Underrated does not quite cut it for some players. Regardless of the successes of this team and their individual influence, some players are forgotten or overlooked. It often is midfielders who operate primarily in the defensive and middle thirds, the unglamorous role of breaking up the opposition and releasing their more talented teammates to work their magic.
One such player is Blaise Matuidi. As he turns 30, the Frenchman continues to be misjudged in Paris Saint-Germain’s glittering line-up, with starlet Adrien Rabiot, sensation Marco Verratti and Angel di Maria all enjoying the limelight. The excellent Julian Draxler, goal machine Edinson Cavani and their other forwards all get the understandable attention for game-winning moments, too.
Matuidi, who has started every single Champions League match this season despite starting only 19 Ligue 1 games, has been a long-time reliable performer in the French capital. Regularly appearing in the European Championship for France last summer as well, he features in the French squad despite remarkable depth in the midfield positions including N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba.
His energy may be about to decline as his supposed peak years come to an end, but Matuidi has the experience and nous to compensate. He passes within his limits, which is perfect for a deep midfielder in a team filled with talent. His pass completion regularly registers above 90% with the vast majority of those, short, sharp simple balls in the middle third.
Far from the creator from deep that Rabiot can be or the feisty dribbler like Verratti, Matuidi knows his role and plays it superbly. It is, as the cliché goes, an example of doing the basics exceptionally well and relying on other players to do the flamboyant parts of the game. As his box-to-box engine begins to decline, Matuidi can slot into a number six role, reading the game and breaking up play before setting up his team to attack.
As Paris dominate possession in Ligue 1, Matuidi intercepts less frequently. His tackle rate is a lot lower at 1.7 per game, too, but this leapt up to well over 2.5 in the European Championship and Champions League.
Over the last few years, a move to the Premier League has been touted with regularity, but it has never happened. The Frenchman would fulfil a similar role to that box-to-box player with a defensive bent for any one of the top six sides, but you get the feeling that there are two in particular who could do with the services he provides.
In a Jose Mourinho midfield at Manchester United, you can see Ander Herrera bringing the busy-body harassing, Paul Pogba bringing the flair and the passing range, and Matuidi bringing the brawn and the running, and perhaps more of a sitting role in his later years.
Recently, France legend and one-time Birmingham City striker Christophe Dugarry told French radio station RMC (via Le 10 Sport) that he sees Matuidi at Arsenal, as a player who can bring an intensity to Arsenal’s game and get rid of the ‘clowning around’ they do in the middle of the park.
It’s hard to disagree with Dugarry’s thoughts. Arsenal’s midfield has been a problem position for years, and someone of Matuidi’s intensity certainly would be a welcome change, and would bring a powerhouse of the role to the Emirates for the very first time, with Patrick Vieira having left the club before the move to the new stadium.
Sitting at the base of their midfield ready to cover ground to retrieve the ball when a counter-attack is bubbling, he could be a vital asset for any side in the league, whether from the bench or as a regular starter.
He may not come cheap, and his age could be a concern for a player whose intensity is so crucial, but his experience in France and of the Champions League would add a great deal to any squad – and there are at least two in the Premier League crying out for it.