When Nantes went to Paris Saint-Germain earlier in the season, head coach Claudio Ranieri threatened to “park two buses” at the Parc des Princes.
Beaten 4-1, the Italian took a different approach during Sunday’s meeting between the clubs, employing a high-pressing game designed to put their opponents on the back foot.
The experienced coach might have expected PSG’s young centre-back pairing of Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe to become flustered, but instead they stood out as their side’s best players on an evening when Neymar and Thiago Silva were notably absent.
Kimpembe, in particular, turned in a display that offered further evidence that the academy graduate will be a viable long-term option for PSG.
He showed all the attributes that have forced him into Unai Emery’s rotation behind the two Brazil centre-backs: composure, reading of the game and athleticism.
His rise owes a great deal to both patience and persistence. Unlike Adrien Rabiot, who is the other PSG academy graduate who has managed to force himself into regular action, he was not tipped for big things from a young age.
Rather, he was given his breakthrough by Laurent Blanc during the 2015-16 season when PSG had already amassed a massive lead over the pack – largely because Thiago Silva was injured and Marquinhos was being wrapped in cotton wool.
But, alongside David Luiz, it was Kimpembe rather than PSG’s most expensive defensive acquisition who caught the eye. Indeed, his performances were so strong that the Parisians, who kept four straight clean-sheets with him in defence, were happy to sell Luiz back to Chelsea and introduce the youngster as their third option.
What has been most remarkable about the 22-year-old’s rise has been his adaptability and maturity. He was initially a left-back who has been transformed into a central defender, while he has treated every challenge that has been thrown at him with the coolness of a seasoned professional.
Undoubtedly the highlight of his career to date came against Barcelona in the Champions League last-16 first leg last year. His role was to keep Lionel Messi quiet, a task he performed quite brilliantly as the Catalans misfired in Paris. Incredibly, it was Kimpembe’s Champions League debut.
“It’s the match where I’ve had the least pressure in my life,” he told L’Equipe .
“The day before, I read the reviews on social networks, in the newspapers: ‘Oh, he's going to get killed.’ It's something that makes me even stronger. I always want to prove to people that I am capable. Critics are the fuel I need.”
By the time Barca conducted La Remontada and won the second leg 6-1, Kimpembe was back on the bench.
“Things had started to change six months before that,” he said. “That game was more of a Eureka moment.
“Before that game, people would say: 'He has to play well in the next game, then he has to play well in the next game'.
“Having played so well in that match, which was a benchmark, was a trigger that made people say: 'OK, he’s capable'.”
Indeed, since that match on Valentine’s Day 2017, things have moved swiftly for the young player, who has seen his reputation grow steadily, though he still does not receive the recognition that he is perhaps worthy of.
“Maybe it’s because I’m not a big star who was bought for €50 million, I’ve always got something to prove,” he said. “For the young guys coming out of the academy, it’s always like that, but that’s not a bad thing.”
Remarkably, Kimpembe is yet to make his international debut, meaning he is, along with Yuri Berchiche, the only of Emery’s regular rotation not to hold senior honours.
That will surely come, though, and if he keeps improving at this rate, he may well find himself in Didier Deschamps's squad for World Cup 2018 in Russia during the summer.