The deep-lying playmaker is the position from which a player conducts his orchestra. This specific position is also known as the regista to Italians. From Spain where Sergio Busquets expresses his tactical magic from deep. To Germany where Toni Kroos showcases his talent. The regista is a modern-day phenomenon that has taken football by storm.
Perhaps the player who first brought this position to prominence is the graceful Andrea Pirlo. The following years Italy produced numerous registas in the hope to find the next Pirlo. One that has had a good go at becoming the next Pirlo is Marco Verratti.
In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, we will discuss some of the key aspects of Verratti’s game. We will provide an analysis of Verratti’s role within Paris Saint Germain’s tactics and we will attempt to explain why the 27-year-old midfielder has played a key role for Thomas Tuchel’s side this season.
Keeping it simple
Verratti’s ability to play the ball out of pressure and find a teammate makes him an enormous strength on the field. This skill ensures that PSG are able to maintain possession, even when opponents are pressing them.
His secret to staying calm under pressure and constantly finding a solution is keeping it simple. As a deep-lying midfielder, his task is not so complicated. Spread the play whilst in possession by being the connection between defence and attack. But doing basic things like that isn’t so simple. Let’s take a deeper look at those basic things.
One of those basic things is scanning. As we can see below Verratti constantly looks over his shoulder to get an idea of what is going on in his blindside. This gives him the advantage of not getting pressed from his blindside without knowing it. But more important, it gives him the chance to play centrally without pressure. From the centre, it’s easier to find passing options all over the field. Also as a consequence, Verratti can play with one or two touches. And this benefits PSG’s play to break down the opponent’s block as it’s difficult to defend against quick combinations.
Another underrated way Verratti uses to keep possession when under pressure is by positioning his body well in regards to the opposition and the ball. The image below shows us how.
When under pressure, the Italian magician shields the ball by turning his back to the opponent so that he is between the ball and the opponent. By spreading his arms and staying low, Verratti forms a strong base to shield the ball. This buys him some time to pick out a team-mate in a better position.
And because of his shielding the ball he decreases the chance of losing the ball in front of the defence. Which allows the midfielder to play forward passes as Tuchel prefers Verratti to play passes to Neymar, Ángel Di María and Kylian Mbappé because these players can make a difference with their qualities.
The last weapon the Italian uses to always stay one step ahead of the opponent is his progressive passes. Progressive passes, as defined by Wyscout, are forward passes that are 30m long when the pass starts in the team’s own half or at least 10m in length in the opponent’s half. This looks simple on the eye. But on the pitch, it isn’t.
In a game, Verratti will look to play over 13 progressive passes on average. This places Verratti second in most progressive passes this season in Ligue 1. The benefits of these passes in PSG’s attacking play is that they catch out defenders over the top or cut through defences. The fast PSG attackers use their pace to receive the ball from Verratti and create dangerous opportunities.
A great example of this in the Champions League encounter between Borussia Dortmund and PSG below. While Dortmund are switched off, Verratti picks out a beautiful pass to Mbappé.
While able to play out of pressure using his own ways, Verratti also functions as a pressure release when supporting his attacking teammates. He is often found trailing behind the play by a couple of metres, not because he is slow or tired, but rather because he is able to help his teammates when PSG are being pressed aggressively.
Besides his deeper position when PSG are counter-attacking, his average position tells us where Verratti operates on the field. Central midfielders tend to be the players on the pitch with the most movement as they do have the responsibility of contributing in both attack and defence over the whole field.
His heat map shows that he mostly moves to the left side of the pitch. As PSG are a team with a lot of attacking talent and because of this talent are a possession-based team. Verratti’s movement is more in the opposition half. This is also shown on his heat map.
The position on the left side gives the Italian multiple advantages when in possession. First of all, when receiving the ball in the left half-space gives Verratti the possibility to shape his body in the right direction. While facing the goal of the opposition.
Also when moving to the side, PSG looks to overload the left. The wing-back, winger and Verratti try to create an overload against the winger and full-back of the opposition. To find space these three players will rotate in order to look for superiority.
