Adrien Rabiot put in an impressive display while Sime Vrsaljko and Mateo Kovacic were unable to prevent him and his PSG team-mates from thrashing their team.
The result sees last-placed Dinamo Zagreb cut 4 points adrift from 3rd-placed Dynamo Kiev in Group A and ensures that their Champions League journey is over with 2 games still to go. However, they play Dynamo next and should they manage a win and Dynamo go on to lose their last game and Zagreb win theirs, the Europa League would then beckon. On the evidence put forward so far, though, such redemption looks unlikely.
Ante Cacic’s men have not only failed to win any of their 4 games, but have also failed to score in any of them. In fact, they are the only club in this season’s group stages not to find the back of the net at least once. And they haven’t been impressive defensively either, conceding 10 goals. A miserable Champions League experience, indeed.
For PSG, though, qualification for the knock-out stages is all but assured after their big win at the Parc de Princes. They move to 9 points in 2nd place, one behind 1st-placed Porto, who drew 0-0 with Dynamo. It wasn’t a good performance to start with but, in the end, Carlo Ancelotti had Zlatan Ibrahimovic to thank as the big Swede laid on all 4 goals for his team in what was a magnificent display.
But Flix & Trix had eyes mainly for starlets Adrien Rabiot, Sime Vrsaljko, and Mateo Kovacic for this game. Here are the reports.
This was Adrien Rabiot’s Champions League debut. He played as one of 3 central midfielders in a 4-3-3 setup.
You could hardly tell it was Rabiot’s debut given his impressive performance. Defensively, in particular, he was absolutely outstanding, He was fearless as well as timely in the tackle, making an impressive 6 in midfield, joint best not only among his team-mates, but among all players on the pitch.
He was often the player to stop Dinamo Zagreb’s attacks before they progressed to the penalty box. This was particularly evident in the first half as PSG lacked desire going forward and were playing within themselves in general. Dinamo Zagreb were the better team for much of that half, but Rabiot was one of the reasons why they didn’t capitalise on their impressive start.
The Croatian side’s attacks often broke down due to the lack of a final ball — either Zagreb couldn’t find the right ball themselves or Rabiot chased back, went to ground, and won the ball cleanly in the defensive third before the Zagreb player in possession could even think about what pass he wanted to pick. In keeping with his fine reading of the game, he also made an impressive 5 interceptions, showing signs of great mental development for a 17-year-old.
When not trying to win possession, he generally used the ball well when he had it himself. He didn’t set up any goal-scoring opportunities due to his team’s general lack of attacking impetus in the first half as well as the fact that he left the bulk of creative work for the more advanced players, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jeremy Menez, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and later Javier Pastore.
However, he did try to get forward when he could and kept things ticking in the attacking third. He even managed to get into the box on one occasion, but his resulting shot in the 23rd minute was miscued and slashed horribly high and wide. To be fair, though, he was put under pressure by Ante Puljic.
He played the full 90 minutes and deservedly so. The only bad mark on his record was the yellow card he rightfully picked up in the 92nd minute following a late challenge on Alen Haliliovic, the only one he made all game.
Overall, Ancelotti and Rabiot can be very pleased. True, Zagreb weren’t tough opposition, but on such a big stage where he could’ve easily crumbled mentally, he stood up among a PSG side that clearly still has its issues to work out and was counted.
Sime Vrsaljko played as a right back in a back five system used by Ante Cacic. Even though Zagreb didn’t really threaten PSG going forward despite their early dominance, Vrsaljko’s runs in support down the right flank always looked promising. The majority (39%) of Zagreb’s attacks came down the right flank, showing how much of an attacking threat Vrsaljko is known to be.
He attempted 11 crosses — the most among his team-mates and the same amount attempted by all of PSG’s players combined. Even though only one of these found its intended target (Ante Rukavina in the 55th minute, but he headed over), Vrsaljko’s crosses, except his first which went out for a goal kick, were generally dangerous and forced PSG’s defenders into action.
