An analysis of 17-year-old Pedri: The next Iniesta?

11 min read
Featured photo Pedri

1st July 2020, Las Palmas’ 17-year-old wonderkid Pedro González López, better known as “Pedri”, officially became a Barcelona player. The future of Barcelona post-Messi has been a hot topic recently, particularly, the focus on recent transfer dealings and discussions about the poor direction the club is heading. Suggestions of a disconnect between Bartomeu, the backroom staff, the players and scouts have led to concern about the future of the club.

The swap deal between Arthur and Pjanic has annoyed many Barça fans but panic should not set and the club will survive this tumultuous and uncertain period. Despite the criticism of recent transfer dealings, the Barcelona board and recruitment team have no doubt made a very astute and sensible signing as Pedri moves to Barça.

In this re-purposed and updated article, I hope to give culés around the world positivity and optimism about the future as I analyse and highlight the capabilities of the 17-year-old wonder kid.

The Spanish u19 international started the 2019-20 season at recently relegated, La Liga second division club, Las Palmas. He began the season as a young 16-year-old boy and has emerged as a mature, confident, and exciting 17-year-old star. Pedri has played a valuable part in Las Palmas’ season despite his age and lack of professional experience, making 36 appearances and 34 starts, which is testament to his worth to the side. Pedri has repaid the faith of coach Pepe Mel with 4 goals and 6 assists, making him one of the standout players in the squad. The quality of his performances meant that Barcelona snapped him up as soon as possible for an astonishingly cheap 5 million Euros…

Where does Pedri play?

Pedri is an attacking midfielder who roams the pitch with a free licence, sites like TransferMarkt.com will tell you that he is a winger, but this borders on simplicity and gives the wrong impression of where he actually plays. The Spaniard plays in a free roam position, he likes to occupy central areas or the left-hand half-space and will very rarely be seen hugging the touchline for too long while in possession. We can attest to the fact that the heated areas in the wide areas are likely to be when Pedri is out of possession.

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Pedri heat map 2019/20 season. Source: SofaScore

He moves to pick up the ball in between the lines and even drops as deep as the defence to pick the ball up. He can situate himself on the left, then the right, play as a second striker then a number 8 all in the space of 10 minutes of play.

Some images below highlight common areas where Pedri positions himself.

Pedri positioning

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The licence to free roam of course does not apply for when Las Palmas are out of possession, in this case, Pedri must work hard to make sure he returns to his station on the left-hand flank of the 4-4-2 defensive structure.

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Pedri’s data profile

 

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Pedri player radar. Source: StatsBomb. Data from 25/02/2020

Pedri’s Stats Bomb radar (data from before the restart), immediately highlights him as a creative playmaker. His Expected Goals Assisted places him in the 84th percentile for the league which demonstrates to us that he consistently creates high-quality chances for his teammates.

Since the departure of Jonathan Vieira, Pedri has been the primary playmaker in the team, his importance to chance creation is the reason why Pepe Mel has trusted and relied so much on him. If we also observe the Box Cross %, we can deduce that Pedri is creating a lot of his opportunities in the area via open play as opposed to set pieces and crosses, which is highly positive.

When looking at data like this it is great to see a player who is ranking very highly among his peers for these attributes, it shows that he is one of the highest performing playmakers in the league. It is also encouraging that his pass accuracy is high, normally pass accuracy among creative playmakers is fairly low because of the added difficulty of making high risk passes in the final 3rd and into the penalty area, so it is promising that Pedri already has such high technical precision in his repertoire.

Pedri’s data profile is overall very promising considering the fact it is his first professional season which he began at the age of 16. Often, we see that with young attacking players that their defensive contributions are low, however, this cannot be said about Pedri. He is already showing immense maturity and work rate in his pressing game, in which he is ranking in the 96th percentile, it goes to show how hard-working he is off the ball and has really bought into the ethics and philosophy of Pepe Mel and the team. The data gives us an indication of the kind of player that Pedri is but it requires video analysis to add context and greater understanding to his strengths and weaknesses, for example, how difficult are the chances he is creating? What kind of vision does Pedri possess and what is his decision making like? The following sections of the article will aim to give you snapshots of the youngster in his element.

