Le50 2017 – Adrien Rabiot
Despite becoming a regular for the French national side and for Paris Saint-Germain, this season has been somewhat of a mixed bag for Adrien Rabiot. There were times earlier in the season where he looked to be the club’s best player, before a hamstring injury left him on the sidelines for an extended period. In his absence, PSG struggled, but he hasn’t looked quite the same on his return, and even found himself dropped at times, sometimes owing to rotation, but on occasion Thiago Motta seemed to be preferred.
For France, he has been limited to two starts and one substitute appearance to date. His limited playing time there is certainly more understandable given the presence of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, and his status as a newcomer, but for his club side Rabiot simply must do better. Marco Verratti is an impressive player and has been consistent once again this year when fit, but Blaise Matuidi has lost a step and Motta is 34. That there still remains any doubt over Rabiot’s place in the eleven, while somewhat down to the proclivities of Unai Emery, is something the player needs to change. With Motta another year older and Matuidi and Verratti both having been linked with moves away in the recent past, there is still every chance Rabiot’s opportunity could yet manifest itself, but for the time being, he needs to continue to prove the player on show through late summer and autumn is the default rather than the exception.
If that becomes the case, Rabiot genuinely has all the gifts to be a key part of the midfield for club and country going forward. While Pogba’s brio and transfer fee have caught the eye, Rabiot has every chance to eclipse him, at least in some regards. Compared to the Manchester United player, Rabiot is more versatile tactically, comfortable in both a 4-2-3-1 and in any of the three midfield positions in a 4-3-3. He is strong in the air, as befits his height (6’ 3”), and while his lanky frame could stand to be better developed, he appears to have improved in terms of strength too. After all, despite Rabiot having just completed his fifth professional season, he is still just 22 and it was really only in the current campaign that he has become a bonafide regular.
Part of that reluctance on the part of his previous managers, particularly Laurent Blanc, to give him an expanded role centered on his positional discipline and tackling technique, another aspect of his game in which he has made great strides. Last season, dismissals in the Coupe de la Ligue Final and in the season’s opening match, both against Lille, had seen Rabiot unfairly tagged with the reputation of being a poor tackler, but currently the opposite is closer to the truth: he was booked just four times in close to 2,300 minutes in the season just completed, with success rates that surpass those of Verratti.
He also improved his range of passing, becoming more adept in shuffling the ball about in midfield as befits PSG’s possession-oriented style. Whereas before he had relied on a level of action and intensity that dovetailed with his perceived indiscipline, his play, particularly in the season’s first few months, has shown strong signs of maturity. If he can recapture that maturity and display it consistently, his fitful rise can no doubt continue, but until then, what doubts surround his play are, for the moment, warranted.