Paris Saint-Germain’s 1-0 win over Montpellier on Friday night was far from spectacular, but the away side did ask a few questions of Laurent Blanc’s defence, and every time they did, Thiago Silva was in the right place at the right time to thwart their advances.
We are only on the eve of week four of the new Ligue 1 season, and it’s fair to say that PSG has yet to face any serious attacking threat, but there are signs that their Brazilian skipper has rediscovered the form that made him one of the standout defenders, not just in France, but around the world.
It’s just the little moments that catch the eye: a step in the right direction that sees him take up the perfect position to cut out a counter-attack; the way he often steps up almost effortlessly to make sure he is in the right position to clear the danger; or the marauding strides up the pitch to push the ball up the field, understanding that the best form of defence is attack.
Thiago Silva has it all.
At the back end of last season, Silva received a lot of praise for his performances, but it was clear that the Brazilian still wasn’t quite at the same level he had shown when he first arrived.
Moving from AC Milan to PSG, Silva was at the top of his game, and Ligue 1 fans quickly saw that this was a defender playing at a different level to the rest. He resembled a brick wall—his aura gave off the mantra of “none shall pass,” and rarely anyone did.
During the 22 league games of his debut campaign, PSG kept 14 clean sheets when Thiago Silva was on the pitch. He matched that in his second season, although he played six games more as PSG lifted the 2013/14 Ligue 1 trophy.
Les Parisians stuttered and spluttered over the line that season, drawing 1-1 with Sochaux when they could have clinched the title and losing 2-1 to Rennes at the Parc des Princes when they found out before kick-off that Monaco dropping points had secured first place.
Blanc had to come out and reveal that Thiago Silva had been distracted due to the impending World Cup in his home country, via ESPN FC.
We expect such excellence from him that when he's less good, we wonder what's happened to him. ... 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 little bit afraid of missing the World Cup.
PSG’s skipper had missed six weeks earlier in the season when he picked up a thigh injury in a pre-season game against Napoli—he also had to finish the campaign wearing a protective mask after suffering a facial fracture.
In the player's subconscious, it's not that he takes his foot off the gas, but rather that he pays attention to a lot of things, and paradoxically, the injuries come one after the other. He is surely saying to himself: 'Let the league finish quickly so that I can prepare myself’. But he's not the only one. All the players who will be leaving for Brazil in two months are being careful.
He may not have been the only player taking things easy at the end of the season, but he was the most noticeable, especially playing in such an important position.
At the World Cup, Thiago Silva picked up a yellow card against Colombia for what can only be described as an act of stupidity: stopping goalkeeper David Ospina from taking a kick. It would mean the skipper was suspended for the semi-final against Germany—Brazil were slaughtered, and the scars have cut the nation deep.
Countryman David Luiz joined Thiago Silva at PSG that summer and when playing together at 100 percent, they have mostly impressed, but it is a partnership that is far from perfect—especially during crucial Champions League games.
Silva was given a lot of credit for helping PSG advance past Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but it is easy to forget after his goal that clinched the away goals win that it was the Brazilian who clearly handled the ball in extra time that helped Chelsea take the lead.
PSG were only six minutes from elimination, and it would have been due to their captain giving away a needless penalty. Chelsea’s poor defending from a late set piece helped Silva wipe that moment away, and the jubilation was clear to see.
The French side deserved to go through over the two legs, but it doesn’t take away from how close they came to going out. That game perfectly sums up Thiago Silva’s campaign—moments of greatness mixed with some poor performances.
Last season, in comparison, only 10 of PSG’s league games with Thiago Silva on the pitch resulted in clean sheets. This is just one of the reasons that the title challenge was a tight affair until the final few weeks.
Thiago Silva set the bar very high with his early performances, players are always going to have peaks and troughs, and it looks like this season we are going to see why he is still the standout defender in Ligue 1—the biggest test will be whether we are able to see his quality shine through in the Champions League.
Regardless of who they are matched with in the group stage, the vital challenges will come in the knockout rounds. The club wants to show progression by reaching the semi-finals. However, that doesn’t factor in who they will be drawn against.
Facing the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or even Chelsea again in either the last 16 or quarter-finals will make it very difficult to reach the last four, but it will give Thiago Silva the chance to show the world just how good he can still be.
Unlike John Terry at Chelsea, Silva hasn’t built a reputation on last-ditch tackles—often suggesting at poor positioning—but when the 30-year-old centre-back is on form, he doesn’t need to go to ground or even make a tackle.
His positional awareness is superb, and he reads the game better than most defenders in any of the top teams.
This season, he will once again dominate Ligue 1 as one of the best players in France, but it will be in the Champions League where the biggest tests will come, and that’s where Thiago Silva needs to return to his imperious best.