Passing and creativity

As already mentioned, Pedri’s style of play leads him to roam into lots of different positions as he receives the ball either in between the lines or is the player who progresses the ball through the lines. It is great to watch his fearlessness and constant desire to provide a creative spark and create chances out of nothing. At such a young age Pedri is already demonstrating outstanding vision and awareness of his teammates runs and movements and he also has the skill to play the perfect weight of pass.

In this example, Pedri created a high goalscoring opportunity with this first-time pass which in the photo is just approaching him. The skill required to notice the run and play the perfect weight of pass is remarkable, not forgetting the fact that as I have highlighted, there were two banks of four in a mid to low block who ordinarily you would say are cutting the most obvious passing lanes off.

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Line breaking pass

The difficulty of the pass does not faze Pedri, they do not always work but in that split decision he saw an opportunity and he grabbed it. He provides a verticality and creative element which has been so important for Las Palmas and is something that in recent games has been lacking from the Barcelona midfield.

The images below are further examples of the vision and immaculate weighting of the pass. We see again examples of the types of positions Pedri is occupying, his rotational play and positioning give him the space to lift his head up and make these great goalscoring opportunities. These are high-quality chances being created from a variety of positions.

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Pedri has a decent left foot as well, the photo shows a perfectly executed switch of play. Being ambipedal helps him to add variety and unpredictability in his movements; it is a trait that is often underrated and underappreciated.

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Pedri could improve the consistency of his first touch. The chances he creates are taken perfectly with good control and body positioning, but I think we would see even higher output if he perfected it, helping him to be sharper with his actions. The inevitable next step to a more competitive league will likely see him receive even less space in between the lines so improving this will be of huge value to his all-round game.

Dribbling

Pedri’s rotational play and free-roaming makes him impossible to man-mark. That being said he often finds himself being aggressively pressed and surrounded by the opposition team as they recognise the danger of allowing him too much space to operate in.

Pedri uses his low centre of gravity, sharp change of direction and quick footwork to evade danger. He carries the ball well and is fairly good at protecting it by the way he manipulates his body and has good close control.

The below sequence of photos shows a typical phase of play for Pedri, this time he takes the ball from deep and looks to penetrate space with his dribbling, he notices that he is surrounded and rather than go for broke and risk a dangerous counter, turns back on himself to essentially recycle the phase of play.

He does not stop here though, he sees a gap to exploit in a similar way that a running back in the NFL is always looking for spaces to run into, what makes this attack so great is that he is direct and aggressive.

Pep Guardiola when talking about Iniesta’s greatest quality said that the importance of attacking the centre backs is crucial to make them step out of line to disorganise the space and solidity of the defence. Pedri is the type of player who Pep would love to coach, an inside forward or midfielder who commits men and causes a nuisance to the opposition’s solidity through their verticality and intelligence.

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Phase 1
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Phase 2

This example shows composure and calmness, he is excellent when he is standing a player up face to face but also has a great ability to play back-facing through feints and quick turns. This is positive that he is already confident and capable in a variety of 1v1 scenarios.

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Phase 3
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Phase 4

He could have probably played the pass to the man in between the lines but this is the kind of player Pedri is, he assumes responsibility and he wants to be the guy on the ball making things happen rather than delegating creative responsibility. At the end of this, what you have is a great work by Pedri but no support by the team, in this example they have no numerical superiority so they can’t make the most of the Centre Back’s vacant space. Pedri released the ball as he should in this situation, but the pass was too difficult to make.

Barcelona post-Messi and in the present need more creative forces in the side, as the responsibility being placed on Messi’s shoulders to be here there and everywhere and fulfil multiple functions on the pitch is not efficient or effective.

