All Good Things in Motta-ration

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

John Berry/Getty ImagesThe numbers prove the value Thiago Motta brings to PSG

Despite leading the Ligue 1 standings at the midway point of the season on goal difference, Paris Saint-Germain have not dominated proceedings as many would have expected them to so far. Part of that is down to how often coach Carlo Ancelotti has changed his formation to try and optimise the capital club's formidable attack while remaining responsible at the back. Part of that problem lies in the midfield. Ancelotti favours a three-man midfield that dominates possession and dictates games but given PSG's attacking talent, the Italian cannot accommodate three balanced elements without detracting from the team's attacking potency.

That is where Thiago Motta comes in. Since the start of the season, Blaise Matuidi has been a revelation in the Parc des Princes midfield and Marco Verratti was wowing everyone with superlative performances at the start of the campaign. Matuidi's role has developed into a more advanced, all-round role given the ground he covers over the course of 90 minutes, while Verratti’s form has dipped despite early promise. Motta is that steady, reassuring presence in the midfield that balances the team, the lynchpin that sits in front of the defence and sweeps up in midfield.

The stats prove it: PSG have won 71 percent of their eight games with him in the side, a stark contrast with the 45% win ratio when he has not been available. When he has not played, the midfield looks unbalanced and the attempts to move Javier Pastore into a deeper role have proved fruitless. Verratti’s emergence papered the cracks early on in the campaign when he was earning generous comparisons with Andrea Pirlo, but Motta’s absence continues to be felt when he is not there.

The Italian’s injury problems carried over into this season from the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, where Motta left the field against Spain in the final on a stretcher. He made a short-lived comeback for three games where he was vital in PSG getting victories over Lille and Toulouse before breaking down once again. The 30-year-old finally made a full recovery against Evian at the start of December and has been ever-present since, coinciding with the team’s best run of the season.

Since his arrival last January, Motta’s contribution has been considerable. He helped lead the side to within two points of ousting leaders Montpellier last season, chipping in with two important goals along the way as well as aiding two clean sheets. Keeping the goals out was les Parisiens’ problem last year; it seems less of an issue this time around. It is no coincidence that in his eight games played this seaspn, PSG have six clean sheets. That is half the team’s total for the autumn season.

Although it initially unclear what the former Barcelona player brought to the team when he arrived, it is clear now that the other ingredients have fallen into place. Motta empowers Matuidi to move forward and aid the two wide men, currently Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Matuidi can also link up with Zlatan Ibrahimovic - the pair have formed an intriguing understanding in first part of the season - and Jeremy Menez. Motta might not have the passing range of Verratti, but his composure and consistency are far higher than the diminutive Italian.

In time, the pint-sized midfielder will likely usurp Motta, but for now the former Inter Milan man is as close to Pirlo as Verratti will have outside of the Azzurri. Motta is the man Ancelotti had been waiting for, the guy who does the unfancied jobs and does them well, often to the point of not being noticed. This is what PSG have lacked in the midfield when trying to make the most of their array of attacking talent. Now with him fit and back in the fold, expect the capital club's defence to be even stingier in the business end of the season.

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