Feb 18, 2014, 7:51 PM EDT
I love watching Zlatan just as much as the rest of you.
He’s really one of the most electric players out there, without a doubt, and would qualify as a pure gamechanger.
But as much fun as he is to watch, and as vital as his goalhawking is (with his brace today he has 10 of PSG’s last 15 away goals in the Champions League) he’s not the French giants’ most important player.
I know, I know, that’s blasphemy, but bear with me.
Despite Zlatan’s spark, the designation must go to the man who gets about 1/1000th of the credit, but makes the team churn – Blaise Matuidi.
In a match where PSG got off to a explosive start and didn’t look back, the 26-year-old midfielder was the linchpin in Les Parisians whirring mechanism.
Taking a look at the first goal, and you see all you need to know about his work rate. Matuidi intercepts the ball on the right touchline, seeing the pass well before Simon Rolfes even knew he was going to attempt it. Then, after dishing to Gregory Van der Wiel, he doesn’t power down his afterburners until he gets the ball back and puts it in the back of the net, shielding off Roberto Hilbert to create space for his run.
Later, Matuidi does all the hard work to construct the foundation for PSG’s third goal, the foundation on which Ibrahimovic – as he has so often this year – builds a masterpiece atop.
The Toulouse product braced himself against both Omer Toprak and Emir Spahic (who had a nightmarish performance), attempting to make something for himself before realizing he was out of options. He went to ground but remained calm, reaching out and finding his Swedish superstar at the last possible moment for a special finish.
Matuidi eventually came off in the 67th minute, with Laurent Blanc not wishing to risk a second yellow for his most important player already ahead 3-0.
This match, however, is just one small example of Matuidi’s brilliance this year in the French Ligue 1 and beyond.
According to Squawka statistics, Matuidi has a 92% pass completion rate, including a sparkling 86% (57/66) on long balls. His superb strength also helps him defensively, completing 64% of his tackles successfully in the midfield.
In today’s match, he wasn’t needed defensively as much with PSG dominating possession until Matuidi’s exit (not a coincidence). However, he still chipped in with a successful tackle in his only attempt, as well as three interceptions, two blocked crosses, and a successful clearance.
And while his numbers in Ligue 1 play are great, he leaves his A+ game for the biggest stage – with today, he now has a goal and three assists in the Champions League, while racking up three goals and two assists in 24 Ligue 1 matches.
Ibrahimovic may get all the international headlines, highlight videos, press coverage, and fan love – and rightly so, the guy’s both a beast on the pitch and marketable off it – but Blaise Matuidi’s importance to this PSG side cannot, and should not, be understated.
With Matuidi’s guidance (along with Marco Verrati’s service and, obviously, Ibra’s flair), this team has the very real possibility of finding themselves in the Champions League final four, no question possessing the potential to shock the world with an upset or two along the way.
It’s a bit late, but I’m officially on the PSG bandwagon, and you should be too.
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