When Real Madrid beat Paris Saint Germain in the first leg of their Champions League tie, the headlines were dominated by the big name players in either side: Cristiano Ronaldo returning to form, and Neymar’s inability to impose himself on his former rivals.
Rabiot’s strike gives the Ligue 1 leaders hope
Amongst those stars, PSG’s Adrien Rabiot barely warranted a flicker. Yet the young midfielder was one of the French side’s better performers on the night and opened the scoring with a neat finish.
Although Los Merengues eventually surged back to win 3-1, Rabiot’s strike gives the Ligue 1 leaders a glimpse of an opportunity for the second leg this week. With Neymar missing from both club and country, as he recovers from his recent operation, PSG will need their players to raise their game.
Despite his personal success, the youngster was scathing of his team-mates after the first game, condemning them in no uncertain terms.
“It’s all well and good putting eight goals past Dijon,” he raged, “but it’s in matches like this that you have to stand up and be counted.”
“We always say the same things, we always do the same things, and in the end, we are always floored in the same way.”
While some of his points can be dismissed as disappointment, there is a lot of truth in what Rabiot says, and it is perhaps telling that he is the player to say it.
All eyes on Mbappé
Although only 22, the shaggy-haired midfielder has often proven his maturity both on and off the field. He also noted the different treatment afforded to Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, and how the rest of the team play something of a supporting role to those. In that context, with Neymar absent, a lot of pressure will fall on Mbappé’s head this week.
It might seem unusual that Rabiot is the one to speak out against his team, but much about Rabiot is unusual.
Foremost in that he is Parisian, and progressed through the club’s youth team on his route to the first team; something of a rarity amongst the mega-money transfers, but one of three regular starters.
Alphonse Areola and Presnel Kimpembe shared their development with Rabiot, but neither is as vocal in their criticism when things do not go their way.
Rabiot has also been regularly linked with a move away from the Parc Des Princes, as though his presence in the midfield is fleeting, to be replaced as soon as a big signing can be brought in to take his place. These rumours are not helped by the fact that Rabiot’s contract expires at the end of the season. An extension has been mooted, but nothing has yet been confirmed.
The ‘Steven Gerrard’ of PSG
Yet Rabiot is fiercely Parisian and has shown a willingness to stand up to anyone, even famously fighting with Zlatan when the Swede was at the club, his club. In an interview with Gazzetta Dello Sport he suggested that one of his dreams was to become the ‘Steven Gerrard’ of PSG; admiring the Liverpudlian’s spirit, describing him as ‘a warrior, a leader and especially a great player’.
His long service to the club has made him a de facto leader, and he admitted he is called upon to rally the dressing room in difficult moments, a trait that Liverpool supporters will recognise well from their former captain.
Another of his heroes will be in closer focus this week. As with most French midfielders his age, Rabiot admits that he idolised Zinedine Zidane. Although he is as elegant on the ball as the Real Madrid coach was, Rabiot’s game is perhaps more similar to his former team-mate Didier Deschamps, once described as a ‘water carrier’ by Eric Cantona.
Deschamps was far more limited in his attacking potential, however, and would never have found himself in the position from which Rabiot converted against Real Madrid.
Rabiot is a ‘champagne carrier’
While the younger man is comfortable breaking up play, and more than able to take the ball and pass it on to more attacking team-mates, he has a range of passing that could see him play a much more advanced role.
Indeed, his statistics to that end; key passes and assists, have been increasing year on year. On Tuesday, he will face Toni Kroos; the only central midfielder in Europe who can claim to be outpassing Rabiot this season; both averaging over 92% completion of more than 70 passes per game.
Perhaps in that context, it would be fairer to describe Rabiot as a ‘champagne carrier’. If his team-mates are not celebrating with that most French of drinks come Tuesday evening, they might well wish he would stick a cork in it, because he is unlikely to take the disappointment quietly.
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