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Dublin: 3°C Sunday 29 November 2020

PSG's Adrien Rabiot gave a midfield masterclass against Barcelona last night

The 21-year-old made a very tough role look very easy.

Image: Francois Mori

ADRIEN RABIOT MAY only be 21 but his performance for Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League demolition of Barcelona last night showed a maturity and composure that belied his age.

Though Angel di Maria’s two-goal contribution has attracted plenty of plaudits, Rabiot provided the platform and was the standout performer.

Overall, the PSG midfield was superb. Marco Verratti was his usual tenacious self while Blaise Matuidi also shone.

But Rabiot, who was handed the task of sticking close to Lionel Messi, stepped up and delivered in a number of key areas.

Firstly, he was positionally sound. Screening the defence, he allowed very little to get past and the inability of Barcelona to disrupt and move him and create gaps was pretty telling.

His handling of Messi was particularly impressive, though he had a far more rounded performance and wasn’t just quietening Barca’s most vital player for 90 minutes.

In a physical midfield, Rabiot was essentially the point guy – there to break things up and be a nuisance. Alongside him, Matuidi and Verratti were there to support and help clean up. Distribution certainly isn’t Rabiot’s greatest strength but that’s not why he’s in the team.

Source: Goal ᴴᴰ/YouTube

What was illuminating last night was Rabiot’s in-game intelligence and composure when it mattered most. His ability to break up play is neatly complemented by his ability to stride up-field and get PSG’s key attackers on the ball in dangerous positions. A midfielder’s first instinct in the modern game is to usually play the ball backwards or push it to the full-back who’ll then knock it to the goalkeeper as the team attempts to realign themselves as the side in possession.

But Rabiot can offer something different, especially when Verratti and Matuidi are there to cover.

There was one moment that stood out more than any other, though. And it may have appeared very simplistic and rather forgettable in the moment. But it was a lovely snapshot into how to counter an aggressive press.

PSG were already 2-0 up but Barca were inevitably aggressive at the start of the second half.

Kevin Trapp had the ball at his feet and was initially unsure of what to do with his distribution. He could see that Barca had pushed four attackers to the edge of the PSG box to shut down a short build-up. It was a ridiculously high press and a statement from Luis Enrique: PSG weren’t going to be allowed dictate the tempo for the second period and would be hassled and harried into committing errors.

But it was Rabiot, the 21-year-old, who took on the responsibility. He dropped short and told Trapp to play him the ball, in spite of the two Barca players around him. He let the ball roll past him, the pace of the pass shaking off one opponent. But there was another Barca shirt to contend with. His physicality shielded him, his composure ensured he didn’t panic and he swept a left-foot pass wide to a team-mate. There was a little flick inside to Matuidi who released Kurzawa to penetrate from deep. There was acres of space in front of him and when he found di Maria, the Argentine curled superbly to the corner to make it 3-0.

It all started with Rabiot beating the press. It seemed innocuous but he actually took four players out of the game by pushing through and sticking a decent pass. It created the space for Kurzawa as Barcelona’s players were badly out of position.

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When there’s an aggressive press, it can look and feel intimidating for the team in possession – look at Trapp’s initial concern as he looks to play a pass. But with composure and, essentially, fighting aggression with aggression, it’s beatable and potentially lucrative for a side quick in transition and with some high-quality attackers.

With Rabiot, PSG had a young man who delivered a top-drawer performance and played a tough role superbly.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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