A comprehensive analysis of La Masía centre-forward Gerard Fernández, or Peque. A review of his profile, style of play and what to expect from him for the long-term.
The shortage of attacking options at Barcelona is not only affecting the first team, but La Masía too. At Barça B, Abel Ruiz and Alejandro Marqués departed in the winter transfer window, Álex Collado has been alternating the senior squad with the reserves, and Hiroki Abe will be sidelined for five months for a ruptured tendon in his right hamstring. Moreover, Rey Manaj, the striker signed for the B, got sent off in only his second game for the blaugranas, while he was called up by Quique Setién to face Getafe.
“He [García Pimienta] gave me some tips and told me to be calm and do what I know best”Gerard Fernández, on the instructions García Pimienta gave him before his debut with Barça B
With all these movements and absences, García Pimienta has also had to make use of the youngsters from a lower category. Over a week, his chosen forward to complete the front three was Gerard Fernández Peque, the protagonist of this week’s La Masía talents.
Gerard Fernández Castellano was born on 4 October 2002, in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a city located just next to Barcelona. When he was a Benjamín, he joined the academy of UE Cornellà, where he won, among other things, the prestigious Danone Nations Cup as an Alevín, in 2014. He was the captain of one of the most successful youth teams in Cornellà when, that same year, he received the call from FC Barcelona, his dream club. Peque, nicknamed like this by his close relatives, was eager to show as a blaugrana the quality he had demonstrated wearing the green colours of his previous side.
However, after just two years at La Masía, Gerard Fernández Peque departed, returning back to where he had played his best football. Far from becoming demoralised for having to leave Barça, the boy returned to Cornellà as a Cadete and displayed an insane level again. In his second spell there, he was the top goalscorer of his team in each of the three campaigns he played for them. In the 18/19 course, in his first year as a Juvenil, he scored 28 goals in the National League. Moreover, as a 16-year-old, he got his debut with Cornellà’s first team in the Copa Federación and also in the Second Division B.
“When you get promoted to a higher category, you really notice it. I experienced it at Cornellà already last year. Getting used to it is not easy, but you have to. You need to adapt as fast as possible to help the team if they need you”GERARD FERNÁNDEZ, after his debut with Barça B
He was one of the sensations of Cornellà that season and, of course, he attracted interest from Barça again. Real Madrid attempted to sign Gerard Fernández too but, in the end, Peque chose to go back to La Masía. His brother Pau Fernández plays for the Alevín A as a goalkeeper, and obviously succeeding at Barcelona has always been Gerard’s dream.
In the summer of 2019, thus, the youngster signed his contract for the culés, in an act alongside directives Silvio Elías and Patrick Kluivert that was nothing more than a formality. He had played some days earlier against Ajax in the friendly and opening game of the Estadi Johan Cruyff. His official debut with the Juvenil A, by then coached by Víctor Valdés, came in September 2014 in a 1–1 draw…at the Municipal de Cornellà. His first appearance for the azulgranas was indeed against his former club.
Gerard Fernández Peque has greatly impressed in his first season back at La Masía | Photo by FC Barcelona
His adaptation to Barça has been very smooth, both in terms of style and inside the dressing room, given that he met again with ex-teammates like Arnau Tenas and Ilaix Moriba, two key figures for Franc Artiga. So much so that, on 9 February 2020, Gerard was handed his debut for Barça B. Due to the absences in attack, he was given a start and took a very deserved opportunity with both hands. Assisted by Collado, Peque scored a delicate chip over the goalkeeper in the 34th minute to tie the match (2–2). Unfortunately, the match ended in a 2–3 victory for Villarreal B.
Even so, it was a day to remember for the striker, who became the ninth Juvenil player to debut at Barça B under García Pimienta: Jandro Orellana, Konrad de la Fuente, Nils Mortimer, Arnau Tenas, Nico González, Ilaix Moriba, Mika Mármol and Antonio Jesús complete the list. In addition, today Gerard has received his first call-up with Spain, the U–18, for a friendly against Denmark next week.
