Warren Zaïre-Emery: The teenage wonderkid in the first-team frame with PSG's stars

In February, Warren Zaïre-Emery became the youngest ever player to start a Champions League knockout game when he was named in Paris Saint-Germain’s line-up to face Bayern Munich 23 days short of his 17th birthday.

And while PSG’s Champions League ambitions were put on the backfoot due to a 1-0 defeat in the first leg of the Round of 16, Zaïre-Emery’s burgeoning reputation as one of Europe’s top emerging talents reached new heights given the significance of the match.

The faith of head coach Christophe Galtier in the France Under-19 international has been present for much of the season, with Zaïre-Emery included in the matchday-squad for 27 games for PSG this season in Ligue 1.

He is not alone in being a teenager who is getting their chance in Ligue 1, as Rennes midfielder Désiré Doué and Troyes winger Wilson Odobert can attest. For Zaïre-Emery, born in the eastern suburb of Montreuil in Paris and a part of the PSG academy since the age of 7, he has had to vie for a place in Galthier’s plans with Vitinha, Marco Verratti, Danilo Pereira, Fabian Ruiz, Carlos Soler and Renato Sanches for competition.

Let’s provide some background on Zaïre-Emery’s teammates in midfield, not including grades from PSG’s game at the weekend against Nice, before digging into how the young man himself has compared.

Player name Minutes played PFF passing grade PFF challenge grade PFF ball carry grade
Vitinha 1,922 80.0 60.4 66.8
Marco Verratti 1,770 89.2 71.2 81.6
Danilo Pereira 1,758 74.9 79.6 75.8
Fabian Ruiz 1,443 74.3 65.4 67.0
Carlos Soler 921 64.6 62.9 74.2
Renato Sanches 588 65.0 58.5 74.1


PFF passing grade: 67.9 (position rank: 33rd/116)

Prior to coming on as a substitute for PSG in the weekend’s 2-0 victory over Nice, Zaïre-Emery has featured in 599 minutes of action so far this season and generated a PFF passing grade of 67.9.

Teammate Marco Verratti leads all midfielders in Ligue with a grade of 89.2, due in large part to his high quality and high frequency of line-breaking passes. The Italian averages 16.2 line-breaking passes per-90 with a 90% completion rate, by far and away the best among midfielders in Ligue 1, the Premier League and Bundesliga, and above Zaïre-Emery’s 5.1.

Zaïre-Emery’s grade sits a little closer to Carlos Soler (64.6) and Renato Sanches (65.0). Soler, signed by PSG from Valencia last summer for a fee of €20m (£17.5m, $21.8m) has been conservative in his passing which is evident by a line-breaking passes per-90 rate of a mere 2.7.

Only three other midfielders hold a lower rate in the league (min. 800 minutes played), though Soler is tied-eighth for defensive-line breaking passes.

Renato Sanches knows all too well himself the weight of carrying a wonderkid tag, after coming through Benfica’s famed academy based in Seixal, but holds a marginally lower pass grade than  Zaïre-Emery while sharing a similar number of minutes played.

Capped by Portugal at the age of 18, Sanches holds a higher line-breaking pass rate of 6.9 but shares a similar pass completion percentage of 92%.


PFF challenge grade 60.8 (88th/116)

Zaïre-Emery has been involved in 9.6 challenges per-90, the third-most among PSG midfielders and behind only Verratti (11.6) and Sanches (10.7). Again, Zaïre-Emery’s numbers are within distance of Sanches who is now eight years his senior.

There is however a big difference between Zaïre-Emery’s grade of 60.8 and Sanches’ 58.5 in terms of position rank, with the Portguese dropping out of the 100 to a lowly rank of 104th – 16 places adrift of Zaïre-Emery.

One area which has contributed to Zaïre-Emery’s grade taking a hit is in tackling, his ability to affect a ball carrier on challenge events, due to a low success rate of 26%.

Unsurprisingly, defensive midfielder Danilo leads PSG midfielders in challenge grading with the league leaders occupying only two midfielders within the top 50 in this facet.

Ball carrying

PFF ball carry grade: 65.3 (78th/114)

In the first leg Champions League tie against Bayern, Zaïre-Emery was named at right-midfield in a 4-4-2 by Galthier.

Steered into this wide position at age 16 is testament to Zaïre-Emery’s versatility, with his dribble attempts per-90 of 1.8 second only to Sanches’ 2.0 among PSG midfielders and tied for 11th-most in Ligue 1 at the position. Vitinha is the only other player to have attempted over 1.0 this season (1.4).

Ball carrying is one area he is destined to develop with his grade of 65.3 a full 14 places behind Vitinha in the position ranks.

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