Pedri's maturity a bonus as Barcelona youngster looks to 'carry' Spain

By Sports Desk June 18, 2021

Had Euro 2020 actually started on time last year, it's fair to say Pedri wouldn't have been in the Spain squad.

Although he impressed for his country at the 2019 Under-17 World Cup, Pedri did not make a LaLiga appearance until September 2020.

Even earning a spot in Barca's first-team squad wasn't a given after he linked up with them from Las Palmas. It was initially expected he would either go on loan to a smaller LaLiga club, or feature for the B team.

But Pedri suitably impressed Ronald Koeman in pre-season and was fast-tracked into the senior side and he went on to play in all but one of their 38 LaLiga games.

The teenager then earned his first call-up to the Spain squad in March, and at that point few would have bet against him playing a leading role for the national team for the next 15 years.

Comparisons with Andres Iniesta have been prevalent ever since he broke into the Las Palmas team as a 16-year-old, such is his effortless ability on the ball, and for both Barca and Spain he is expected to carry out a similar function of bringing the team forward with the ball at his feet.

 

While Spain weren't exactly impressive in their 0-0 draw with Sweden, their inability to find the net despite dominating a worrying sign, Pedri's comfort in such a role on his major tournament debut was at least a reason for encouragement.

Aged 18 years, six months and 18 days, Pedri became Spain's youngest-ever player to feature at a European Championship, breaking a record that had stood for 41 years.

Though there was no hint of nervousness on his part, the midfielder getting on the ball with great regularity as Spain tried to plot a way through Sweden's packed defence.

The only non-defender to better his 113 touches was Koke (128), but in fairness the Atletico Madrid man often dropped into the right-back area to occupy the space vacated by Marcos Llorente, thus almost making him an orthodox full-back in possession.

But what was particularly notable about Pedri's display was his desire to keep hold of the ball.

 

His 60 carries – defined as movements of five metres or more in possession – wasn't bettered by any other player on matchday one.

Similarly, Frenkie de Jong (714m) is the only midfielder to better Pedri's 582.4m in terms of overall carry distance, while the youngster's 14 progressive carries of at least 10m is also second to just his Barca team-mate (15) among midfielders. The Netherlands star has played 180 minutes to his colleague's 90.

To add another layer of context to Pedri's work, Iniesta's 109 carries from four games at Euro 2016 was the seventh-most at the tournament.

Another outing like the Sweden game for Pedri against Poland on Saturday will see him surpass that figure posted by Iniesta. While the Barca great was 32 at the time, he was still very much among the world's best.

Firstly, this all highlights how much confidence Pedri has in himself, but it also shows the trust Luis Enrique and the rest of the squad have in the 18-year-old.

 

One area some may want to see an improvement in is his decisiveness in the final third, as he failed to make a single key pass against Sweden – though it's still perfectly arguable that Spain shouldn't have needed more creativity, given four players set up at least two shooting opportunities, while La Roja's 2.35 expected goals (xG) value shows they were let down by poor finishing rather than a lack of ingenuity.

Either way, Spain are likely to face similar tactics against Poland as they did versus Sweden, with an emphasis on Luis Enrique's side to pick a way through a rigid backline.

Pedri's maturity and positivity on the ball should at least ensure La Roja have the possessional nous to probe and test Poland's resolve at the back.

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