Paris Saint-Germain is a team full of superstars and while the headlines are often grabbed by their more offensive players, such as Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, Marquinhos may be more than deserving of being mentioned in the same bracket as any of the club’s top players.
Ex-PSG right-back Paulo César recently described his fellow countryman Marquinhos as Les Parisiens’ best player and while that may be somewhat of a stretch, it’s easy to see how one could get so excited by watching the 26-year-old Brazilian perform his role within Thomas Tuchel’s tactics to an expert level.
Marquinhos is an extremely well-rounded player and in this tactical analysis piece, we are going to provide a scout report examining some of the key areas of his game. We will look at how he helps to make his side better in many different areas of a given game and explain just what it is that makes him one of the best centre-backs and now holding midfielders in Ligue 1, if not world football today.
As we touched on above, while Marquinhos is most commonly known as a centre-back, with that being the position that he has played in most frequently throughout his career, he is an extremely versatile player. He showcased some of his versatility in earlier stages of his career when he was deployed at right-back, however, over the last two seasons under Thomas Tuchel, he has been deployed quite often in a central midfield role.
This season, Tuchel’s PSG side have lined up in a 4-4-2 shape more often than not. This shape can resemble a 4-2-4 or a 4-2-2-2 at times, however, the importance of this with regard to Marquinhos is that he has generally been deployed alongside one partner, either at centre-back or in central midfield.
He has some qualities which transfer well to both the central defensive and central midfield roles within PSG’s tactics and as a result, he is capable of performing both roles effectively. He is comfortable in possession and his side utilise him frequently during the build-up regardless of which exact position he plays in. Furthermore, his anticipation and tackling qualities are standout traits of his which help him to perform effectively in the defensive phase regardless of which position he occupies.
This heatmap above shows us Marquinhos’ average positioning when deployed as a centre-back during the 2019/20 campaign, as we can see, he spends the vast majority of his time as a right centre-back when deployed in the defence, covering quite a lot of ground but rarely venturing as far as the opposition’s half. However, the large amount of distance he has covered is a result of his aggression, both on and off the ball, which he displays frequently on the pitch as a centre-back.
He is happy to engage opposition attackers and commit himself to 1v1 situations in which he often thrives thanks to his anticipation, his technical tackling ability, and his physical traits of speed and a good level of agility for a centre-back.
PSG are well-known to be one of the most dominant sides in Ligue 1 and this dominance in quality leads to them dominating the possession in the vast majority of their league games. This season, Les Parisiens have kept an average of 64.4% possession in Ligue 1, which is the highest average percentage of possession in the league.
In all competitions this term, PSG have completed an average of 639.81 passes per game, while Marquinhos has played an average of 65.79 passes per game, which is over 10% of his side’s passes on average per game, with an accuracy of 92.6%. What this tells us is that Marquinhos clearly gets quite involved in the game for his side and this is evident when watching him play as his side constantly use him to either advance possession or as someone to play the ball back to or switch the play.
As a centre-back during the build-up, as we will discuss in greater detail later on in this scout report, Marquinhos often finds himself in a more central role, playing slightly deeper than the rest of his defence, acting almost as a very deep playmaker or something of a ‘quarter-back’. As the ‘quarter-back’ moniker suggests, from this position he often likes to spray long balls and attempt to set more advanced players off on attacks.
However, he is also happy to carry the ball out from the back if need be and when he is often deployed as a right centre-back, this results in him covering plenty of distance in this right-sided central channel, that we can see is coloured in quite heavily in the heatmap above.
This second image provides us with a heatmap of Marquinhos’ positioning when deployed as a central midfielder. As we can see and as one would likely presume, Marquinhos doesn’t cover as much ground in deeper areas of the pitch when deployed as a central midfielder, however, he does spend a lot more time in the opposition’s half of the pitch.
As PSG dominate the majority of their league games, this results in their shape sitting quite high and playing quite aggressively. As a result, Marquinhos ends up spending much more time in front of the centre circle when performing this role.
In possession, his role doesn’t differ greatly as he still often drops into a relatively deep and central role during the build-up to utilise his calmness and quality on the ball to advance it into the opposition’s half of the pitch.
Furthermore, he performs the role of a player who those in front of him can use to pass the ball back to or use as a player whom they can switch the play through in this more advanced role, in a similar way to how his teammates use him like this when he plays as a centre-back. However, a little bit more precision may be required when he ultimately releases the ball in this position than when he releases it in the deeper position, due to being in closer proximity to his teammates and the opposition goal.
