The dramatic story of what could have been but was not. The 19/20 season was the second and final one for Arthur Melo at Barcelona, and there seemed to be improvements in what many had named the next Xavi Hernández. However, at mid-season, the entire Arthur saga began and he was traded to Juventus.
This is the nineteenth episode of a series in which we review the performances of the different Barça first team players, as well as discuss their futures for the next campaign. You can check the series here.
Arthur Melo arrived to Barcelona in the summer of 2019 after having led his native Brazil’s Grêmio to the final of the Copa Libertadores in 2017. In that final, he was named the Man of the Match against Club Atlético Lanús. Arthur was a player whose style of play, at first glance, attracted attention due to the incredibly similar profile to Barcelona legend Xavi Hernández. His movements, controls and passes established comparisons with Xavi since the first day he arrived to the Camp Nou.
“I see myself when I see Arthur on television”Xavi Hernández, in December 2018 to Catalunya Ràdio
Despite having the so-called Barça DNA, in his first season, Arthur excelled in the opening months but did not meet the expectations or all the hype generated around him in the latter stage of the 18/19 course. Yes, he had a great campaign to be his first year in Europe, but he lacked something else to both shine and impact the game and be considered the true replacement to Xavi.
“Arthur is a very quick thinker. He has a natural talent, but, most of all, he has a lot of room to improve through training. He is already a mature player and he has massive untapped potential. He comes out of a tricky situation with ease. He has a strong personality”Xavi Hernández
In his first year in Catalonia, the South American had serious problems with his physique, as he could hardly endure the full 90 minutes on the pitch. In most matches that he started, he had to be substituted early in the second half. This did not allow him to develop constantly and the team could not take full advantage of a piece that seemed to have soon established himself in the gala XI. Moreover, he failed to identify which areas of the field to occupy at every moment and his positional game was not always on point. Still, the way he controlled the pace of the game, his press-resistance and his vision were always superb from day one.
After a first course without much continuity due to injuries and his physical condition, the real challenge for Arthur came in his second year defending the blaugrana colors. In this second opportunity, Arthur began to worry more about his minutes since Barcelona signed the glamorous Frenkie de Jong from Ajax and there was an overbooking in midfield. De Jong was generally played as interior, since the holding midfield position was reserved for Sergio Busquets or, otherwise, for Ivan Rakitić in the rotation.
There were doubts in Catalonia but at the same time great excitement for being able to see the magnificent trio of De Jong, Busquets and Arthur, something that fans hoped could replicate the Andrés Iniesta, Busquets and Xavi midfield of the Pep Guardiola era. Unfortunately, and obviously, it couldn’t, though not necessarily because of Arthur. Alongside one of the best midfielders in the world from the previous season, De Jong, and the legendary Busquets, Arthur started to stand out like no other. When De Jong and Busquets were without the Brazilian, they individually played better, but the team didn’t. By contrast, when Arthur Melo was on the field, he amassed a greater percentage of the ball and his stylish wonders overshadowed the others, yet the team performed better.
Arthur improved his positioning considerably by discovering new zones of the pitch that he had never explored before. He moved from one side to the other, offering himself to a teammate or driving the ball forward. His impact in the offensive third increased. By the end of October, he had already registered two goals and four assists in La Liga plus Champions League. This contrasted with the two assists and no goals he had recorded in the entire 18/19 term. Furthermore, he improved his turns to evade pressure. A few seconds were enough for him to leave the opponents behind and go out to create a dangerous chance.
No one thought Arthur Melo could be sold so early after showing so much promise | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
In addition, Arthur continued to perfectly control the tempo of the game, being what the team needed since he differed from the more usual backward or sideways passes. Arthur was more adventurous and this made him shine so much during his sophomore year. Nevertheless, when everything was pure joy with the Brazilian, when there was nothing to correct except his physique, and when Arthur was happier than ever, the drama began. First, it was recurring injuries again. But then, president Josep Maria Bartomeu, in an unethical way, forced Arthur to leave the club when he was living his dream. Bartomeu did everything possible to remove the Brazilian from the team so that he could get some income to balance the books.
