“He knows how to organise the play, defend, dribble attack. He’s a complete player, just as much when he has the ball as when he does not.”
This is what Barcelona legend Xavi had to say when asked about Adrien Rabiot. And when the 37-year-old, now plying his trade in Qatar Stars League, talks about a midfielder, it’s wise to listen.
Rabiot has never been shy about stating his desire to one day play in England after a forgettable experience with Manchester City as a 13-year-old, and in an interview with RMC Sport he admitted that he was a Liverpool fan growing up:
“I would love to play in the Premier League. There’s not necessarily any club in particular, even though when I was young I was a big Liverpool fan.”
While it may be nothing more than a throw-away comment, Liverpool are in need of midfield reinforcements, with transfers rumours suggesting Emre Can will be on his way to Juventus next summer.
The Reds would have to replace the German powerhouse with quality to go alongside the incoming Naby Keïta.
If he is to leave the Parc des Princes there will be fierce competition for his signature, but could the fact Rabiot is fond of the Merseyside club push them to the front of the queue? With his contract expiring in the summer of 2019, the Ligue 1 giants may be forced to cash in on their mop-headed midfield maestro this summer.
What Rabiot has managed to achieve has gone under the radar. Still only 22 years old, he’s made more than 150 appearances for PSG at a time when they are less inclined to blood youngsters and favour spending money to improve the squad.
Some may claim his attitude is disruptive; he once told the owner of the French club to loan him out if he wasn’t going to play, but it’s what gives him his edge. He walked away from the City academy just months into a six-year deal with the club after he and his agent, who just so happens to be his mother, felt the club weren’t treating him properly.
This is a player who only made his PSG debut alongside Zlatan Ibrahimović but wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with the imposing Swedish legend.
“The first encounter with Ibrahimović took place during a friendly match in the United States,” Rabiot told Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Zlatan got pissed on me because I played stupidly. But he had lost the ball and I had to take a card to compensate for his mistake.
“I became angry and insulted Zlatan. It was not smart. The other incident was in training. We were close to fighting.”
All of this shows he’s got personality and drive to succeed. How many youngsters walk away from a contract with a top Premier League club? How many players with next to no experience call Ibrahimović out?
Despite playing alongside so many stars he remains grounded. After all, not many professional footballers speak so openly about needing to improve, but Rabiot lets the world know. Despite being acknowledged as one of the best under-23 talents in Europe today, he’s still far from happy with his performances.
“I need to improve on a statistical level, to be more present in front of the goal, to score more, to make more passes. For a box-to-box midfielder, it’s essential to be decisive,” he added.
“I could also make progress in terms of my aerial game in front of goal. There are a lot of things, but I feel that I’m making progress.”
This is a player determined to successful and is always looking for ways to improve. In a way Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp would be ideal for his development.
What Rabiot would add to the Liverpool midfield
Calmness, composure and intelligence. From watching him play you can tell he’s got a wise head on his shoulders. He’s benefitted greatly from playing alongside the likes of Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and, to an extent, Yohan Cabaye. Like a sponge he just soaked in all of the advice on offer.
While Rabiot isn’t the metronome of the PSG midfield, he is given plenty of the ball. Verratti and Motta averaged over 100 passes per 90 minutes during the 2016/17 season, but the local kid is still up at 78.8.
In the Premier League, only one player who made more than ten appearances made more passes per 90 minutes than Rabiot last term: Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson.
That puts him above Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Fernandinho and Mousa Dembélé. PSG’s style, keeping possession with ease, helps that number, but it’s still a great example of his talent.
Rabiot reads the game very well for someone so young. He can play as the deepest of a midfield three and, with his comfort on the ball, he can take up any position in the middle third.
To succeed at Liverpool, though, he will need to be able to break the organised defensive lines the Reds so often come up against. He has the ability to do it.
In the picture above you see Rabiot (circled red) pick the ball up in a deep area. He has two simple passes on ahead of him, shown by the white arrows, but instead opts to drive into space, the route of the red arrow.
In the image you see Metz have nine men behind the ball when Rabiot picks it up. It’s a fairly high line, which Liverpool don’t often come up against, but there have been countless times this season where there’s been an opportunity to get Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané in behind but the pass has gone astray.
Here you see Rabiot, having carried the ball forward, play a ball over the top for Edinson Cavani to run on to. The Uruguayan ends up firing the ball at the crossbar and a good chance goes begging, but the French playmaker’s ability to play such a pass is what created the opportunity. He bypassed a fairly congested midfield with one perfectly-weighted swing of his left foot.
This time you Rabiot under pressure in the final third of the pitch. Toulouse, a team he once spent time with on loan, are fairly narrow and their defensive lines are clear to see. It’s up to PSG to play their way through.
Rabiot could play a pass to his left and look to stretch the play, but the away side are set up for that – they’ve forfeited the wide areas in order to clog up the central zone.
Rabiot spots an opportunity to play a quick one-two with Neymar. He drives into the space behind the man who looked to close the world’s most expensive player down, showing his intent to support the attack.
He then steadies himself and fires home a low, driven effort from 22 yards out to put the home side ahead.
There are plenty of examples of Rabiot breaking the lines with PSG. People may claim it’s easier because he’s playing for the best team in the league but it’s just his style; he’s proactive.
If there is a chance for Liverpool to bring the French midfielder to Anfield then they should exhaust themselves in trying to make it happen. Rabiot would be an upgrade on the midfield options already in the squad and could form a formidable partnership with Keïta.