Out of possession, his aggression and impressive levels of anticipation are just as effective, from the central midfield position as they are from the centre-back position. While as a centre-back, his anticipation is often used to deal with long-balls over the top, in the central midfield role, he can intercept higher up the pitch.
He can also afford to engage more and put his aggression and tackling ability to even greater use in a more advanced position. Marquinhos has engaged in 4.94 defensive duels per game when deployed as a centre-back this season, with a 72.1% success rate, however, he has impressively engaged in 8.34 defensive duels per game from central midfield, with a 64% success rate, indicating that he does engage more from this position and it may be fair to say that there isn’t too much of a drop off in his success rate, despite committing to a far greater amount of defensive duels.
As we touched on, Marquinhos’ passing quality is one of the key traits that help him to perform effectively in either the role of a centre-back or a central midfielder within PSG’s tactics. In this section, we will take a more in-depth look at his passing ability by providing an analysis of some in-game examples of his passing in both the centre-back and central midfield roles.
This image above is taken from one of PSG’s more recent Ligue 1 games, versus Lyon. This image provides us with an example of Marquinhos’ positioning during the build-up when deployed as a centre-back within PSG’s 4-4-2/4-2-4 system. We can see that Marquinhos’ has dropped deeper than the rest of his defensive teammates here, which is something that we touched on earlier.
This slight adjustment in his positioning achieves quite a lot, firstly, when his opponents, who are positioned slightly higher than him, are put under pressure by the opposition, they have the option of playing the ball backwards and a simpler passing angle to Marquinhos is created thanks to his deeper positioning. When he then receives the ball in this position, he has the entire pitch in front of him to use to pick out a pass, be it a long ball, as Marquinhos often likes to play, or a shorter pass into central midfield or out to the wider defenders.
The Brazilian’s long-passing quality is an important part of his game that also helps to make this adjustment in his positioning to a slightly deeper position even more important. The fact that Marquinhos is comfortable with playing long balls from a position like this forces the opposition to make a decision with regard to whether or not they commit to pressing him.
If the opposition doesn’t press him aggressively here, then they leave him with a dangerous amount of time to pick out his pass and with runners like Neymar and Mbappé ahead of him threatening the opposition’s defensive line, it is always dangerous to allow Marquinhos the time to pick out a long ball from here.
However, if they do press him, while they limit his decision-making time, they also run the risk of leaving more space in behind for those pacey and dangerous attackers of PSG to exploit.
On this occasion, Lyon decides to press fairly high, as they often do. Their defensive shape congests the centre of the pitch, preventing PSG and Marquinhos from playing through them, however, this leaves quite a bit of space in behind their defensive line and out wide.
As Marquinhos receives possession here, we can see Neymar immediately begin to make a run, anticipating the long ball being played out to the left-wing. An important element to PSG’s tactics and their style of play in these types of situations where they can play more direct and utilise the wide areas is that it sometimes appears to be almost second nature for the pacey attackers to spring into action and make these types of runs as soon as the ‘quarterback’, in Marquinhos, gets the ball in this position. This is a frequently seen element of Tuchel’s tactics at Parc des Princes and an important element to their game.
On this occasion, Marquinhos doesn’t opt to play the long ball. Instead, he shifts possession out to the left-back, however, this provides us with an example of his role within PSG’s build-up play and his side’s tactics in possession. It may be fair to say that he plays quite an important part in a well-oiled machine.
This next image shows us an example of Marquinhos occupying this central position versus Dijon FCO, who are less aggressive than Lyon off the ball and provide Marquinhos with more time to ponder and eventually select a passing option.
We can see that Dijon congest the centre of the pitch in a similar fashion to Lyon, however, this isn’t something that will bother PSG a great deal, due to the ball-playing ability of Marquinhos and the threat that their attackers pose when forced to play more direct.
Firstly, PSG’s four attacker force the opposition’s defence to sit narrow which opens up space for Les Parisiens out wide, should they choose to utilise it. However, pacey attackers like Mbappé can still threaten from this type of scenario should the ball get played straight up to the forwards as it does here, despite being marked more closely than the wide man who we can see positioned on the left-wing here enjoying a lot of freedom.
Marquinhos plays the ball long and picks out the run of Mbappé, setting the young attacker off on goal. As long as the attacker’s run is well-timed from this position, he is unlikely to be caught by the defender.
