Friday 30 September 2016

Why Pedro will be an excellent signing for Manchester United (and why he might not)

Published 18/08/2015 | 15:17

Pedro scores the dramatic winner to help Barcelona win the UEFA Super Cup
Pedro scores the dramatic winner to help Barcelona win the UEFA Super Cup

"It is time that we talk about Pedro," said Pep Guardiola, after his Barcelona side defeated arch rivals Real Madrid 2-0 in 2011.

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"Pedro has become vital for us, absolutely fundamental. He is a role model, a great. He always exceeds expectations. If Pedro was Brazilian, he’d be called Pedrinho and we wouldn’t have enough money to afford him.”

Cut to the summer of 2015, several managers later, and it is a different story. Barcelona see Pedro as a non-essential squad member and are prepared to sell him. So what are Manchester United actually getting?

A natural winger, Pedro has played in every position across the Barcelona attacking midfield. He brings pace, tactical awareness and a neat touch, and Guardiola once described his finishing as better than Lionel Messi's.

Some of Pedro's goals belong in the very top drawer and deserve to be watched on repeat on YouTube.

From grassroots to the grass hybrid pitches of the Premier League, fans in England love a player who can "put in a shift" and Pedro stands out in the Barcelona team because of his work-rate. He hounds defenders, pressing high up the pitch on both wings, forcing errors which his teammates take advantage of.

Hungry for the ball, electric with his movement and always capable of finding space - he seems like the perfect Man Utd player. But why isn't he good enough for the Barcelona first team?

The obvious answer is that two of the best players in world football are in his way. Lionel Messi is... well we know about him, and Neymar is surely next in line for the non-Messi/Ronaldo Ballon d'Or. But even Rafinha gets a game ahead of Pedro sometimes. United would not be buying a world top 10 player, they're buying a Barcelona substitute.

Although 21 of his games last season were from the aforementioned subsitute's bench, in a total 50 appearances for Barcelona Pedro scored 11 times. Neymar played 51 times and scored 39. This is the difference between high-class squad player and players who fall into the world class category.

Guardiola took Pedro from the Barcelona B team because, having managed him there, he realised that the winger suited his tactical needs. Pedro understood the need to work for the team and was also quite good. It is rumoured that many at the club didn't rate the winger at all but Guardiola admired his work ethic and turned him from third division footballer to World Cup final starter in a matter of months.

Pedro is technically brilliant but so is someone like Yannick Bolasie. The Spanish winger's defensive output, determination and the clinical nature of his finishing is why he'll likely fit right into United's attacking forward line.

United desperately need someone who can run in behind defences and this is exactly what Pedro can bring.Pedro would also work brilliantly at Manchester City but Van Gaal's team are so patient in their build up play that at times it feels like you're in the queue at an amusement park, waiting for someone - anyone - to entertain you and hoping it's going to be worth it.

With Depay on the left and the explosive Pedro on the right (and vice versa in Van Gaal's ultimate vision of free-flowing, total football) United will have two quick runners on the wings who can press high up the pitch and relieve some of the work load from Wayne Rooney, as well as freeing up Juan Mata from wide positions. Perdro demonstrated what he can offer against United in pre-season rather well but almost certainly won't drop so deep in Van Gaal's team.

As for his movement and vision, how Pedro manages to find himself between Real Madrid's centrebacks in the goal below is the kind of natural ability that cannot be taught.

Like Thomas Muller - another player United have been linked with this summer - Pedro can create space in front of Rooney that England's forward can use to get shots at goal - his struggles upfront at the moment are not his fault. Similarly, the clever movement of Depay and Rooney will free up space for Pedro (who can find space pretty much anywhere already).

For the team it makes absolute sense but the big worry, especially for a £30million player, is whether Pedro can adjust to the demands of the Premier League.

At Barcelona - and in La Liga - Pedro is outstanding when the team is defending. He seems to work harder than anyone else, runs like the Energiser bunny and still has the touch at the end of it to keep control of the ball.

In La Liga Barcelona are always on the front foot but the play is slower, with quick bursts of attacking energy that usually end in chances on goal. In the Premier League (the best league in *gunshot noise*) the focus is not on technical ability and build-up play, but on super-fit muscle robots doing battle for 90 minutes at 400mph.

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In the picture above Pedro picks up the ball in a similar position to where someone like Mesut Ozil might, and just like Ozil, Pedro tries to use his skill and movement to keep the ball.

ped2_3410989b.jpg

The problem is that here Atletico's stronger midfield player is able to knock Pedro off balance. Though in this situation Pedro recovered the ball and eventually won a freekick, as we saw with Ozil at the beginning of his Arsenal career, technical players don't get fouls as often in the Premier League.

Another point to make is that Pedro's exceptional workrate isn't actually that exceptional when it comes to England's top tier. In fact if Pedro tries to keep up with the pace he'll more than likely be absolutely knackered by January and fade away, like many imports have done in the past. This can be managed by resting the player but it's certainly relevant.

Alexis Sanchez is perhaps the closest comparable player to someone like Pedro in how he routinely snaps at defenders' heels. The two played together as wide facilitators of Lionel Messi's record goalscoring bout as a false-nine. But that's not enough in a team with no Messi; James Milner works as hard as Pedro, Antonio Valencia works as hard as Pedro - the Spaniard will have to hope that he clicks with his team-mates and starts contributing immediately if he is to avoid the dreaded, critical eye of the media. And to an extent, the fans.

Louis Van Gaal will only sign players he says will improve the squad and Pedro will definitely do that. Whether he manages to make a starting place in the team his own depends on how quickly he adapts to the team. There's quite a difference to playing quick, intricate one-twos outside the box with Andres Iniesta to trying to get Marouane Fellaini not to punt the ball wildly over the bar. Much will depend on how those around him bring him into the play.

Some players like David Silva pick it up quickly, some like Angel Di Maria disappear. As anyone who has played football at any level in England will likely have experienced, be it at Old Trafford or a swamp somewhere in Hackney, Pedro will be just fine as long as he "puts a shift in". Luckily, that's his forte.

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