Secondly, this position doesn’t require the midfielder to turn when receiving the ball. With that in mind, his positioning opens up more passing lanes all over the field. When we look at his statistics this season in the Ligue 1, those multiple passing lanes have helped to his success. Verratti has an average of 94,95 passes per 90 minutes this season. And from these passes, the Italian maestro has a success rate of 94 per cent.
As more passing lines open when PSG uses quick switches of play, the left-sided position of Verratti becomes important. When switching play horizontal gaps occurs between opponents defenders. This opens up vertical passing lanes in central areas and between the lines. And as PSG most influential players play between the lines this helps Verratti to find them.
Lastly because of his deep position it is less likely that Verratti will contribute with goals and assist to the team. He looks to provide the team with an option to pass the ball backwards. Despite that, he provides more options up front and contributes to the attacking actions successfully. Due to his efforts, he is in the top positions for most assists in the Ligue 1 this term providing them from a deeper position by catching defenders over the top.
Above we see his assist map. We can see his assist come from long range. This also shows in his expected assists statistic. Because these five assists come from a deep position, Verratti has a rather low xA at 1,82. Expected assists (xA) measures the likelihood that a given pass will become a goal assist. It considers several factors including the type of pass, pass end-point and length of the pass.
Above we mentioned how Verratti looks to find space without being under pressure. But often the opposition won’t give him time and space on the ball. This happens with cover shadows or man-marking. Either way, Verratti has to find a solution to open up the opposition.
Beneath is an example of one of the many ways, Verratti will look for space to receive the ball without pressure. As the centre-back has the ball, the Italian drops into the last line to make himself available. At the same time, Thiago Silva moves into midfield. This way both players try to confuse their markers. Axel Witsel, Verratti’s marker, decides to follow him. But because this position interchange is performed at such a fast pace Witsel is too late to intercept the ball.
Below another example of Verratti using a decoy movement. When Silva has the ball in the centre, PSG decides to build in a three-two system. Using three centre-backs and two midfielders. This system is frequently used by various teams.
This system differs for Verratti in his positioning. Normally he will receive on left. Now he stays centrally. Tuchel prefers this system because, with only Verratti and Idrissa Gana Gueye, PSG can pin four opposing midfielders.
As we can see Verratti moves to the centre which engages Dortmund’s second line to press. The positioning of Verratti now opens up passing lanes to the left where Neymar and Juan Bernat are waiting to receive and overload the left-wing.
Mostly because of his physical appearance, Verratti isn’t the best at winning the ball back. The Italian is 1,69 meters tall and weighs in at 60 kilograms. This gives him, for example, a disadvantage in the aerial duels. He only attempts to win the ball back in the air 1,15 times per 90 minutes.
Because of this fact, Tuchel prefers to play with two pivots. Often Gueye will line up next to the Italian midfielder. This gives Verratti more freedom to focus on his strengths and gives Tuchel’s men more balance in the team.
But this surely doesn’t mean Verratti can’t defend. He chooses to focus on intercepting the ball rather than going into the duels. This is in all areas of the field. As PSG are more of an attacking team. And as a result have more counter-pressing opportunities. Verratti recovers the ball more in the offensive third. Giving his team more attacking opportunities.
Below shows how Verratti purposely waits for the pass from Jadon Sancho before running as quick as possible to intercept the ball. This clarifies also why Verratti is in the top 20 of most recoveries in Ligue 1 this season. He has an average of 9,55 recoveries per 90 minutes. This shows us although he doesn’t have any physical advantages over his opponents he surely can defend.
Verratti’s contributions to the club this season has helped his team win their ninth league title in the history of PSG. Although his attacking statistics don’t praise his contribution to the team. His role in the team can’t be underestimated. As the Italian helps to break down the opponent with his quick and intricate passing ability.
While Verratti’s current contract expires next summer, it’s surprisingly quiet on what the Italian’s next move will be. Some suggest Juventus are interested in the Italian. Others believe he will stay at the French club. But then again there is nothing concrete.
Without a doubt in whatever Verratti’s next move is, it won’t be a step-down. This tactical analysis in the form of a scout report has shown that he hasn’t lost his footballing qualities yet. As he has been compared often to the legendary Pirlo, we can see why. But to really reach his level, there is still a way to go for the Italian regista.