Paris Saint-Germain are looking like the team to beat in all competitions this season and it’s all thanks to the efficacy of their new signings who have come into the side and greatly improved the team. The standout performer so far has been the £30m man Idrissa Gueye, who was brought in from Everton. However, PSG signed another player in the same mould, former Manchester United man Ander Herrera, who is good enough to make a difference but has not gotten as many opportunities to.
In the past, there have been players who appear to be invisible but improve their respective teams. With the introduction of statistical record-keeping in football, these players began to be seen for all the things they have done and could do in their teams. In Ander Herrera and Idrissa Gueye, PSG have acquired two of the best players of that mould, who are now greatly appreciated and sought after by clubs.
Both are midfielders who take on the role of filling the gaps in the centre of the park, which they do so well.
What they offer PSG
Before signing for PSG on 30 July 2019, Gueye was a Lille player (2010/11 – 2014/15) and Aston Villa player (2015/16) and an Everton player (2016/17 – 2018/19). The years he spent at this club have seen him grow from strength to strength in the holding midfielder role and the work he has put in actually shows how underrated he is.
At the time of his signing from Everton, Gueye was one of the Premier League’s best holding midfielders. The energetic, ball-winning midfielder is adept at making well-timed tackles and interceptions, as can be shown from his three seasons in England. In his first season at Everton, he finished with the most tackles in the top five leagues in Europe and the premier league (135), and in the subsequent seasons spent at Everton, he came second in most tackles made (117 and 142 respectively) (stats via Premier League).
Gueye’s 142 tackles from last season at Everton came at an average of 4.3 tackles per game (via WhoScored). Also, his 75 interceptions (which placed him at sixth in total interceptions made according to Premier League) came at an average of 2.2 interceptions per game last season (via WhoScored). It is very clear that the man who won Everton’s player of the year in 2018/19, (joint with Lucas Digne) clearly loves to win the ball back.
Gueye’s biggest test came in the Champions League against Real Madrid in midweek, and he passed in flying colours. The 29-year-old’s (turns 30 on 26 September) combative, all-action style gave PSG a balance in midfield which they have lacked since the departures of Blaise Matuidi and Motta in the last two years. Gueye harassed and pressed the Real midfield all evening at the Parc des Princes, constantly won balls back and assisted Angel Di Maria’s second goal in a convincing 3-0 victory. He made four tackles and three interceptions, made three key passes (among which was the assist for Di Maria’s second goal), completed three dribbles and completed 74 passes at a 93.2% success rate (via WhoScored).
The Champions League is the one title that PSG wants in their trophy room, and Gueye is going to be key to their chances of finally grasping the elusive title.
PSG’s other brilliant midfield acquisition, Ander Herrera, signed on a free transfer from Manchester United on 4 July 2019. The 30-year old Bilbao-born player has the emotional intelligence to lead through example and words.
Herrera is a huge defensive weapon. He goes bout his business in the middle of the park tremendous intensity, energy and physicality, mixed with a good dose of smarts. Extremely fit and durable, the former Athletic Club star’s proactivity and concentration help him read the play superbly which makes him a fantastic presser and counter-presser. His intelligence and ability to read the play help him understand the movement of his opponents, as well as know when an opponent is about to receive an under-hit pass in any position, and presses them into making mistakes by limiting their time and space.
In addition, the way he issues instructions and is constantly gesturing and communicating with his teammates amplifies what a leader he is and how respected he is at the club.
Meanwhile, in terms of his offensive output, Herrera is a good passer of the ball especially over short distances (a trait he shares with many Spanish players), and this makes him contribute significantly to the construction of his teams’ offensive moves. One thing you will rarely find him do is play daring passes and through balls – as he prefers to keep things simple – but you can trust him to get the ball to those players who are good at it in the team. In his Champions League debut for PSG, he played only 19 minutes, but completed 94.4% of them, while in his first appearance for PSG in Ligue 1, he played the same amount of minutes and completed 100% of his passes (via WhoScored).
Against Lyon on matchday four, he finally showed the fans his quality as he was handed his first start in the Ligue 1 for PSG and showed his quality. In an underwhelming match for PSG’s midfield, he put in the biggest shift and covered all the lapses that Gueye and Marquinhos made. He played two accurate long balls and one key pass, won five clean tackles and five out of the eight duels he was involved in, earning a 7.0 SofaScore rating before he was subbed off and replaced by Marco Veratti in the 72nd minute.
Herrera has a great first touch and control which combine to see him use his dribbling ability to good effect. He relishes opportunities to drive forward and place his markers under pressure, and when not on the ball, he’s always offering himself as an option for his teammates by finding space between the opposition lines of midfield and attack or midfield and defence, plus by strategically moving into zones to create numerical superiorities.
Who should get the starting spot?
We can see where both midfielder’s strengths lie, even though they are almost as good as each other. Gueye is more tactical and stronger in defence than Herrera, which gives him an edge over Herrera in starting alongside Marco Veratti. Both are also tireless workers who don’t slow down and can play alongside each other in the middle of the park. In fact, the ideal midfield for PSG should consist of Herrera, Veratti, and Gueye – one of either Herrera or Gueye as the pivot in a 4-3-3, or three of them in a 4-3-2-1.
The problem, however, will be fixing them both in other formations – like the 4-2-3-1 they’ve played in their 1-0 win over Strasbourg on matchday four.
Thomas Tuchel has two gems in his hands to work with this season. He is not in an enviable spot at all, but on current form, Gueye gets the nod. Luckily for him, despite being a superstar in his own right, Herrera will not pose much trouble and will gladly submit himself to be used by the team in any way the manager deems fit.
We are looking forward to a great season from these two midfielders.