Wow. On Valentine’s Day, Paris Saint-Germain were faced with the colossal challenge of getting a result against FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League without their captain Thiago Silva. In a season that has seen many highs and lows, nobody could have predicted the 4-0 dismantling of the Catalan giants at the Parc des Princes. In the immediate aftermath, PSG supporters, the international media, and the collective football world tried to figure out what they just witnessed. For now, let’s accept the result and look at the lessons we’ve learned from this clash that will go down as one of the best night’s in club history.
1. Thomas Meunier isn’t done yet.
When the young Belgian right-back arrived from Club Brugge KV last summer, he was widely expected to familiarize himself with the bench for the remainder of the season and serve as a trusty backup for first-choice Serge Aurier. Meunier had other plans though. Ever since he first pulled on the blue and red shirt, his level of play has only increased with each match, leading Unai Emery to start him over Aurier against Barcelona. Meunier’s defensive ability is only matched by his willingness to take risks and his great technical ability, especially when the team is on the front foot. His performance against Barcelona, a game where he faced one of the top wingers in Neymar, was a star-studded performance and it shows us that Meunier means business and won’t settle for being a back-up.
2. Midfield issues are sorting themselves out.
While much of the discussion here at PSG Talk before the match was about who should start in midfield, eyebrows were raised when Emery announced a 4-2-3-1 formation with Blaise Matuidi playing behind Edinson Cavani and Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot balancing the central midfield among themselves. Without the suspended Thiago Motta, some questioned whether Verratti would dbe able to handle the physicality of the Catalan players or if Rabiot would be able to keep up his monumental form against some of the best in the world. The answer to both questions was a very simple but overwhelming “yes.” The two relatively young midfielders proved that between them, Matuidi, Motta, and Grzegorz Krychowiak (yes, he still plays for PSG), Emery is spoiled with options, whereas a few days ago this midfield dilemma was seen as a major obstacle.
3. Europe better watch out for Rabiot.
A few months ago I wrote a piece on Adrien Rabiot comparing him to some of Europe’s best midfielders to define his role as a player. His role may still remain undefined but that may be for the better as he’s only widening his options with the vast amount of dominant performances he’s put in lately. His defensive solidity and offensive vision combined might make him a real contender for a box-to-box player but nothing is certain yet apart from the fact he’s making great strides within the team to become a truly vital player.
4. Don Marco fa questo che vuole.
Don Marco does what he wants. Verratti truly performed out of his boots in the 4-0 rout proving his ability on the biggest of stages. The little Italian’s dominant display was characterized by his flawless positioning, his constant pressing, and his accurate passing. There wasn’t much we didn’t already know about Verratti but he’s forced his critics to look themselves in the mirror before speaking out about him again.
5. Kimpembe should make Marquinhos scared.
Presnel Kimpembe made his Champions League debut against Barcelona and against all odds, filled in for the injured Silva brilliantly. The 21-year-old won tackles galore and totally dominated the out-of-form trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, and Neymar. While it could be argued that this match could be a one-off or that “MSN” had the attacking prowess of Bouna Sarr, Corentin Tolisso, and Yohan Cabaye combined, it provides much-needed competition for Marquinhos, who might have thought he had a starting spot at the club when David Luiz left. Although it will take much more than one game to win Silva’s place in the team, Kimpembe has made some very strong arguments for taking Marquinhos’ spot.
Will Barcelona stage a comeback at the Camp Nou? Will Kimpembe be Silva’s eventual heir? Will Rabiot surpass prime Xavi? Can PSG win the Champions League? Many questions are yet to be answered after the shock result but one thing is for sure, Emery has the team playing their best football in years and if things continue, it could be a season to remember.