Paris Saint-Germain may have lost 3-1 to Barcelona on Wednesday night, but plenty of their players can hold their heads high for their performances on Matchday 6. PSG are still aiming to become one of Europe’s elite teams, so every game they play in the Champions League brings more experience.
Despite only playing for 61 minutes, Marco Verratti was easily the Parisians’ standout player on Wednesday. Looking long-term, the Italian midfielder is the one player Laurent Blanc could genuinely build his team around for years to come.
It was a strange decision for Blanc to bring him off after an hour. Although they were looking to push forward and find an equalising goal, PSG lost any foothold of control they had in midfield when Verratti exited the field.
PSG had taken the lead after 15 minutes when Zlatan Ibrahimovic finished off a 17-pass move, firing home the layoff by Blaise Matuidi.
The advantage only lasted four minutes before Lionel Messi tapped in from Luis Suarez’s cross. It looked all too easy for the Spanish side, with poor defending from Thiago Silva and David Luiz giving Barcelona a simple chance to equalise.
Just before half-time, it was the third of Barcelona’s world-class forwards who gave them the lead. Brazilian Neymar cut inside and then curled his effort into the far corner. Salvatore Sirigu had no chance, but PSG could have done more to close the forward down quicker.
PSG may have been a goal down at the break, but it was clear that their most impressive player had been the diminutive Italian. This was something that was even more apparent when the flow of the game changed after Blanc brought him off for Javier Pastore.
Playing against one of the greatest teams in the competition, the Italian midfielder rose to the occasion and was outstanding.
Even against the high-pressing nature of the Barcelona system, Verratti was still able to play his way out of trouble. The Italian has often been likened to his countryman Andrea Pirlo, but on Wednesday, on the big stage, he showed there is much more to his ever-developing game.
Not only was Verratti showing his excellent passing ability, but he also managed to showcase his bulldog spirit and tenacity to chase down opponents—all without picking up his customary yellow card.
Verratti also dazzled the Camp Nou with his superb footwork. At one point he danced in between two Barcelona players before winning a foul. There is no doubt that he has parts of Pirlo’s game in his locker, but he does not exactly play the deep-lying playmaker role like the Italian master who built a career with that style.
The 22-year-old also has a devilish work rate and an attitude that can sometimes be deemed petulant. There have been comparisons with another ex-Italy international, Gennaro Gattuso, and you can definitely see that side to his game too.
Marco Verratti having a superb game against Barcelona - he's like Pirlo and Gattuso rolled into one.— Tom Williams (@tomwfootball) December 10, 2014
The defeat means that the French club finished second in Group F and will face one of the six group winners in the last 16. A possible tie against one of Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, FC Porto or Real Madrid is not pleasant reading for PSG fans, but it guarantees an eye-catching tie.
Blanc will be questioned regarding his decision to take off Verratti with the game still in the balance—and if PSG are eliminated at the last 16 stage, it is something that could be brought up in the aftermath.
Despite Verratti only playing 61 minutes, Thiago Motta was the only one in a PSG jersey who saw more of the ball than the 22-year-old, with 72 touches to his 67.
The French side did have its chances to level the game—and even had chances to take the lead in the first-half. However, with the way he was playing, and the influence he had on the PSG performance, the biggest regret for Blanc may be taking Verratti off too early.
Regardless of who PSG draw, with Verratti at the helm of Blanc’s midfield, the future is definitely bright at the Parc des Princes.