Pedri's maturity a bonus as Barcelona youngster looks to 'carry' Spain

By Sports Desk June 18, 2021

Had Euro 2020 actually started on time last year, it's fair to say Pedri wouldn't have been in the Spain squad.

Although he impressed for his country at the 2019 Under-17 World Cup, Pedri did not make a LaLiga appearance until September 2020.

Even earning a spot in Barca's first-team squad wasn't a given after he linked up with them from Las Palmas. It was initially expected he would either go on loan to a smaller LaLiga club, or feature for the B team.

But Pedri suitably impressed Ronald Koeman in pre-season and was fast-tracked into the senior side and he went on to play in all but one of their 38 LaLiga games.

The teenager then earned his first call-up to the Spain squad in March, and at that point few would have bet against him playing a leading role for the national team for the next 15 years.

Comparisons with Andres Iniesta have been prevalent ever since he broke into the Las Palmas team as a 16-year-old, such is his effortless ability on the ball, and for both Barca and Spain he is expected to carry out a similar function of bringing the team forward with the ball at his feet.

 

While Spain weren't exactly impressive in their 0-0 draw with Sweden, their inability to find the net despite dominating a worrying sign, Pedri's comfort in such a role on his major tournament debut was at least a reason for encouragement.

Aged 18 years, six months and 18 days, Pedri became Spain's youngest-ever player to feature at a European Championship, breaking a record that had stood for 41 years.

Though there was no hint of nervousness on his part, the midfielder getting on the ball with great regularity as Spain tried to plot a way through Sweden's packed defence.

The only non-defender to better his 113 touches was Koke (128), but in fairness the Atletico Madrid man often dropped into the right-back area to occupy the space vacated by Marcos Llorente, thus almost making him an orthodox full-back in possession.

But what was particularly notable about Pedri's display was his desire to keep hold of the ball.

 

His 60 carries – defined as movements of five metres or more in possession – wasn't bettered by any other player on matchday one.

Similarly, Frenkie de Jong (714m) is the only midfielder to better Pedri's 582.4m in terms of overall carry distance, while the youngster's 14 progressive carries of at least 10m is also second to just his Barca team-mate (15) among midfielders. The Netherlands star has played 180 minutes to his colleague's 90.

To add another layer of context to Pedri's work, Iniesta's 109 carries from four games at Euro 2016 was the seventh-most at the tournament.

Another outing like the Sweden game for Pedri against Poland on Saturday will see him surpass that figure posted by Iniesta. While the Barca great was 32 at the time, he was still very much among the world's best.

Firstly, this all highlights how much confidence Pedri has in himself, but it also shows the trust Luis Enrique and the rest of the squad have in the 18-year-old.

 

One area some may want to see an improvement in is his decisiveness in the final third, as he failed to make a single key pass against Sweden – though it's still perfectly arguable that Spain shouldn't have needed more creativity, given four players set up at least two shooting opportunities, while La Roja's 2.35 expected goals (xG) value shows they were let down by poor finishing rather than a lack of ingenuity.

Either way, Spain are likely to face similar tactics against Poland as they did versus Sweden, with an emphasis on Luis Enrique's side to pick a way through a rigid backline.

Pedri's maturity and positivity on the ball should at least ensure La Roja have the possessional nous to probe and test Poland's resolve at the back.

Related items

  • What Luka can learn from LeBron, Harden and Warriors' other superstar playoff foes What Luka can learn from LeBron, Harden and Warriors' other superstar playoff foes

    Michael Jordan has company at last.

    The Chicago Bulls legend was for a long time the only player to average more than 30 points per game in the NBA playoffs, yet Luka Doncic is now writing his own name into the history books in Dallas.

    The Mavericks superstar has a long way to go before he can come anywhere close to matching Jordan's achievements, but he has been spectacular in scoring 32.7 points per game through his first four postseason series.

    Not only is Jordan (33.4 points per game) the sole player to top Doncic's mark across a playoff career, he alone since 1963-64 joins the former EuroLeague sensation in scoring more than 750 points over his first 23 postseason games (823 for Jordan, 751 for Doncic).

    These look to be early steps in a truly great NBA career for Doncic, and he could yet end this season as a champion.

    The Slovenian was outgunned taking on the Los Angeles Clippers on his own in the first round in consecutive years, but the Mavericks made bold moves this year – most notably appointing Jason Kidd and trading away Kristaps Porzingis – and are now in the Western Conference Finals.

    Although Doncic averaged 32.6 points as the Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns in the second round, he crucially had help, now surrounded with defense and shooting.

    Dallas held the Suns to their three lowest points totals of the season (94 in Game 3, 90 in Game 7, 86 in Game 6), while Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie became the first team-mates to each score 30 points in a Game 7 since Los Angeles Lakers greats Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal against the Sacramento Kings in 2002.

    As the tournament heats up, Doncic will need all the assistance he can get – but any Mavericks title run surely depends on their main man being the best player in every series.

    That becomes a little tougher when Dallas are faced next with playoff veterans the Golden State Warriors.

    This is the 10th year of the Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors, in which time they have been to five NBA Finals, won three championships and seen off a whole host of superstars.

