The truth is that Pedri is playing a significantly bigger role in the early games in the Champions League with almost 70 mins per game on average with three starts out of five possible. The number drops to 49 minutes per La Liga game, with five starts out of ten. It is also true that Pedri has no established position in this Barcelona team, but he is not the only one. Coutinho, Griezmann, Dembele all suffered during their tenure in Barcelona to find a natural position and establish themselves as the primary option for that position.
Shifted from the left to the right and even playing as a central midfielder it is hard for a young creative player to develop when used as someone that fills the gaps in a team that does not have established first-team structure.
Pedri vs Juventus or how the youngster turned into someone to watch
The best team performance so far this season without a shadow of a doubt is the away game vs Juventus in the Champions League. Total domination, stable in defensive situations and exceptional individual performances. There was a balance between attack and defence.
The difference with the Juventus game was the positioning of the Juve players and the willingness of Barcelona to play through Pedri. He was not isolated from the action, and many times he came inside to help with winning the ball back and start attacking movement for his team. He accumulated more touches (66) than himself and his substitute, Coutinho, in the Atletico game combined (51).
Pedri had the freedom to express himself and dictate how the play in the final third is going to develop. 95% pass completion, 5/6 dribbles completed and won 10 of his 17 ground duels. He played with confidence, felt the support both on the pitch and off the pitch. When substituted off in the 91st minute of the game, he was smiling and looked extremely pleased with himself. Same should be said about Ronald Koeman, who at the time looked like he started to find the pieces to the puzzle.
Pedri vs Atletico Madrid – how the spaces were sealed
The only other time that those players played in the same configuration was against Atletico Madrid. Arguably the worst performance of Pedri in Barcelona shirt and let me explain why.
When we talk about Atletico Madrid, the focus is on their defensive shape and positioning on the pitch. In that game, the flanks were sealed, combined with the low block that Atelti had in the game meant there is absolutely no space around the wings and Barcelona was forced to concentrate attacks through the middle. Pedri was facing double team most of the times, and with the lack of movement off the ball from Griezmann and Messi, Pedri was facing pressure from four Atleti players every time he wanted to play down the wing. Savic, Trippier, Llorente and Correa had the right side of the field covered and provided some options going forward.
On the other side, the approach was similar. Still, the significantly more attacking nature players on that side meant that Dembele would have more opportunities and spaces to beat the press with pace and create chances for the attackers. Hermoso, Carrasco, Saul and Felix had the left side of the field and mainly engaged with the movement of Dembele, but he still managed to create few chances for the attackers.
How the positives became negatives. Juventus at the Nou Camp
One of Barcelona’s nightmarish games did not serve as a lesson. Despite having all of the balls throughout the game, the creativity was lacking. The ways Juventus tried to stop Barcelona in the second game were the same Atletico Madrid used. Close the spaces and don’t allow too much action down the flanks. And it worked beautifully.
The same hybrid between 5-3-2 and 4-4-2 in certain situations, but constantly paying attention to the flanks with at least four players on both sides ready to defend. De Ligt-Alex Sandro-Ramsay-Cristiano on the left and Danilo-Cuadrado-McKennie-Morata on the right.
Absolute copy of what Diego Simeone used and the numerical advantage through the wings left Juventus just defending and absorbing “pressure”. And I put pressure in brackets because Barcelona’s efforts to close the ball quickly were insulting. No tactical change and the usual sacrificing of the youngsters Pedri and Trincao does not help anybody associated with Barcelona.
Pedri, Trincao and Griezzman had fewer touches combined (117), than Leo Messi alone (125).
Nowadays, everyone is fascinated with the stats. Goals, assists, xG, pass success and all that other stuff. But every once in a while, a player that does not rank close to the top in those categories is considered all-time great. The table shows the goal and assists contribution per game for both Iniesta and Pedri. That table is only for the people that love stats. In other words, the table does not matter.
There is no comparison in terms of influence and importance to the team between Iniesta and Pedri. The comparison comes from what your eyes are telling you when you watch Pedri. He is exceptional on the ball, has an outrageous technique, and he is not scared of the big moment.
Pedri is not the old-fashioned winger – lots of paces, great one on one, excellent crossing ability. He is a modern-day playmaker. He can play in pretty much anywhere on the pitch – left, right, midfield, behind the striker. We have also seen him being part of different formations – 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, he is so versatile that it does not matter. He can help a teammate when the team tries to recover the ball, and he is shining in transition with the ball in his feet.
He has the potential to be the complete creative midfielder – an artist.
Do not try to put this player in a box and compare him to somebody. Let him play, develop and create the environment to allow his potential to flourish.