“Pedri is a superlative footballer,” the Barcelona manager, Xavi, recently said. Xavi knows what makes an elite player, and he knows precisely what it takes to succeed in central midfield at the Nou Camp, so Pedri will surely value his manager’s judgement highly.
“He understands the game,” Xavi continued. “He makes a difference with passes, he doesn’t lose the ball… He is decisive. He is one the best that has come through here. We have to take care of him.”
The youngster quickly became an integral member of Barcelona’s first team following his 2020 move from Las Palmas, and the following year became the youngest player ever to play for Spain at a European Championship when he started against Sweden at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament. He has already proved he can play at any level of the game, and with so much of his career ahead of him, it’s anyone’s guess what he will go on to achieve.
Technical and tactical analysis
Pedri fits the profile of a Barcelona number 8 perfectly. Versatile, consistently looking to receive the ball to feet, and exceptional at finding and making the most of space in advanced areas (below), he has made a quick rise 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 as he makes quick, clever movements to receive: he is capable of spotting space to move into, and agile and quick enough to move into it at high speed. Then, once there, he demands the ball immediately, and can control brilliantly with his first touch. He then uses the extra split second he has bought himself to scan his surroundings and prepare his next move.
He can carry the ball at speed and changes direction with great skill, manipulating the ball impressively to keep it away from his opponent. His rapid acceleration from a standing position means he beats opponents most effectively after having received the ball to feet or after coming to a stop. His dribbling ability is useful in teams that dominate possession like Barcelona and Spain, as he often comes up against low blocks, against which anyone who can beat an opponent is of great use.
As is often the case with a Barcelona midfielder, though, Pedri stands out most for his passing. When linking play in midfield, he shows wonderful poise and elegance, almost caressing the ball to make passes, with the consistency of the weight and detail on his passes up there with the very best in the game. He will invariably find the foot of his teammate that is most likely to help his team continue to progress up the pitch fluently.
He is less effective when playing passes over longer distances. When he strikes through the ball with his laces, an increase in power leads to lower accuracy, so it is rare to see him even attempt too many long balls. As a result, he is not all that threatening when shooting. He does not shoot very often at all, and he scores very few goals.
Pedri is at his best as an attack-minded number 8 in a 4-3-3, and he stays constantly on the move looking for space to receive between the lines. He shows exceptional judgement as to when to demand a pass – owing to his regular scanning of his surroundings – and he also has the valuable ability to change the pace 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 move with a quick pass that triggers an attack, either by driving beyond an opponent or by playing a penetrative pass. He is particularly threatening with through balls between an opposing centre-back and full-back either for a diagonal run from in to out from a striker (above), or for a dart towards goal from a winger.
He also uses his body position and body shape intelligently to maintain the speed of his team’s attacks, taking his first touch in the direction he wants to progress play. He is most effective when receiving lateral or diagonal passes rather than vertical balls, as he isn’t the best when asked to receive on the half-turn. If he can improve that aspect of his game, he will have a greater impact closer to goal. He currently does not score or assist many goals, more often playing the pass before the assist. This is a valuable pass to play, but adding more threat in the final third could help take Pedri’s game to the next level.
During Ronald Koeman's reign, Pedri’s role was inconsistent, and he struggled for his best form as a result. Some of the time, he played as a number 8 with freedom to get into the final third, but he also featured in a double pivot as a link between the defence and attack. There were even times when he played as a number ten, but it is not in his game to make runs beyond the striker, so he tended to remain behind the play, much like a number 8. As a result, his best assets were diluted and the manager wasn’t able to get the best out of him.
Xavi has made Pedri’s game more varied. He has more responsibility all over the pitch, and when he gets into attacking positions, it is usually through late runs forward that are difficult for the opposition to track (above). He is constantly searching for ways to get a teammate – or indeed himself – into space behind the opposition’s defensive line. He plays an integral role in the build phase, moving around to create passing lines to receive from a defender, before bursting forward to affect the game in the final third. His constant movement is crucial to helping his team disrupt the opposition’s shape.
When he gets on the ball between the lines, he looks to draw defenders into the central channel before releasing a player out wide. Once a pass has been played, he will follow the play and look to link up with a winger high up the pitch.
Pedri developed a successful partnership with Lionel Messi, but Barcelona and Pedri had to adapt when the Argentinian forward left for Paris Saint-Germain and was replaced by Robert Lewandowski. The Pole is a very different type of forward.
Pedri took up positions between the lines but close to Messi to try and create two-on-one overloads in central areas of the pitch. They would look to combine, and while it was Messi who progressed forwards more often and looked to get into goalscoring positions, Pedri would make delayed, supporting runs to try and latch onto second balls or receive a cut-back.
The relationship with Lewandowski is different. Although Lewandowski is a more traditional number nine who will shoot more often than not given the chance, he also plays the role of creator at times. He does this by receiving passes with his back to goal, and he holds the ball up brilliantly, before setting it back to an onrushing midfielder – and that might be Pedri. He also pins back the opposition's centre-backs very effectively, which creates space in front of the defence for Pedri to move into (above).
Pedri is a brilliant player who, surrounded by such high-quality players for both Barcelona and Spain, will keep on getting better. The prospect of him improving further really is a very exciting one.
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Author: The Coaches' Voice