Flair

Pedri has shown great flair and personality in his game, his recent assist against CD Lugo was nothing short of astonishing, straight out the Neymar book of skills, words fail to describe it. Pedri has the flair and excitement which will have Barça fans on the edge of their seats, but it is the previously aforementioned passing and technical qualities which impress me much more than the skill moves.

Defensive contribution

Pedri’s style of play can lead to overturns of the ball, but, the Spaniard does not shirk his responsibilities to win the ball back quickly. If we refer back to the Stats Bomb radar, we see that Pedri is ranked in the 96th percentile for pressure regains, what does this mean? Well, it shows us that Pedri presses a lot and is largely very effective at it, his work rate and understanding of when and where to press is impressive. This is something that should encourage Barça fans, he will bring energy and desire which will surely make him a fan favourite and will be valuable, should the manager he plays under, want to counter-press high up the pitch.

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Phase 1- Ball moving out wide is the trigger for Pedri to close down the receiver as fast as possible.
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Phase 2- Pedri shadow presses and blocks the passing option behind him, the rest of the team are covering all other passing options. The trigger to the press was led by Pedri and ultimately proved very sensible, it is clear the RB has limited composure or ability to break Pedri’s press, it causes him to panic as he attempts the worst pass possible indicated by the red arrow, it is easily intercepted and leaves Las Palmas in a great position to counter with 5 men high up the pitch.

When Pedri moves to Barça, he will be able to inject energy and work rate into defensive phases of play. He is not someone who absolves responsibility when he has lost the ball which will make him less of a defensive liability in the midfield.

Shooting

Pedri is not a natural goal scorer, as discussed already he is the playmaker who is creating opportunities rather than someone who is finishing chances or getting into the positions to score. The shots he takes from a distance are a little tame and do not threaten. This could be something he develops but stylistically he is not the kind of player who I see scoring 10+ goals in a season very regularly.

Physicality

Physically Pedri is understandably a fairly lean guy still, he has shown good protection of the ball and offensively his balance and sharp movement has meant it has not been a huge issue. He could be more aggressive in duels, but I am sure this will come with time and as he continues to grow both physically and as a player.

Conclusion and Barcelona post-Messi

Hopefully, with the visual aids and descriptions, it is clear that Pedri is not an out and out winger but rather a creative playmaker or an attacking midfielder who plays in various zones but mostly in the central or the inside left channel. Pedri’s style of play is dynamic and multi-faceted, he shows outstanding technical ability and consistency for his age, a fearless attitude and confidence which is a joy to watch. For a 16-17-year-old to play 30+ matches in their first professional season is testament to his capabilities and skill set, he has all the tools to be a future star.

To reiterate my sentiments at the beginning of the article, the Barcelona board has taken a lot of criticism recently, so let’s take a moment to appreciate the great bit of business they have done in securing the signing of Pedri for such a cheap fee. When we consider the price tags that are placed on other teenagers, this really is a smart move. Youth like Pedri, Trincao, Puig and Fati should inspire hope and excitement to fans, the future is secure for Barcelona post-Messi.

Pedri’s style of play and aura fits in perfectly with the ethos and approach of the club. However, we must remember that Pedri moves to Barça as a raw 17-year-old talent. While his performances have already shown maturity and great responsibility, it could be harmful to rush him and stunt his progression. No doubt, Barça will monitor him in training and pre-season to determine the level he is at compared to his peers, but I think the best step up will be a loan move to a La Liga club where he is allowed the same freedoms that he was given this season.

Reports suggest that Pedri will be a part of the Barça first team next season, but I worry about the number of minutes he will receive especially given the recent showings of Riqui Puig who has been adding that touch of creativity and energy which Pedri could also provide. It is still unclear how both midfield playmakers will fit into a future side for Barcelona post-Messi. Having said that, the fact that they want Pedri to be included and involved in the first team goes to show the level of talent and quality that he already possesses at such a young age.

I will end with the thoughts of the man who has worked with Pedri most closely this season whose sentiments I too share,

“Pedri is a great player. Barça has been very clever and has taken a pearl, the future Iniesta”
– Pepe Mel.

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