From this deep position, Marquinhos isn’t required to play his passes with a great deal of accuracy. Of course, that isn’t to say he can just lump the ball forward and hope for the best. He does possess a great deal of long-passing quality, however, he can afford some room for error and not every long ball necessarily needs to be the perfect ball. With the luxury of having attackers like Mbappé in front of him running in behind, it is, at times difficult for him to go too far wrong as long as he times the pass well and doesn’t send it too far astray.
On occasion, Marquinhos can be a bit wasteful from this type of situation and he can ask a bit much from the attackers, who are only human at the end of the day. However, in general, he is effective from this position and he plays an important role for PSG in this deep playmaking role.
This next image shows us an example of Marquinhos dropping deep from a central midfield position in this same game versus Dijon. At this point in the game, he was deployed in a more advanced role and we can see that while he was positioned as a right central midfielder, he still shifts into a central position between the centre-backs during the build-up, albeit a slightly more advanced position than we’ve seen him occupying already.
As a centre-back, Marquinhos becomes the deepest player on the pitch, whilst still performing an important role in the build-up and as a playmaker. However, when deployed as a central midfielder, the Brazilian occupies a position that one would more commonly associate with a deep-lying playmaker, in between the defensive and midfield lines, connecting the defence to the attack with the added cushion of having defenders behind him.
When playing in central midfield, Marquinhos frequently drops to collect the ball from his centre-backs before advancing it up the pitch.
As we stated before, one of Marquinhos’ roles in central midfield is to help those positioned in front of him by providing support should they need to play the ball backwards. We can see an example of this in the image above. The 26-year-old performs this type of role in both central midfield and at centre-back, however, he evidently plays it differently as a central midfielder due to being positioned higher up the pitch.
When he receives the ball in this fashion in a deeper position, he generally enjoys more time to decide on the next pass and he can also play longer balls, given that there is just more distance between him and his offensive teammates, as well as the goal.
This next image shows us that as this passage of play moves on, Marquinhos is put under pressure fairly quickly, however, he does manage to spot the run being made by the player on the left-wing. This player’s run isn’t picked up by the opposition defenders, one of whom follows the run of the attacker who had previously played the ball to Marquinhos, and the rest of whom shift their attention to the Brazilian.
Marquinhos often attempts to play a distinctive type of chipped ball over the defence from these types of positions and that is the pass that the 26-year-old plays here. On this occasion that pass finds its intended destination and the Brazilian operates as an effective playmaker from a more advanced position. However, it’s important to note that Marquinhos ultimately is not an advanced playmaker and he generally doesn’t perform extremely well when he needs to make this final pass or break the opposition’s last line from too high up the pitch.
The precision of his more risky passes could do with some improvement and while this one does work out, a lot of the time his more delicate passes from these types of positions don’t come off very well. He hasn’t made a single assist in all competitions this season, while he has made an average of 0.11 ‘second assists’ per game, which indicates that he doesn’t generally play a very significant role in the final third, despite sometimes being required to play there when deployed in midfield.
It may be fair to say that his strengths lie more in his long balls and his deeper-lying playmaking ability.
Anticipation and tackling ability
While it may be fair to say that his passing ability is more suited to the centre-back role, as opposed to the more advanced role, his defensive qualities translate better than his passing quality to the more advanced role and his anticipation, concentration, and tackling are effective regardless of where he’s playing on the pitch, though the types of defensive scenarios he finds himself in do alter depending on his position.
When deployed as a centre-back, Marquinhos’ anticipation and speed are vital for his side in attempting to prevent long balls from troubling them. PSG generally press quite aggressively. Their ‘PPDA’, which is a statistic that is used to qualify pressing intensity, for the 2019/20 Ligue 1 season is 196.36, which ranks them as the highest in the league in that metric by some distance. Additionally, Les Parisiens have made 17% of their ball recoveries inside the final third this season, which is more than any other Ligue 1 side.
While PSG defends aggressively and effectively from the front, this can sometimes leave space in behind for a well-executed long ball to potentially exploit. They generally guard against this by utilising Marquinhos as the deepest of their centre-backs, performing the role of a player who covers for the defence. His anticipation of long balls such as the one that is being played in the image above, in addition to his pace, makes him an ideal candidate for this covering role.
Furthermore, Marquinhos is agile and a very good technical defender and tackler. With that in mind, in addition to the knowledge of his impressive pace, ability to read the game, and his solid levels of agility, he defends well in 1v1 situations.
