Thought to be forgotten at the end of 2020, the Leandro Paredes-Marco Verratti pair was seen again on in Angers SCO (1-0 victory) in a double pivot that proved to be effective in some aspects, without necessarily being totally convincing in all respects. Let’s take a look at the at the performance of the Italian-Argentinean duo.
We don’t know what Mauricio Pochettino has learned from the Verratti experience in number 10, but he probably won’t try it again. The Argentinian coach’s main innovation in his first three games at the head of PSG was abandoned with the return of Neymar Jr. to the starting eleven. As a direct consequence, Verratti found himself one notch lower against Angers, his usual positioning for Paris Saint-Germain. What is less frequent, however, is his “double pivot” association with Paredes, the Argentinian having been considered more like the Italian’s luxury understudy. This association had not been renewed once last season by Thomas Tuchel after tests in the second half of the 2018-2019 season were not really conclusive (defeat in Lille OSC, draws against RC Strasbourg and OGC Nice in particular).
Positioned Close to Each Other. Too Close?
Before delving into the figures, let’s take a look at their positioning in the field. And if they sometimes gave the impression of stepping on each other’s toes on Saturday night, they ended up finding their own role and space, as shown in their heatmap below:
There are obviously quite a few similarities between the two, but Paredes’s area of influence (on the right) is further back and more central, Verratti’s (on the left) is more forward and on the right side. This confirms that Pochettino has given the Argentine the role of first passer (even if it means positioning himself between the two central ones), while his pair has to move higher, almost like a relay player.
With PSG having had possession in Angers (61%), the two boys, who like to have the ball at their feet so much and who also played the whole game, scared the counters in terms of balls played: 147 for Verratti and 142 for Paredes.
Verratti is thus on an incredible series of five consecutive matches in League 1 with more than 100 passes, and even much more since he averages 136 since Lille! Paredes’ 142 passes are the second-highest total in Ligue 1 behind his 148 in October 2019 – already against Angers.
The gap on the match with the third-best passer, Marquinhos, who still played more than 100 of them, is consequent. They have moreover self-fueled this gap by doubling the number of passes between them since they exchanged 73 passes at the Raymond Kopa Stadium (31 from the Argentinian to the Italian, 42 in the opposite direction). This is the best total for a midfield duo in Ligue 1 this season (source: psg.fr).
Lots of Passes, But For What?
But have these passes really improved PSG’s game? The website fbref.com tells us more about the location of these passes:
The graph, first of all, confirms the geographical distribution of the pitch: Paredes, the first launch pad, has the ball more in the Parisian defensive zone; while Verratti dominates in the middle and in the offensive zones. In conformity with the heatmaps seen above, the number of balls played in the middle of the field, in the area close to the central circle, is incredibly high.
Difficulties to Hit the Attackers
Nevertheless, compared to the number of balls played, the number of balls received in the offensive zone seems very low: only three between them in the opponent’s area. There must obviously be an instruction of relative caution since the duo was the only defensive bulwark of the midfield, but it also shows the collective difficulties to bring the ball in the dangerous zones. Indeed, the Parisians only touched the ball 22 times in the 18 meters of their opponents on Saturday evening, whereas their average until then was 33. They had done less than twice this season in Ligue 1 (against Rennes and Monaco).
One ratio clearly shows the powerlessness of the capital’s players to find a distinguished player within the dense Angevine defense: the percentage of meters won by the pass compared to the total distance of the passes. The higher the ratio, the more passes are played forward. In Angers, Verratti did not exceed 25% and Paredes did not exceed 29%, whereas they usually turn at around 30%. Verratti’s rate in particular is a good indication of his difficulty in breaking through the safe set up by Stéphane Moulin.
Verratti had a hard time finding his usual accomplice on the left side, Neymar, to whom he gave only 9 balls. But it is especially his inability to reach Kylian Mbappé (2 passes) and Kean (only 1) that gives a good idea of the adjustments to be made in this new configuration.
In the end, the duo only made 2 key passes. It’s a bit hard to summarize their performance in this way but we can only notice that out of the 248 passes they made between them, only two resulted in a shot from a teammate. Both for Verratti who is now at twelve in Ligue 1 (the 10th total of the squad) while Paredes still hasn’t distributed any despite the 538 minutes played and the 575 attempted passes…
Another indicator shows how difficult it is for them to create danger to the opposing goal: the expected goals chain (xG Chain). This is each player’s contribution to an action ending in a shot. This usually highlights players whose range of action is at the beginning or middle of the action, rather than at the time of the shot or the last pass. Paredes is credited by understat.com with 0.81 xG Chain and Verratti with 0.65. Quite modest figures, slightly higher than those of Diallo for example (0.56). For Verratti, it is even his least good performance in the championship since Lille.
In short, a lot of passes, a lot of balls played, but for a number of opportunities created in the end that is quite disappointing. The fault is not entirely theirs since the offensives’ movements were probably insufficient. But one expects more creativity from such talented players, especially when they have the ball 22% of the time between the two of them.
An Undeniable Offensive Contribution
However, they were not completely harmless and several indicators testify to the duo’s efforts to create danger in the Angevin defense.
They still struggled to find their attackers since they are the main providers of passes to the last third of the field:
It’s on a Paredes pass for his compatriot Angel Di Maria that will come the only goal of the game (center of Alessandro Florenzi taken again by Kurzawa).
In addition to their supposed ability to play forward, one of the assets of this double pivot is their ability to play long. They managed to get almost half of the team’s long passes (8 out of 17). The Argentinean stood out in this exercise with six successful cross passes out of nine, compared to two out of five for the Italian.
In addition to passing, it was through dribbling that they successfully tried to destabilize the Angevin rearguard.
Verratti came close to perfection with seven dribbles out of eight, while Paredes, out of habit and function, was more cautious but still managed two dribbles out of the three attempted.
Finally, on the offensive level, it should not be forgotten that they are the authors of three strikes out of the eleven of the team. Verratti was at the conclusion of a beautiful movement where he acrobatically picked up Neymar’s cross with his left foot. Paredes, for his part, took his 40th and 41st shots from outside the box since he has been playing at PSG (for a single shot from inside the 18 meters, against Bordeaux at the end of November). For a total of 9 shots on target.
Paredes Very Present Defensively
At the defensive level, it was the ancient Roman who was particularly prominent. He succeeded in all seven tackles he attempted. He had never before achieved such a level of successful tackles under the red and blue jersey. He also recovered 12 balls, which is his record of the season and the second performance of the match behind Marquinhos (13):
The Argentinian had a very active defensive game. In fact, he won 9 of his 11 duels, which is an excellent ratio. Verratti has no reason to be ashamed of his performance in this sector either, since he is the player who has won the most duels: 14 out of the 22 played. The Italian equals his best performance of the season (at Lens).
This is mainly a sign of his excellent physical fitness. If we include the Champions Trophy, he has played all of the last six games of PSG (since Lille-PSG of 20/12/2020). Since his arrival at PSG in 2012, this is the second time this has happened to him, after a series of 6 full games in April 2017 (5 Ligue 1 and 1 French Cup semi-final against Monaco). He is also the Parisian who covered the longest distance on Saturday night (12.3 km).
In summary, it is difficult to judge this double pivot that ended up performing where it was not necessarily expected (Paredes’ defensive slaughter in particular) but failed on what is supposed to be its strong point (the ability to connect with the attackers). Above all, performing in this area on Saturday night, what is the real capacity of this pair to respond to a major physical challenge in midfield? Answer in the coming weeks.
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