Who would have thought that when Paris Saint-Germain boss Thomas Tuchel experimented with Marquinhos as a defensive midfielder that his daring might pay off?
The Brazil international, who is a centre-back by trade, first turned in a number of timid displays in an alien role, but the German persisted and has had his faith justified.
In PSG’s 2-0 Champions League first-leg last-16 victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford, he was once again asked to play as a No.6. After difficult early days in that role, notably in the 3-2 defeat against Liverpool at Anfield, he has looked increasingly solid and is becoming a reference point in the locker room as a consequence.
The test at the Theatre of Dreams was one that was much anticipated, as he squared off against Paul Pogba, who had thrived in the 11 matches since Jose Mourinho was sacked by the Red Devils, showing the type of form that once made him the game’s most expensive player.
It was an examination passed with flying colours by the visiting vice-captain.
“The coach gave me an important mission,” he said after the game, in which goals from Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappe supplied PSG a healthy advantage ahead of the return. “I had to stay alert and attentive because he’s full of confidence, he’s played good matches, scored a lot of goals and made a lot of assists. We knew that their play would go through him. I had to be focused and stop Manchester’s offensive transition.”
Recently nicknamed ‘Kaiser Franz’ by his PSG team-mates, Tuchel revealed, Marquinhos completely killed the creativity of the France international. He followed him like a shadow, never letting him out of sight but equally never neglecting his duty to the team, winning possession six times, which was more than any other PSG player with the exception of Kimpembe.
Indeed, the defender so frustrated Pogba that the World Cup winner cracked: he was sent off after seeing two yellow cards, lunging carelessly at Dani Alves late on to secure a second caution, which will deprive him of a playing return in his home city at Parc des Princes on March 6.
Although Marquinhos was reticent to talk after the match, he explained his increasingly mature demeanour in the midfield and hailed the influence of Tuchel for his unexpected development in a new position.
“The coach has given me a lot of confidence,” he said. “He saw things in me that I didn’t see. I’m growing more and more. I’m available for the team. I know I had an important job today against the Manchester United midfield.”
Unsurprisingly, he was unanimously hailed by his team-mates in the aftermath.
Thiago Silva, the captain, branded his compatriot’s contribution as “incredible”, while midfielder Julian Draxler took time to explain the Brazil international’s importance.
“Against Pogba, it’s difficult, but he played very well with and without the ball,” he said. “Maybe he prefers to be a defender, but he’s very good in this role. He worked very well for the team.”
Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Marquinhos will become a full-time central midfielder, with Tuchel still wanting reinforcement in that area, despite adding Leandro Paredes to his ranks from Zenit St Petersburg in the January transfer window.
“Is there a need to buy another midfielder with Marquinhos and Verratti? Both are superb, they’re incredible, but you can’t play a season with just two midfielders. It’s like that at a club like Bayern Munich or PSG,” the former Dortmund boss said.
Ahead of the return leg in Paris in March, PSG can approach the game with confidence, not only because they boast a healthy advantage, but because they appear to have found a solution to their No.6 headaches.