The draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League has served up a couple of intriguing encounters and several sub-plots. At first glance, the third quarter-final which was drawn between Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona can be construed as a battle between financial muscle and tradition. However, from a purely footballing perspective, it will also play host to a fascinating clash between the world's most feared attacker in Lionel Messi and arguably the best defender around in Thiago Silva.
Messi is possibly the most difficult player to defend against in world football. The four-time Ballon d’Or winner has the close control to draw in defenders and then the scintillating burst of pace to leave them stranded. He has great movement, fantastic dribbling and can score goals for fun… but we already knew that.
However, if you had to engineer a defender for the specific purpose of containing the Argentine, you wouldn’t do much better than Thiago Silva, who quite fittingly is Brazilian. The two haven’t faced each other too often though.
When AC Milan took on Barcelona in the group stages two years ago, Silva was given the task of containing Messi and along with Alessandro Nesta, he managed to do so for the most part over the two legs but inevitably, the Argentine popped up with telling contributions anyway. He set up his side’s first goal in the 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou but it was Silva who grabbed the headlines with an injury time equalizer. The defender headed in from a corner in the dying moments which neatly complimented his formidable defensive performance on the night as well.
In the return leg at the San Siro, Barcelona needed their talisman to deliver and he did so yet again. The visitors ran out 3-2 winners with Messi scoring the second goal from the penalty spot and setting up the third. Messi also scored in his last meeting with Silva in a friendly against Brazil last year when his effort proved to be the solitary goal in the fixture. The duo could have met in the quarter-finals of the competition as well but Silva was injured for both legs and while Milan managed a 0-0 result at the San Siro, Messi buried two penalties in the return leg at the Camp Nou in a 3-1 Barcelona win.
You expect a bit of hostility to exist between the South American rivals but instead, Silva has shown great respect for the diminutive forward in the past. When asked how one can stop the Barcelona ace a couple of years ago, he replied, "You pray. He’s a very quick and technically gifted player. When you face him you have to make decisions in an instant. When he approaches you, you have to make the sign of the cross and pray that everything will be alright.”
While his comments are no doubt sincere and perhaps depicts the extent of the challenge when facing Barcelona’s number 10, he may be selling himself short. Silva is widely regarded as the best central defender in the world and it’s not without good reason.
Not only is he in possession of all the physical attributes to be the ideal modern day center-back, but he is also one of the few who can sense danger and react to it quickly enough on most occasions. Perhaps it stems from the fact that he benefitted from playing alongside Nesta at Milan where he seemed to mature and develop into the classy defender he is.
Silva took time to settle in at PSG initially and had to contend with an injury as well but he has been crucial to his new club in recent times, displaying the kind of form that has come to be expected of him.
''Thiago Silva is the best defender in the world. No one has the attention, the speed, the heading or the sense of anticipation like he has. He is on track to becoming the next [Paolo] Maldini. He just lacks a bit of personality, but that will come in time.'' – Those were the sentiments of PSG manager, Carlo Ancelotti after the Parisian club secured the Brazilian’s services and they shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Not only has the Italian tactician managed Milan for 8 years while Maldini captained them, during which time they lifted the Champions League twice, but he also played alongside the legendary defender during his 5-year playing stint at the Rossoneri and they won the European trophy twice during that period as well.
From someone who has witnessed Maldini’s class first-hand for so long as a teammate and a coach, you would think that he wouldn’t compare anyone to the former Italian international unless he was absolutely sure of his ability.
We can only fantasize about the prospect of Messi facing the likes of Maldini, Franco Baresi, Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore or Fabio Cannavaro in their prime but thanks to the Champions League quarter-final draw, we now have on our hands a classic clash between an attacker and defender which should be stimulating enough. Will Silva put in a performance worthy of the aforementioned defending greats or will Messi bypass him like he has so many others in his quest to go down as the greatest footballer of all time?
|How do you think Thiago Silva will fare against Messi? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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