A couple of days ago, Getafe’s fitness coach Javier Vidal claimed that today’s football mandates players to be muscular. He went on to add that he doesn’t see technical and skinny players surviving in the top flight for long. Muscular strength is the future of football in his eyes.
When this quote was raised in front of Pedri Gonzalez during his interview with SPORT, the teenager was quite surprised. Clearly, it was not an ideology he could relate to. Without a touch of hesitation, Barcelona’s 17-year-old signing quickly hit back at the statement. In his response to the statement, he stated that he felt technical ability could outplay even the most physical players.
I don’t see it like that. In football, it’s better to have a brain and think a second before the opponent to get ahead of what they will do. I prefer to have a brain to muscle.Pedri to SPORT
On Saturday night, Pedri earned his first start for Barcelona against Getafe yesterday. It almost seemed like Ronald Koeman wanted the teenager to prove a point. He was pitted against a side that was known to be ruthlessly physical and unforgiving. The battle of words outside the ground had translated to a battle on the field. Both Getafe and the young Pedri strived to justify their statements through actions. Though Barcelona may have gone on to lose the affair by a goal, it would be unfair to say Pedri didn’t live up to his words.
Throughout his 62 minutes against Getafe, Pedri was one of, if not the best player on the field. Koeman played him in the playmaking role of advanced midfield, tasked with covering up for Coutinho who has had a splendid start to his campaign. However, not once did Pedri break a sweat. Despite being in the centre of a storm of fouls, nudges, elbows, and reckless play, he let his technical ability and control on the ball dictate the play for the Blaugrana’s.
His ability to hold on to the ball irrespective of the pressure, yet assess the surroundings and find the right pass is jaw-dropping. Every twist was following an idea, and each pass a purpose. The defenders in blue were often the victim of knee scrapes as Pedri body-feinted his way through the pack. Even in the most crowded and haphazard situation, the 17-year-old’s vision aided him in finding the right pass.
More than anything, he looked to fit as comfortably as one of our own. Watching him toy around with the double pivot of Nemanja Maksimovic and Mauro Arambarri with the help of fluid one-twos with Leo Messi and Sergio Busquets was a joy to watch. There was not one minute when Cules felt the need for Coutinho – who was phenomenal in the first three games for the Garnet and the Blue.
🗣 — Koeman: “Pedri is a great player and he showed that he has the quality to play for Barça. We gave Coutinho a break because he played a lot of minutes.”— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) October 17, 2020
The first big moment of his game was his sumptuous turn following a pass from Messi that saw him delete Arambarri, Marc Cucurella, Maksimovic and Allan Nyom in a single move. Despite having such a frantic surrounding, Pedri spotted the right pass to Sergino Dest. The attack culminated in Barcelona’s captain hitting the post, but was all initiated by Pedri’s awareness of his surroundings.
The cherry on the top was the press shattering pass to Griezmann, one that on any other day would have bulged the back of the net. After receiving the ball from Ousmane Dembele, a fraction of a second is all it took the youngster to spot a path – the only space left empty by Getafe’s otherwise well-drilled defence. Fair to say, Pedri was extremely unlucky to not finish with an assist to his name.
In addition to his discernment, creativity and composure in the final third, the 17-year-old actively involved himself in winning the ball back when not in possession. He often dropped back deep to help build-up from scratch. Not to mention, his stamina and exuberance were invaluable assets for the Catalans.
What is next for Pedri?
Pedri looks ready, but is Spain ready for him? (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)
Needless to say, Pedri made the most of a huge chance given to him against Getafe. Whilst the world talks of how exceptional Ansu Fati is at such a young age, it is baffling that his compatriot is even younger! Looking at the maturity he displayed throughout, especially his decision making, it is safe to reiterate that Barcelona has a gem in its ranks. Though Philippe Coutinho will continue to be the first-choice starter as the attacking midfielder, Pedri must be given regular game time.
Given his excellent technical ability, a few more positive performances could see him competing for a starting role. It is evident that Ronald Koeman trusts him, and we will be seeing a lot more of him this season. Have Barcelona finally found what they spent a combined €270M for in a €5M bargain from Las Palmas?
It seems to be the case.
Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal
With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?
Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.
He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Tactical and Statistical Analysis
Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.
Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.
Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).
In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.
His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.
Where would he fit at Barça?
Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.
Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.
The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.
Should Barcelona pursue him?
There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.
There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.
He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.
While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.
On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.
Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.
Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.