Pedri: La Liga Player Watch

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“Pedri is an excellent footballer,” Barcelona manager Xavi recently said. Xavi knows what makes an elite player, and he knows exactly what it takes to succeed in central midfield at the Nou Camp, so Pedri will surely value his manager’s decision highly.

“He understands the game,” Xavi added. “He makes the difference with passes, he doesn’t lose the ball… he is decisive. He’s one of the best guys that came here. We have to take care of him.”

The young player quickly became an integral member of Barcelona’s first team following his transfer from Las Palmas in 2020, and the following year became the youngest player to play for Spain at the European Championship when he scored against Sweden in the delayed Euro 2020 tournament. Started against. He’s already proven he can play at any level of the game, and with so much time left in his career, it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll accomplish.

Technical and Strategic Analysis

Pedri fits the profile of the Barcelona number 8 perfectly. Versatile, constantly trying to keep the ball at his feet and exceptional at finding and making the most of space in advanced areas (below), he has quickly risen to the top. He is already one of the best midfielders in world football, matching game intelligence with incredible technical ability.

He is particularly difficult to defend against because he makes quick, clever moves to receive: he is able to find space to get inside, and is agile and fast enough to get into it at pace. Then, once there, he immediately demands the ball, and can control brilliantly from his first touch. He then uses the extra split seconds bought for him to scan his surroundings and prepare his next move.

He can move the ball quickly and change direction with great skill, effectively manipulating the ball to keep it away from his opponent. His rapid movement from the standing position means he beats opponents most effectively once the ball reaches his feet or stops. His dribbling ability is useful in teams like Barcelona and Spain, as he often comes up against low blocks, against which anyone who can beat the opponent is very useful.

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However, as is often the case with Barcelona’s midfielders, Pedri is most notable for his passing. When linking up play in midfield, he shows amazing poise and elegance, almost caressing the ball to deliver the pass, with a consistency of weight and detail on his passes that is up there with the best in the game. He will always find his teammate’s feet which will help his team continue to progress fluently on the pitch.

He is less effective when playing passes over long distances. The increase in power reduces accuracy when he strikes the ball with his laces, so it is rare to see him attempt very long balls. As a result, he is not as dangerous when shooting. He doesn’t shoot very often, and he scores very few goals.

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Pedri is at his best as an attacking-minded number 8 in a 4-3-3, constantly moving forward to find space between the lines. He shows exceptional judgment as to when to demand a pass – due to his regular scanning of his surroundings – and he also has the valuable ability to change the tempo of his team’s play with the speed, timing and direction of his first touch.

Equally, he can increase the tempo of his team’s moves with a quick pass that triggers an attack, either by sprinting ahead of the opponent or by playing a penetrating pass. He is particularly threatening with through balls between the opposition centre-backs and full-backs, either for a diagonal run from inside to outside from the striker (above), or for a dart towards goal from the winger.

He also uses his body positioning and body shape intelligently to keep up with the pace of his team’s attacks, taking his first touch in the direction he wants to move the play. He is most effective when receiving lateral or diagonal passes rather than vertical balls, as he is not at his best when asked to receive on the half-turn. If he can improve that aspect of his game, he will have more of an impact close to goal. He does not currently score many goals or assist, often playing a pass before assisting. It’s a valuable pass to play, but adding more threat in the final third could help take Pedri’s game to the next level.

From Koeman to Xavi

During Ronald Koeman’s reign, Pedri’s role was inconsistent, and he struggled to reach his best form as a result. At times, he played as a number 8 with the freedom to move into the final third, but he also played a double pivot role as a link between defense and attack. There were times when he played as a number ten, but scoring ahead of the striker was not in his game, so he tended to remain behind the play as a number 8. As a result, his best asset was weakened and the manager was not able to get the best out of it.

Xavi has made Pedri’s game more varied. He has a high level of responsibility all over the pitch, and when he gets into attacking positions, he is usually difficult for the opposition to track due to his late advances (above). He is constantly finding ways to find teammates – or indeed himself – space behind the opposition’s defensive line. He plays an integral role in the build-up phase, moving around to create a passing line to receive from a defender, before moving forward to influence the play in the final third. His constant activity is vital in helping his team spoil the situation of the opposition team.

When he gets to the ball between the lines, he tries to draw the defenders into the central channel before passing the player out wide. Once the pass has been played, he will follow the play and try to link up with a winger higher up the pitch.

Partnership with Messi and Lewandowski

Pedri developed a successful partnership with Lionel Messi, but Barcelona and Pedri had to adapt when the Argentine forward left for Paris Saint-Germain and was replaced by Robert Lewandowski. Pol is a very different type of forward.Pedri took up position between the lines to try to create a two-on-one overload in the central areas of the pitch, but close to Messi. They would look to combine, and while it was Messi who would more often move forward and try to get into goal-scoring position, Pedri would delay runs to hold onto second balls or receive cut-backs.

The relationship with Lewandowski is different. Although Lewandowski is a more traditional number nine who will shoot more often if not given the opportunity, he also plays a creator role at times. He does this by receiving a pass with his back to goal, and he catches the ball brilliantly before setting it back towards the attacking midfielder – and that could be Pedri. He also pins the opposition centre-backs very effectively, creating space in front of the defense for Pedri to pass through (above).

Pedri is a fantastic player who, surrounded by such high-quality players, will continue to improve for both Barcelona and Spain. The prospect of him getting even better is really exciting.

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