Reading Time: 5 minutes
Marco Verratti is Paris-Saint Germain’s Xavi Hernández. He is not a prolific goal scorer, but he is definitely the catalyst towards goal. With a knack for finding the ball, he fills the gaps on defense while turning around and filling similar gaps on offense. Pep Guardiola once said of Xavi that he receives the ball and immediately gives it to a teammate into space, and much of the same can be attributed to Verratti, too.
“I love Verratti. I like his vision of the game. He never loses the ball,” [Xavi] said. “He would fit well in the Barca game. I’d like to see him at Barcelona.”
– Xavi on Verratti
This is part of the reason why Verratti has the consistent ability to create chances for his forward in Edinson Cavani or his midfield partner, Blaise Matuidi. What he does on the pitch is hard to do – turning scrappy defense into clean-cut and effective offense.
In 2012, prior to manager Carlo Ancelotti’s departure to Real Madrid, PSG signed central midfielder Marco Verratti to a five-year contract from the Italian Serie B side Pescara. His performances as a teenager caught the eye of many of the world’s premiere club teams, paving a fast lane for the Azzurri man to Paris Saint-Germain. During Verratti’s first full season with the club, they went on to win the league, les Trophées de Championes, and the Coupe de la Ligue largely, in part, with his pinpoint accuracy in the long ball and through ball. His individual accolade that season was winning Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year Award.
Verratti’s passing and defensive abilities make him a hot commodity in today’s soccer economics. As of July 2016, his transfer value has been listed at £40 million by Transfermarkt, and his talents have been sought after by some of the largest clubs in Europe, including Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus, and Manchester United. Chelsea are at the forefront of these rumors after the Blues’ manager, Antonio Conte, said that the club was keen on offering £43 million and Cesc Fàbregas during the upcoming January transfer window. It is not often that managers find a player that they can instill trust and confidence in whether they’re playing the team at the bottom of their league or the team atop the league table. While 2013 and 2014 were arguably his best seasons thus far at Parc des Princes, his best has yet to be seen.
At 24 years old, Marco Verratti draws some stark comparisons to Paul Pogba, even though he has jokingly said he is nowhere close to being worth £100 million. They both do very similar things for their respective teams. Posting decent numbers in interceptions (6) and passing (88% completion), Verratti forces his teammates to get forward more, which is why over 64% of his Ligue 1 passes this campaign have been either forward or lateral. His defensive style leaves proper aerial defense to be desired, but his relentless pursuit of the ball allows his team more possessions and longer possessions. Verratti takes men on directly with an 88% success rate, forcing players to make error-free decisions well under pressure.
When he inevitably wins possession, his quick traversal from defense to offense has a tendency to get him fouled, and he’s already been taken maliciously to ground 21 times in merely 10 Ligue 1 appearances this season for PSG. When this happens, the defense begins to focus directly on him, making it difficult to guard Verratti’s vision of passing lanes, conveniently giving players like Zlatan Ibrahimović an easy exit lane to a one-on-one with the keeper, as evidenced below.
Verratti allows the play to develop in front of him, giving Ibra a short pass, which he gets back, and while facing in one direction, gives Ibra a chipped pass over the top of the defense to complement his diagonal run for a not-so-difficult shot placed in the bottom right of the net.
Verratti’s most important asset is his ability to dribble and finesse his way out of troublesome situations. He has regularly managed his way out of the grasps of the defense merely by using his timely touch at the opportune time and, in turn, maintaining possession for his team.
He manages to receive the ball and direct the ball from midfield, to the wing, and back out across the top of the penalty box, consistently exposing and finding space while bringing the attention of more defenders. Attracting the eyes of the defense makes it impossible to also keep a hand or arm on the attacking players, giving Verratti and his supporting players free reign on what they please to do towards goal.
Verratti’s remarkable skill was noticed prior to the 2014 World Cup, despite serving as a substitute behind the likes of Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio. Despite Italy’s subpar performance in the 2014 World Cup and at Euro 2016 (for which he was injured) earlier this summer, Verratti has seen some incredible success in his 19 international caps. Despite the never-ending comparisons to some of Europe’s top midfielders, Verratti has repeatedly claimed that he is absolutely “not worth 100 million,” adding that such an extreme valuation places entirely too much pressure and unrealistic expectations on a mere mortal, including the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, etc. After all, looking at the pressure a team like Manchester United has put on their very expensive players, it is no wonder he ideally wants to stick to playing his brand of football at a place that he loves in PSG.
Wherever Verratti decides to showcase his talents and ambition, his presence on the field will always be noticed with his unrelenting desire to take on the man with the ball defensively, and switch up field to begin the attack. Carlo Ancelotti has said of him in the past that “He is very confident and comfortable on the ball, but he needs to take fewer risks when he is in front of the defense.” However, as a growing talent who plays as if he has something to prove, Verratti can afford to be risky. It is already a risk to have a defensive-minded midfielder at 5’6” (165 cm) and 132 pounds (60kg) play like a center back and dribble like a forward. He’s not quite a superstar just yet, but with unlimited potential, it’s only fair that he is the new Xavi, whether he goes to Barcelona or not. He started as an undersized quickster at Pescara, earned a spot on Italy’s national youth teams, and ended up at Paris Saint-Germain with some very wealthy suitors.
His speed and dribbling will put defenders on skates with a casual nutmeg, and bring the fans to their feet with a frenetic cadence. With defenders stunned and reeling to break down in defense, his strikers tread into space as he threads the ball through like a needle, leading to another goal scoring opportunity. It is no wonder that plays like the one above have afforded him the praise from managers and players alike to give him the nickname “Il Maestro.”
Editor’s Note: The article originally stated that Pescara was a Serie A side. It was pointed out by Reddit user “Verratti4Me” that at the time of Verratti’s transfer to PSG, Pescara was actually a Serie B side.