Thiago Motta: Smooth operator
Thiago Motta was part of the Barcelona squad that won the Champions League in 2006 and on Tuesday evening the influential Italian international will be a key man for Paris Saint-Germain in their round of 16 first leg at Bayer Leverkusen.
An unused substitute in the Paris final win over Arsenal, Thiago Motta missed Inter Milan's 2010 final victory over Bayern Munich through suspension after being sent off in the semi-final second leg against Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
PSG reached the quarter-finals of the competition last season where they narrowly lost out to Barcelona on away goals and Thiago Motta believes that Laurent Blanc has taken inspiration from the way the Catalan club play.
He told beIN Sports' Ligue 1 Show: "The coach played for Barcelona, and I'm convinced he has studied their play. Laurent Blanc is an intelligent man, so he learned a lot from Barcelona. And when he arrived here, he saw he had the players to play this style of football, technical players, but also very physical players, capable of running a lot and pressing. I hope we continue in this direction."
Motta spent the first nine years of his career at Barcelona, but now relishes the responsibility of directing the traffic and dictating the tempo for the French champions.
"When you have the possession of the ball, you can't just hold onto it for the sake of having it. You have to use it properly, you have to try and disorganise your opponents and then exploit the space that opens when they make a mistake. But you also have to avoid pushing them all back into their penalty box because that makes it very difficult to score. You have to be patient, avoid making mistakes yourself and then as soon as they make an error, you have to take full advantage. If we can continue to do that, we will put a lot of teams in trouble, not only here in France, but also in Europe."
Standout midfield trio
Thiago Motta has been a standout performer in one of the best midfield trios in Europe, but the Brazil-born Italian international is quick to herald the work of the entire team.
He said: "There's a lot of talk about the midfield and it's true that we are working very well in the middle of the park with Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti. But I have a bigger picture of why it works so well. I'll explain: the coach asks us to keep hold of possession and we are lucky enough to have excellent technical players to do that, in midfield, for example, there's Marco, who I consider to be one of the technically most gifted players in the world. Ibrahimovic also drops into midfield to create an extra man. In defence we also have Thiago Silva, and Alex, who help out a lot too because they are also very technical players. So in the end, you're not talking about three players in midfield, but up to seven."
Thiago Motta grew as a footballer at Barcelona, a club heavily influenced by the Dutch philosophy of playing and the 31-year-old believes there are lessons to be learned for the modern-day PSG: "We need to be inspired by the Ajax philosophy of Cruyff. It's not easy to put in place and takes a lot of time, but Ajax have won titles, Holland has won titles and Barcelona has won titles thanks to these methods. I hope that Paris Saint-Germain can enjoy similar success."
Thiago Motta is convinced Paris already have what it takes to mix it with Europe's best and says the continent's top players know it too!
"Need to be a great champion to play for PSG"
"Today, there are a lot of players that want to play for Paris Saint-Germain, but it's not as easy as that. To play for Paris Saint-Germain now, you have to be a great champion. Those players that will play for Paris in the future need to know it's a privilege to play for Paris Saint-Germain and that you have to work very, very hard because Paris Saint-Germain is the very highest standard now, so there's every risk that you won't play. Things have changed a lot here in the last two years."