Carlo Ancelotti has backed Blaise Matuidi to become the best defensive midfielder in the world after taking the Italian by surprise at Paris Saint-Germain where the France international is now "as indispensable as Ibrahimovic or Thiago Silva".
When Ancelotti took over at the Parc des Princes in late December 2011, Matuidi, 25, was seen as nothing more than a useful but unremarkable component in a headline-grabbing squad. Since, however, the former Troyes and Saint-Etienne midfielder's lung-bursting displays have earned him top-billing and transformed him into a key figure for both club and country.
"I'm a little surprised. But I think he's surprised everyone. In a year-and-a-half, he's improved his confidence and his consistency. Today, he's as indispensable to PSG as Ibrahimovic or Thiago Silva," Ancelotti told L'Equipe. "He's not necessarily got great talent technically, but he has talent in terms of the heart which he puts into the game."
Matuidi will need to exploit his formidable physical powers to the full on Tuesday with France likely to spend much of the 90 minutes against Spain at the Stade de France chasing the ball. Ancelotti has no doubt the encounter with the international footballing superpower, and their club equivalent, Barcelona, in next week's Champions League quarter-final first leg, will give Matuidi the one quality he lacks.
Ancelotti said: "It's difficult for him to improve as he's already very, very good. In Europe, he's a player at a very, very high level, very aggressive in getting the ball back. In comparison to Sergio Busquets, for example, he's capable of putting more intensity into his game.
"He doesn't have the experience of the Barcelona player, he hasn't had as many games at a very high level. The games against Barcelona in the Champions League and France v Spain are made for him, I'm convinced of that. It's just a question of time before he becomes the best player in his position. I love his character, and I know he'll never change. He's very modest. When you're his coach, you want to remain so for a little while."