The image above is taken just after the Lyon attacker gets onto the end of the long ball. He attempts to get past Marquinhos by quickly shifting the ball inside, however, the Brazilian centre-back reacts well and halts his movement, shifting back and preventing the attacker from moving inside.
The attacker then goes back on the outside, however, Marquinhos reacts well once again, following him to the outside and continuing to apply pressure. He effectively guards against the attacker shifting inside and ultimately ends up forcing him away from the centre of the pitch and the goalmouth, into this less threatening wide area. As play moves on, the attacker eventually tries to cut back inside from the wing but fails to beat Marquinhos who performs a well-timed tackle, ending this once-promising attack.
This next image is taken from PSG’s UEFA Champions League clash away to Borussia Dortmund which took place back in February. In this game, Marquinhos was deployed as a central midfielder and as we discussed previously, he plays more aggressively off the ball in this more advanced midfield position.
The image above shows us an example of Marquinhos engaging the opposition higher up the pitch. He is happy to shut down attacks early, having the comfort of a defensive line behind him in case he is beaten or performs a poor tackle. On this occasion, Marquinhos times his tackle well and wins possession back for his side in the centre of the pitch.
These two passages of play provide a stark contrast to one another. In the first passage of play, when he was playing as a centre-back, Marquinhos displayed his patience, his 1v1 defending ability and a good level of anticipation. However, in this second passage of play, when deployed as a central midfielder, the Brazilian acts more aggressively. He still displays a good level of anticipation to time his tackle and knows when to press, however, it does display less patience and more aggression, which is another positive trait of his.
As we discussed previously, he does engage in a lot more defensive duels when playing in central midfield than he does when playing at centre-back and these images show us just how differently the defensive side of Marquinhos’ game looks when playing in these two different positions.
Marquinhos’ aerial ability is another positive aspect of his game. Standing at 183cm (6’0) tall, he is a tall player but he is by no means a giant and he does come up against players who have got a height advantage over him. However, Marquinhos can outjump players, he contests aerial duels aggressively and he reads the play well to put himself in the optimal position to ultimately deal with incoming crosses.
PSG have contested an average of 20.69 aerial duels per game this season, winning 50.8% of those aerial duels. Marquinhos has contested an average of 4.41 aerial duels per game this term, winning 56.4% of them. This tells us that Marquinhos contests roughly a fifth of his side’s aerial duels per game and he wins more than the average amount for his side.
The image above, which is taken from PSG’s Champions League home clash with Dortmund shows us a passage of play in which Dortmund find themselves in possession of the ball on the right-wing. Meanwhile, we can see Marquinhos positioned inside the penalty area.
Here, we can see the Brazilian quickly checking over his left shoulder as this Dortmund player prepares to receive possession on the right-wing. The fact that the ball is in the air at this moment provides Marquinhos with a moment to check his shoulder, which is a wise use of his time as this gives him a greater picture of his surroundings and helps him to guard against an opposition player potentially sneaking in behind him or a teammate at the back post.
Just a second later, as the play moves on and the Dortmund player takes down the ball, steadying himself to make a cross, Marquinhos can be seen quickly taking a moment to check his right shoulder for similar reasons to why he had previously checked his left shoulder, to give him a better idea of his surroundings and prepare to deal with the impending cross.
After making himself fully aware of his surroundings, Marquinhos is now more qualified to make an informed decision about his positioning to properly deal with this incoming cross and as it arrives in the box, he successfully defends against it, leaping into the air and heading it away from the danger zone.
In addition to a good reading of the game and the impressive physical and technical traits that are on display here, it’s important to note that this passage of play occurred in stoppage time in a Champions League knockout fixture and Marquinhos maintained his composure, acted intelligently, and successfully defended against what could have been a dangerous ball.
The Brazilian’s aerial quality is another positive trait of his to add to his well-rounded nature.
To conclude this tactical analysis piece providing a scout report on PSG’s versatile Brazilian Marquinhos, it’s clear that the 26-year-old has got a lot of positive qualities which help us to understand why he has been utilised in both central midfield and central defensive roles for Les Parisiens of late.
He possesses an impressive level of technical ability on the ball and off the ball, and his aerial ability is another positive trait of his, as are his physical traits of pace and good jumping height. Marquinhos isn’t without fault and he can improve the precision of his key pass attempts to an extent, as well as his strength potentially. However, Marquinhos is a key man in one of Europe’s top sides for a reason and he is undoubtedly an elite player in the roles that he plays.