After several weeks of making life impossible for Arthur, Barcelona completed the exchange between the 24-year-old and Juventus’ Miralem Pjanić. At the end of the season, Arthur was going to move to Italy for 72 million euros plus 10 in variables, with Pjanić going in the opposite direction for €60 million and 5 in add-ons. Some time later, after Arthur was left upset, unprofessional actions began from the player, who was still part of the Spanish club and confirmed that the Arthur – Barça relationship had died.
But what if…? What would have happened to Arthur with a better board? What if Arthur had remained at the club past 2021 and had been coached by Xavi? What if he had been allowed to stay? He would have probably become either a legend or a failure. But the truth is that we will never know because of the incompetence of the Barcelona board.
What next for Arthur Melo?
Arthur is now officially out of the club and will now start a brand new adventure in Turin under Juventus’ new coach Andrea Pirlo. The Brazilian will need to work hard to improve his physique and continue to shine as fans had started to appreciate at the start of the 19/20 season. Culés may envy Juventus for having a player who could perhaps mark an era in the midfield position and that, unfortunately, was only allowed to have an intermediate step at Barça.
Notwithstanding, instead of lamenting the loss of Arthur, Barcelona will have to enjoy another great talent, albeit much older, in Miralem Pjanić. The Bosnian can be a world-class midfielder and it will be interesting to see how he can fit into Ronald Koeman’s plans for the following season. Pjanić will have to make fans forget about Arthur.
A 19/20 season review of the new faces: Pedri
In September 2019, Barcelona paid 5 million euros to secure the services of Pedri, who would have a standout debut 19/20 season with Las Palmas at 17. In this article, we analyse the attributes and main statistics of the young and extremely promising attacking midfielder.
This is the first episode of a series of articles that dive deep into a season review of the incoming new faces at Barcelona. You can check the 19/20 season reviews here.
As Ronald Koeman‘s new Barcelona is already taking shape, the youngest member to be joining the first team is Pedro González López, affectionately known as Pedri.
The 17-year-old from the Canary Islands has been a member of UD Las Palmas through and through, right from the youth team set-up to his professional debut in 2019 with the first team. Playing primarily as an attacking mid or left winger, Pedri showcased his attacking repertoire early enough to become an important member of the Las Palmas senior team and went on to play 2982 minutes for them.
His skillset didn’t go unnoticed at the bigger clubs, and soon enough, he was snatched up by Barcelona. So, what does the young midfielder bring to the table?
Pedri was, admittedly, not the biggest goal threat in his first senior season, but given his age, that’s not an issue at all. He scored 4 goals and gave 5 assists.
Watching his shot videos and looking at his shot-map, one can conclude that he does need to work a bit on the judicious choice of positions from where to take shots. For example, there were a bunch of shots from the right with his right foot – shooting from such acute angles is quite unnatural for someone who is not a natural goalscorer. There are also far too many shots from outside the box, most of which, as the videos suggest, are hopeful punts than accurate attempts.
Given below are a variety of his attacking stats – both the raw value and the percentile (mentioned inside parentheses) when compared to other wingers or attacking midfielders who played at least 1000 minutes in the Segunda División of Spain last season.
Data by Wyscout
While most numbers appear to be modest, do keep in mind that this was a 16-year-old playing his first professional season. And his assists, expected assists (xA) and dribbling percentiles are particularly encouraging. It shows he is not afraid to take risks, and we are going to get more glimpses of that further into the article.
But before we proceed, let’s take a look at an animation of the only goal he scored from outside the box:
It was a well-struck fist-time half-volley into the left bottom corner, giving Las Palmas a 1–0 home win against Sporting de Gijón in September 2019. It also marked Pedri’s fist goal as a professional.