The nickname Peque comes from ‘pequeño’, small in Spanish, and Gerard indeed is a very tiny centre-forward. Therefore, he doesn’t stand out for his physique, his height or his ability to fight with the defenders, but for another far more powerful tool: his intelligence. Gerard Fernández Peque, in spite of having spent only two and a half years at La Masía in total over two spells, clearly fits perfectly into the mould of the prototype Barcelona striker.
“I consider myself a striker that knows how to protect the ball with the back to goal. In spite of being neither too strong nor too big, I have a good game at first touch and inside the area I’m smart and intelligent to search for spaces and score”Gerard Fernández, defining himself
Despite his diminutive body, he is capable of executing with great precision actions that require some friction with the defenders. He often is the smallest player on the pitch, but doesn’t get pushed around and actually can fulfil the tasks of a poaching number 9 when required. The clearest example is the four goals he scored back in November against Stadium Casablanca – three of these were headers. Gerard is small but has a great killer instinct in the box, moving extremely well inside and around it. His excellent positioning makes him be in the right place at the right time and even be a surprisingly good header.
Peque positions himself superbly inside the area while he also works very hard and smartly off the ball. In the pressing, he contributes to closing down spaces and passing lanes to the opposition and is always active to take advantage of any slight mistake from his rivals. Moreover, when his teammates have the ball, he reads to perfection which movements need to be made either to free space for his colleagues, or to get into a shooting position himself. For instance, his first goal with Barça B came after a wonderful diagonal run inside the area when Álex Collado was patiently and delicately waiting for an opportunity to deliver his pass. To exploit a space someone has to occupy them, and Gerard Fernández is fully conscious of this.
While not the tallest, Peque is very intelligent and instinctive inside the box to get at the end of passes and crosses | Photo by FC Barcelona
Furthermore, apart from being tremendously clever, he has a very good technique and finishing. He has scored 18 goals with the Juvenil A this season, clearly the best in the team in this domain. As well as having this faculty to find those pockets of space in the box, he continuously drops deep to get involved in the build-up phase and always looks to set up his teammates. He’s fast and precise in tight spaces, delivering quick lay-offs, offering support for short passes, and detecting any gap between the lines of the opposing defence. His mobility and dynamism at the edge of the box, together with his sensibility in his first touch, is a blessing for Barcelona’s football.
As an all-round attacker with a sharp eye for a goal and even a pass, he has managed to transform his lack of imposing physique into an advantage. If he can’t scare defenders with his body, he will make sure to scare them with his prodigious mind. Agile, skilled and smart: the future looks bright for Gerard.
What does the future hold for Peque?
In 2014, when Gerard Fernández Peque joined La Masía for the first time, SPORT published an article on his arrival entitled ‘an Agüero for Barça’s Infantil’. It was actually his former coach at Cornellà, Luis Galindo, who compared the boy with ‘el Kun’. And actually yes, some could argue that Gerard shares several traits with the Manchester City forward: a diminutive figure with a strong lower body to keep the ball, agility, acceleration, quick feet, tactical intelligence, positioning in the area and incredible work ethic.
That said, there’s still a long way to go for him to reach that level, of course. Going from the Juvenil category to professional football, like the Segunda B, tends to be too big of a leap for many footballers. Marqués and, especially, Abel Ruiz saw that they could no longer make the difference against older and more experienced rivals which they did make at the academy versus players of their age.
Peque‘s debut with the B was very positive, but more than a full season is needed to really show one’s validity. With the absences in the reserves, Gerard should feature with them more often now, and maybe even frequently rotate with Rey Manaj up top. What is clear is that having Franc Artiga and García Pimienta is the best for the development of Gerard Fernández, so his talent is certainly in safe hands as he continues to reach new heights.
Barcelona B: Changes which we can expect this season
For Barcelona, its youth setup – Barcelona B, and the famed La Masia – has often served as one of its core components, and not a subsidiary, like a lot of clubs around Europe. It has often been the first step for players before they join the first team, learning the ways and about the heritage of the club.
