Days after the Parisiens obliterated Barcelona 4-0 in the Champions League, PSG midfielder Blaise Matuidi made this statement in his interview with France Bleu:
"When Verratti was on the ground, I told him (Iniesta) that Verratti was his replacement. He (Iniesta) said, "Yes, that's what I think."
In the hindsight, it sounds quite an outrageous claim. Players like Andres Iniesta are unique in themselves and are once-in-a-generation athletes. It's hard to find a player out there who can move the ball with the same poise, guile, and elegance while running with it akin to the Barcelona and Spain legend.
'Don Andres' could be included in a select list of players whom every football fan, irrespective of their club allegiance, will love to see play forever but unfortunately, a career of a sportsman doesn't last forever. With Iniesta turning 33 before the end of the season, Barcelona hierarchy would have their task cut out finding his heir. They may avert the hunt for his potential successor for the time being by extending his contract which will be up in the summer of 2018, but a stop-gap solution won't do any favors for the club's long-term future. Age is clearly catching up with the midfield genius and so does the inevitable nibbling injuries that have plagued much of his current season.
But based on the evidence of what we saw on the 'Valentines Day Massacre' at Parc Des Princes, Verratti is every bit worthy of such an enormous comparison. The 24-year-old bossed Barcelona's midfield trio that night with his industriousness, agility, vision, great ball retentivity as well distribution all over the park. The much-raved Italian midfield general made the likes of Iniesta, Busquets, and Gomes look like a bunch of amateurs on occasions with the help of his teammates. He has been often compared to his compatriot Andrea Pirlo for almost an identical style of play and the fact that both of them made the transition from an attacking midfielder to a deep-lying playmaker. On the night of Barcelona's greatest humiliation since the defeat to Bayern Munich in the very competition four seasons ago, Verratti epitomized courage, boldness, and self-belief which Barcelona lacked on the night.
To the eye, Andres Iniesta and Marco Verratti looks far from being cut from the same cloth. They are two different entities altogether. The Italian's game offers a balance between offense and defense while the Spaniard's sphere of influence is more in the sense of an attacking midfielder, acting as a link between the lines. Verratti's playing style resembles more that of Iniesta's former teammate Xavi Hernandez. The Catalan had a great eye for the final ball but if anyone from the current lot players comes close to playing like Xavi, it's only Verratti.
The Italian midfield enforcer is winning nearly two-folds more tackles per game as expected. But the edge he enjoys in key areas such as providing more forward passes, more key passes and creating a shade more goalscoring chances is unbelievably staggering. The difference in the quality of opponents they face domestically might have a role in swaying stats in Verratti's favor but that shouldn't deprive the Italian of the plaudits he deserves.
Matuidi: "As Marco [Verratti] was on the ground, I told Iniesta: 'he is your successor.' He replied 'yes.'"
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 27, 2017
On the other hand, Iniesta is completing more dribbles per game which shouldn't come as a surprise but is averaging more interceptions as well. This could be down to Luis Enrique's tactical shift which has burdened Barcelona midfielders with more defensive work than they should be doing. Consequently, it has curtailed their freedom to contribute more often in the final third, something Iniesta's inferior offensive stats compared to the Italian suggests. But there's only one clear winner – Marco Verratti.
So as the stats suggest, Blaise Matuidi's claim is no tall talk. The Italian has the all-around skill-set to replace Iniesta once he bids adieu to life at Camp Nou. However, stats don't always give a true representation of a situation. While the inclusion of Verratti in the Blaugrana set up would certainly strengthen their left midfield and consequently, the left flank since the Italian is adept at both offensive and defensive fronts, the thing where he lacks is the Iniesta-like ability to slalom through the opponent's midfield. Iniesta provides the control and penetration through this unique ability which makes Barcelona midfield function like a Ferrari engine.
Of course, Verratti can't be blamed for this deficiency in his skill-set since this is something which comes naturally and can't be taught. Barcelona would probably have to tweak their playing style back to front if they are to sign Verratti in near future and want to make him look like the ideal successor to Iniesta's throne in midfield.