A big issue that plagued Barcelona all season was an uncoordinated and lackadaisical defensive effort put in by the team in general. Very little defensive activity by Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi led to Barcelona effectively defending with nine men. A lot of old men in the midfield in the form of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić and Arturo Vidal also meant that the necessary speed to catch up with fast breaks was lacking as well.
All these afore-mentioned midfielders are very fine players – some of the top midfielders in their prime – but have grown old and lost a bit of their zip, which is much needed in the midfield right now. Meanwhile, Frenkie de Jong is very athletic, and Riqui Puig is deceptively fast, and both of them put in decent defensive numbers. And Pedri should complement them well were these three to take the field in a game together.
Pedri put in a good amount of defensive work for Las Palmas. Browsing through his videos, one can immediately conclude that Pedri is deceptively fast as well and good at reading runs, and he times and angles his own runs to cut the opponents off in their tracks and win back the ball.
Shown below are a variety of his defensive stats. Except for aerial duels – understandable as he is only 177 cms tall –, he ranks very high at every other metric:
Next, let’s take a look at Pedri’s passing characteristics, as shown below.
Pedri was highly involved in the attacking build-ups while maintaining a pretty decent passing accuracy for an attacking midfielder/winger hybrid. He played a lot of forward passes at decent accuracy – something that should bring smiles to the faces of the fans. The teenager is definitely someone who is not shy at taking risks and will mix it up with a decent range of long balls as well. Pedri played around 9 forward passes per 90 minutes, around 8 back passes per 90 minutes and the rest were lateral.
Once again, his video clips make it clear that he attempts to progress the ball and be vertical whenever possible, and the data corroborates that. But here comes the highlight of the article: his keypassing numbers.
What should be clarified right away here is that “dangerous passes” is a nickname I am using for all sorts of progressive and productive passes. This includes passes that lead to shots, assists and pre-assists, progressive passes etc. Let’s have a look at his numbers:
Here we see his greatest asset: his passing abilities to do something productive. And Pedri is outstanding at almost every single category. He ranks very highly in productive passes (which are passes leading to shots + 2nd assists + 3rd assists), passes to the final third and the penalty area, through balls, deep progressions and progressive passes, while also maintaining a reasonably good accuracy at each kind of pass.
This is arguably what attracted Barcelona, and the club will be well served by a passer who is already at this stage of calibre at such an early age. Let’s take a deeper look at his passes that led to shots and goals:
14 of his 19 key passes were into the penalty area – arguably the most dangerous area to take shots from. Only one of the key passes is a corner kick – everything else comes from open play, which is encouraging.
Watching the videos, three of the key passes that end outside the box came from fast breaks – counter-attacks – where Pedri carried the ball upfield from deep and laid it onto the path of his teammate, or found his teammate with accurate long balls from deep. So, even though they were far from the box, they led to extremely dangerous plays by Las Palmas.
Focusing on just the assists, it is easy to see how Pedri combines his speed at ball-carrying with his silky dribbling skills to get past opposition and create crucial amounts of space before finding a teammate with a laser-accurate pass:
And as a special gift to the readers, here is an animation of the assist that happens at the top right corner of the pitch in the viz above. Pedri makes a well-timed run to latch on to his teammate’s pass outside the box, before pulling off an outrageous piece of skill to dribble past his marker with a ‘Berbatov-flick-and-turn’, runs into the box and lays the ball off through two opposition players for his teammate to smash a goal in.
Pedri is an absolute gem, and along with Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig, Francisco Trincão and Frenkie de Jong, may well end up forming the core of a youth-based team. As such, Barcelona will do well to hold on to him and nurture him well. After an already promising – unofficial – debut against Nàstic de Tarragona on Saturday, culés can only hope for him to have a great season and future ahead.
Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Samuel Gustafson, writer at Barça Universal, in collating the data and the videos used in the above article