But while Vrsaljko proved a threat going forward, he was exposed defensively. There was one occasion when he did well to not only catch but overtake the pacey Jeremy Menez as the Frenchman looked to get in behind him as he was up field. The young Croatian subsequently cut out the pass and made one of his own up field.
Generally, though, Vrsaljko struggled to get his positioning right. In the build up to Blaise Matuidi’s goal in the 61st minute, he was caught out by Thiago Silva’s pass, which was played exactly where he should have been positioned. Vrsaljko made 5 interceptions on this day, the joint highest among his team-mates, but this was a vital one missed. Had he cut out that pass, that PSG attack would’ve been shut down.
Minutes later, he missed another vital interception. This time, it was Ibrahimovic’s pass which turned out to be an assist for Menez’s goal. Vrsaljko was late in reading it and removed himself from the goalside position he was in as he tried in vain to cut it out. The pass went through to Menez, who controlled it and beat a defender before slotting past goalkeeper Ivan Kelava.
Minutes later, he was nowhere to be seen as Menez nearly grabbed a second following another excellent pass by Ibrahimovic, who was at his creative best on this day.
Then, in the 81st minute, he was running to Guillaume Hoarau, whom two of his team-mates had already picked up, instead of going between the posts when Kelava had left the goal to close down Ibrahimovic. Ibrahimovic, despite falling over, got his pass to Hoarau, who then slotted into the empty net. Vrsaljko got to Hoarau just as he had fired his shot.
So Sime Vrsaljko clearly has to iron out some issues defensively. His poor positioning and decision-making were laid bare and helps explain why Dinamo Zagreb have been so poor at the back in this competition.
He certainly looked good going forward, but his poor defensive performance shows exactly why he has been off form in the last few months.
Mateo Kovacic, though really an attacking midfielder, played deeper as one of 3 central midfielders in Cacic’s 5-3-2 system. He was the player charged with the responsibility of making things happen for Zagreb.
He had the most touches of the ball in Zagreb’s central midfield (87) and completed the most passes for his team (71), even boasting the highest pass completion percentage (96) among starting Zagreb players despite playing an expansive passing game.
He helped Zagreb retain the lion’s share of possession in this game (51%) and always looked likely to make something happen, always dropping deep, drifting wide, demanding the ball, so he can either take it forward himself or pick out a more advanced team-mate.
The problem was the lack of a final ball. Zagreb, although they kept possession well in their own half and in the middle third of the pitch, became slack in the final third. Mateo Kovacic often looked to make forward passes, but his team-mates either didn’t make the right run (in the 15th minute, he tried a straight chipped pass for Rukavina to run onto, but the striker made a diagonal run instead) or they didn’t make a run at all.
With Sammir often dropping deep into midfield, Rukavina was often left isolated and there was little support up front, meaning little for Mateo Kovacic to aim at. Sime Vrsaljko encountered the same problem when he tried crossing from the right. That’s why, in the end, Zagreb had just 6 shots all game, 4 of which were from long range. What’s more, none of these 6 shots were on target.
Defensively, Mateo Kovacic got back on occasion to help out his defence. However, it was clear that defending isn’t one of the stronger aspects of his game. He needs to work on his timing in the tackle as well as his reading of the game so he can intercept more passes. Once he does that, he will become even more effective when played deeper.
Overall, despite the circumstances, Kovacic looked bright and was in fact his team’s best player before being subbed for another highly rated youngster in the 85th minute, Alen Halilovic. Though, he would have been a lot more influential if he had sufficient support ahead of him.
There are positives in all three players’ performances despite two of the players being on the losing side.
Sime Vrsaljko and Mateo Kovacic may not have enjoyed the best of Champions League campaigns with their club, but this experience will surely prove beneficial to their development, especially Vrsaljko’s, from a defensive perspective.
Adrien Rabiot’s Champions League experience has just started, but it’s off with a bang. Hopefully, he can maintain and even better that level of performance when given more opportunities in the future, whether in this competition or in Ligue 1.
**Stats courtesy of Whoscored
**Heat maps courtesy of ESPN FC