Saturday, 28 January 2023

Ander Herrera over Messi Mbappe and Neymar at PSG

Ander Herrera over Messi Mbappe and Neymar at PSG

Ander Herrera is on top of the PSG scoring charts even as the midfielders around him wrestle with the workload of covering a striking all-star trio.

With Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar in their ranks, Paris Saint-Germain has perhaps the most significant front three of the world. But for all their wealth of exceptional talent, a largely unrecognized midfielder who has never scored double figures in one season during his career is leading their scoring chart.

Ander Herrera is tied with Mbappe on four goals for the season and is well on course to break his personal best of eight, achieved when playing with Manchester United in 2014-15. He netted five the following season and had managed only nine in the following five campaigns before 2021-22 kicked off.

Indeed, as PSG toiled to a 1-1 Champions League draw with Club Brugge on Wednesday, it was Herrera who broke the deadlock, timing his run into the box perfectly to meet a cross from Mbappe and give Mauricio Pochettino's men the lead.

Brugge quickly and deservedly squared the game, but the situation could have been far more critical without Herrera's opener.

He joked to El Larguero after the World Cup winner had teed him up in midweek.

"They might not pass the ball to us in training, but I really enjoy playing with Messi, Neymar and Mbappe," 

Indeed, speaking to Marca, he put his goal-scoring run down to the presence of such players.

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He said.

"Maybe now, having so many top players in front of me, our opponents are more reluctant to attack the midfield and that's a good thing for me," 

"But beyond that, the explanation is that this is how football can work. The ball comes to me, and I take advantage of it.

"Don't be surprised when this sequence stops because it's not normal!"

Despite Herrera's strong run of scoring, he and his fellow PSG midfielders have found themselves the target of criticism following the Club Brugge draw. They were unable to cope with the energy and tenacity of their Belgian opponents, unable to retain possession and lacking the vivacity to win it back.

The former Manchester United man accepts that having PSG's attacking trio in front of him will change his role and those around him.

He explained.

"The cracks are the ones who are there to make the difference and win matches and we have to be at their service," 

"But if we're asking them to make the difference in attack, we cannot ask them to run 13 kilometres per game. You can ask that of me, Gini Wijnaldum, Idrissa Gueye or Leandro Paredes. Not to them."

And this is where critics have found scope for attacking the PSG midfield after the midweek draw. While Herrera covered the most ground of anyone in the Parisians ranks, topping 11km, the player who came second on that ranking was Neymar.

Admittedly both Paredes and Wijnaldum were hauled off at the break after lamentable first-half performances. Still, the clear implication was that it was the Spaniard who was holding the midfield together.

It was also abundantly clear to anyone watching the game just how vital the contribution of PSG's midfield will be to any success the club has this season. In Brugge, it got annihilated by the ferocity of the tempo set by the hosts.

Without a functioning midfield, though, the forward three will be starved of possession as they were in midweek, and the goals they get expected to score will not arrive.

While PSG's front three will be the ones to win the headlines with their goals, the Brugge experience underlined that it takes a functioning team to win matches.

Herrera will, of course, stop scoring eventually, but as he points out, this is not what he and his midfield colleagues are in the team. They are there to provide a platform for Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe to thrive, and unless they can start doing that, PSG's Champions League aspirations will remain unfulfilled.

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