Paris Saint-Germain’s midfield headaches this season have forced boss Thomas Tuchel to look for a left-field solution to his problems.
With Adrien Rabiot out of favour and a dearth of other options to play alongside Marco Verratti following the retirement of Thiago Motta last summer, it has been to Marquinhos he has turned to provide solidarity in the heart of the pitch.
Long regarded as one of the game’s brightest defensive prospects, the 24-year-old has shown throughout his career to be adaptable and dependable. Initially, this meant filling in at right-back when required, though this season it has increasingly meant fulfilling midfield duties for the side from the French capital.
After helping PSG to a 2-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in February while playing the role, he confirmed it is one that he is enjoying “more and more”.
“I try to improve myself and concentrate in training to learn new skills,” he said.
Having been distinctly uncertain as a No.6 when he was used in that role at Liverpool in the Champions League earlier in the season, he has grown into the position and produced one of his outstanding displays in shackling Paul Pogba on that late winter’s evening.
It was a job that was designed for him, a player who has always thrived upon stopping opponents and known to celebrate particularly important tackles or blocks as if he had just scored a goal.
Little surprise then, that he completed it in such an accomplished manner.
“He’s got all the qualities to move from a centre-back to the midfield: the technique to play properly, the ability to read the opponents’ actions and this desire to win. It’s essential to bring a strong mentality into that area of the field,” Christian Karembeu told Le Parisien.
This complete package was exemplified in the role he played in Kylian Mbappe’s goal, winning possession before offloading to the more creative Verratti. Seven rapid passes later, the striker had tucked the ball into the net.
Of course, this is a role he is still learning, with his effectiveness dampened when he is not asked to play such a resolutely defensive game.
As such, former PSG midfielder Fabrice Abriel sees him only as a part-time option in the midfield for the club.
“For balanced matches, like those in the Champions League or against the best teams in Ligue 1, he could be incredibly useful there,” he told Le Parisien.
“His speed and his ability to win duels is very useful to PSG. Besides, Tuchel has no choice. Leandro Paredes or Julian Draxler could replace Verratti. But there’s already a Verratti. In the PSG squad, there is only one Marquinhos.”
After PSG’s Champions League exit three weeks later following a dispiriting 3-1 loss at home to the Red Devils, it was, inevitably, Marquinhos who lifted the spirits in the following match as he headed the opening goal in a 4-0 win against Dijon – a match vital for the moral of the squad.
His character and spirit is unmatched in the Parisians’ ranks.
Ahead of Sunday’s Classique encounter against Marseille at Parc des Princes, he will once again take up the mantel of on-field leader, probably even from his new station in the middle of the park.
PSG will come up against opponents rejuvenated after a difficult winter, with Rudi Garcia’s men having won six of their last seven matches in Ligue 1 to reignite their promotion aspirations, led primarily by Mario Balotelli.
With Presnel Kimpembe and Thiago Silva to look after the Italian, Marquinhos’ role is likely to be one that stops the supply to the former Manchester City and Liverpool man.
Having already quelled the threat of Pogba – one of Europe’s most in-form attacking players – Tuchel will expect another masterclass from his unlikely midfield solution.