Currently, a part of the Segunda B, Barcelona B were in the Segunda not more than two years ago and failed to gain promotion last season after coming oh-so-close. As another season starts, Barcelona B must balance their success on the pitch and the development of youth players simultaneously. Barca Universal takes a look at the changes we can expect from them this season.
Barcelona B must, without compromise, involve new players from the youth teams every season as much as possible. This is best showcased by Garcia Pimienta, who uses the youth teams to bolster his squad. Similarly, there are some specific players we can expect to see this season.
Against Cornella, Cadete A player Ilias Akhomach debuted for Barca B and played an entire half. At just 16 years of age, he probably won’t get a lot of chances, but if he does, we can count on him to repay the manager. The winger who has grown meteorically through the youth ranks of the Catalan club in rapid succession looked comfortable playing against much older players in the Segunda. He’s someone who could make an impact this season.
At left-back, Barcelona has a player who has progressed immensely. Alejandro Balde has played above his age group for a long time, and his development has been incredible. At 17, he is a starter for the B team and is among the players who can definitely contest for the first-team in the future. Balde is good both defensively and offensively – his pace, dribbling combined with his tracking-tackling skills makes him a capable asset down the wing.
Apart from these two, we might see attacking midfielder Brian Pena and defensive midfielder Alex Rico. Towards the end of the season, Diego Almeida, Txus Alba, Gavi might be given their debuts as well as part of an up-and-coming generation coming through.
This is a change seen in subsidiary teams such as the B team usually when there is an adjustment in the tactics for the first team. Since the team has a new manager in Ronald Koeman, the tactics are rather fresh as well. Under Setien, a 4-3-3 formation was the preferred choice, whereas under Koeman it is a 4-2-3-1. Though Barcelona played a 4-4-2 under Valverde, the B team continued in a 4-3-3. The shift to a 4-2-3-1, however, is quite less, compared to a 4-4-2.
Koeman has brought with him a plethora of changes, the major one being the team setup. (Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)
The second team’s sole purpose is to facilitate for the first team, which remains the priority this season as well. It just so happens that the Spaniard has three remarkable players at his disposal who can play in a double-pivot and can soon step-up to the first team – Nico Gonzalez, Jandro Orellana and Oriol Busquets. Implementing a double pivot with these players would also benefit the rest of the players. Matheus Fernandes or Alex Collado could play in the number 10 role where they can excel. Additionally, there is an interesting option in the form of Brian Pena whose style resembles Philippe Coutinho’s, could get to feature for the B team in the mediapunta role. In turn, Hiroki Abe, Ilias Akhomach, Nils Moreno, among others could play feature on the wing.
Formation changes for Barcelona B would not only help the players transition from the B team to the first team but will also improve their tactical flexibility. One of the biggest advantages of playing in a 4-2-3-1, however, leads us to our next change.
Barcelona have produced many incredible number 9s in history as well as recently. However, there has been something about the 4-3-3 system which hasn’t suited these talents – for example, Abel Ruiz. An undisputed starter for Spain’s youth sides, he was benched by Alejandro Marquez in some instances owing to his failure to rack up goals for the B team.
Abel Ruiz failed to live up to his own prophecy. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
A very promising striker coming through is Gerard Fernandez, or Peque, as he is called. Playing a 4-2-3-1 system would bring out the best in him. As a forward who is incredible at pressing the defence, he would get that freedom in a 4-2-3-1. Another one of his strong attributes is his ability to link-up very well with his teammates. With a no. 10 behind him and a winger on either side, he would get the opportunity to further develop his anchor play.
The problem Barca B have had with the number 9 role is one that could make the difference between reaching the playoffs like last season and earning promotion to the Segunda A.
Barcelona B are a very dynamic team. There are always multiple changes in multiple positions due to the nature of the team. A manager focused on developing youth, Garcia Pimienta has made sure they are a very capable collective as well. With the changes we examined in this article, Barcelona B could top last season’s playoffs and finally get promotion to the Segunda A. And if not that, we can be sure that they will continue to roll out incredible players that will become Barcelona stars one day.