from WhoScored back that up.

Beaten 2-1 away at Lyon in March, the game that ended their unbeaten season, he finished with two tackles, four interceptions and eight clearances, higher than his season average. Even in the 2-0 home defeat to Monaco he made five tackles, seven interceptions, seven clearances and blocked one shot. It was David Luiz who got booked and made an error for Monaco's goal in that match.

"We can see that there isn't a defender on the list—it's a pity," Blanc told a news conference, per ESPN FC, when Silva wasn’t included in the Ligue 1 Player of the Year shortlist in April.

"If there was one, it would have certainly been him. If we ask the players of Ligue 1 who the best defender is, the majority will respond that it's Thiago. We like players who score goals—you only have to look at the Ballon d'Or [nominees].

"Defenders are not often truly appreciated. But that doesn't take away from the season he's having. It's been terrific."

Even in the second-leg loss to Manchester City, he made eight clearances. It begs the question; it's not so much what he brings to the team—we've seen that for four seasons now—but where would Paris Saint-Germain be without him?