Amidst all the confusion in Catalonia, there is one certainty: the coming season will not be the same. With multiple heavyweights coming under heavy criticism, their futures at the club are hanging. Arturo Vidal too seems to be staring at the end of his Barcelona career, but how has the 19/20 season actually been for him?
This is the thirteenth 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.
Arturo Vidal, a name that resonates with hard work, a warrior spirit and 100% commitment. His transfer to the Catalan club received mixed responses in 2018, but it is fair to say that he has left his mark on the club. A transitory phase for Barcelona saw the managers opting for increased services of box-to-box midfielders to grind in results. It was with the same intention that Barcelona signed Vidal.
Vidal may not be the most comfortable with the ball at his feet. Navigating through fine spaces, overcoming pressure and soft delicate touches are not necessarily in his niche. Nevertheless, he provides something different, a sense of unpredictability. As Ernesto Valverde rightly once said, Vidal provides some much-required chaos in the monotonous blaugrana midfield. His undying energy until the final minute, his zeal and commitment to the badge are undoubtedly admirable.
“Arturo Vidal is not organised, but that’s his virtue”Ernesto Valverde
Similar to last season, Vidal was once again utilised by the coaches as a source of direct goal contributions. The beginning of the campaign saw the Chilean played as a right interior, though often he preferred drifting higher up the pitch into the half-spaces. His astute runs behind the defence are what made him such a potent attacking threat. Coupled with his thunderous volleys and eye for goal, the coaches had a rounded player they could count on for an instant impact.
Unsurprisingly, it was Vidal who scored the opening goal for the Catalans on multiple occasions. The statistics reveal everything: 8 goals and 3 assists are generally not numbers associated with midfielders.
As the season progressed, his style of play prompted the manager to play around with his position. With an injured Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann underperforming, Vidal saw out games as a winger for the team. He started on the left of the front three against Eibar, and also played as the right winger in the clash against Napoli. Though the results were favourable, the new position was an uphill task. Nonetheless, the 33-year-old struggled because of his lack of pace and tendency to drift centrally. Despite getting chances on goal, he was involved very little in the build-up.
Vidal’s dynamism, pressing and goalscoring threat was often much appreciated in an overly static and predictable Barcelona side | Photo by Gabriel Bouys / AFP via Getty Images
Towards the end of the season, as Quique Setién opted to switch to a 4–3–1–2 formation, there was yet another change in position for Vidal. As in the game against Real Valladolid, he played directly behind the front two as an attacking midfielder. Given the freedom to link up in the attack, it was his most natural position on the field yet. Despite he ended up sliding towards the right, the position brought out the best in him. He finished the game with two key passes and a goal to his name.
As much as Vidal was tasked with contributing to the attack, he was equally dependable defensively. His immense work rate is an attribute that one must learn from. Defying his age, his ability and commitment in tracking back and winning the ball are what garners him so much respect. Over the domestic season, he averaged 2 tackles and 0.5 interceptions per game. At the same time, he also won 50% of the duels faced.
Overall it would be unfair to underrate Arturo Vidal’s season. He displayed 100% commitment in every minute he was on the pitch. Statistically too, he would be amongst the top performers of the season. The only downside is a parameter that one cannot measure statistically: his contrasting style of play that often hinders the build-up.
What next for Arturo Vidal?
It is rumoured that soon after his appointment as the head coach, Ronald Koeman had direct interaction with the players who were not in his plans. Reportedly, Vidal will have to find a new club for the upcoming season. Koeman has centered his plans around a massive overhaul from the grassroots levels. With technically gifted youngsters like Carles Aleñá, Riqui Puig, and Pedri in the running, the Chilean’s presence would only serve as a hurdle to their development. In addition to relief from his demands for guaranteed game time, his departure would help clear the wage bill for Barcelona.
As for Vidal, Antonio Conte is keen to acquire his services at Inter Milan. It would be the most likely destination for the Chilean. A return to Italy to challenge his former club Juventus for the Scudetto could be the swansong for the 33-year-old.
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