    There are plenty of examples for Doncic to learn from then as he prepares to take on the greatest team of the past decade.

    LeBron James (33.0 points per game, 7-15 record)

    Ja Morant, who scored 35 points against Golden State in last year's play-in tournament, averaged 38.3 points across three games in the 2022 second round until a knee injury ended his series and, ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies' season. That is the highest mark posted against the Warriors in the past 10 years, albeit with a limited sample size.

    Among those to play 10 or more games, James (33.0 points per game) leads the way. Equally as impressive, the four-time MVP has the most total playoff points versus the Warriors since 2012 (727) – despite spending the bulk of his career in the Eastern Conference.

    James did score 22 in a Lakers play-in win over the Warriors in 2021, but all of their 22 postseason encounters have come across four Finals series. Unfortunately, while James has excelled, his teams have not fared quite so well.

    Prior to Morant's explosion, James accounted for three of the four highest series averages against the Warriors over this period – 35.8 in 2015, 34.0 in 2018 and 33.6 in 2017 – but the Cleveland Cavaliers lost on each occasion. Their one Finals win came in 2016, when James scored 29.7 points per game.

    James had a little more help in 2016 – we'll come on to that – and the Cavaliers' various failures perhaps best illustrate the folly of Doncic attempting to take on a super-team alone.

    The 51 points James scored in Game 1 in 2018 were the most against the Warriors in a single playoff game in the past 10 years, but he was let down by his team-mates – we're looking at you, J.R. Smith – and Cleveland not only lost that series opener but were then swept.

    James Harden (29.8 points per game, 7-16 record)

    Harden's playoff career is best known for his repeated failures to get the better of the Warriors, losing all of his four series against Golden State while on the Houston Rockets, yet only James has scored more points in such matchups since 2012 (685).

    Counted among Harden's 23 postseason games against the Warriors in the past 10 years – only Iman Shumpert (24) has played more – are three 41-plus-point performances. James alone can top that (five games).

    However, Harden has also failed to reach 20 points on five occasions, twice shooting worse than 20 per cent from the field in 2015. Consistency is the key at this time of year, and Harden has not had that.

    The Rockets blew their biggest opportunity to make a first Finals since 1995 in 2018, when they led the Warriors 3-2 in the Conference Finals before Chris Paul went down injured. Houston lost Game 6 and Game 7, collapsing dramatically in the first of the two defeats as Harden did not contribute a single fourth-quarter point.

    Doncic, unsurprisingly, has never shot worse than 20 per cent in the playoffs, while his best shooting performance (63.2 per cent) came in Game 7 against the Suns and his career-high points total came in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers (46).

    Kyrie Irving (27.7 points per game, 5-8 record)

    Given Irving was the Cavaliers' second man behind James, it is difficult to draw a direct comparison with Doncic. But the point guard's performances show the sort of levels Dinwiddie or Jalen Brunson may have to reach to beat the Warriors if they are at the top of their game.

    Irving's 2015 Finals debut ended in Game 1 when he sustained a fractured kneecap, but he returned in 2016 and played a huge role in the Cavaliers' historic win.

    Cleveland were trailing 3-1 heading into Game 5 – a deficit that had never previously been overturned – only for Irving and James each to score 41 points, becoming the first team-mates to both top 40 in a Finals game. Irving shot 70.8 per cent from the field.

    As the Cavaliers recovered to win 4-3, with Irving shooting a decisive three late in Game 7, his usage rate was a lofty 30.7 per cent for the series, taking responsibility off James' shoulders. Brunson is the Mavericks' second man, although his usage rate of 29.7 per cent was boosted a little by playing three games without the ball-dominant Doncic.

    Damian Lillard (27.6 points per game, 1-12 record)

    If nothing else, Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers provide an example of how not to play the Warriors. Only former Blazers team-mate Rodney Hood (0-12) has a worse record in playoff games against Golden State in the past 10 years.

    A 43.7 per cent career shooter, Lillard has averaged 38.7 per cent from the field against the Warriors in the postseason. Sure, he has scored 27.6 points, but it has taken him 22.1 field goal attempts per game.

    When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are on the other side of the floor, you cannot afford to be so inefficient. Lillard's sole victory in 2016 came courtesy of his one 40-point performance – while Curry was out injured.

    Only Allen Iverson (26.5) and Jordan (25.1) have attempted more field goals per playoff game than Doncic (24.3), so there is definitely scope for the Warriors to profit if he cools off – not that there has been a great deal of evidence to suggest that is likely.

    Kawhi Leonard (21.9 points per game, 8-5 record)

    The man who has occupied Doncic's playoff nightmares in the previous two seasons surely provides the blueprint for how to enjoy postseason success against the Warriors.

    Leonard has played on two of the four teams to eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in the past 10 years; he has not lost a series to the Warriors – missing the entirety of their 4-1 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 – and boasts the best winning percentage of any player to face Steve Kerr's winning machine on more than 10 occasions over this period.

    The 2019 Finals showed the sort of standard that has been required to get the better of the Warriors in the past decade, with Leonard dominant as the outstanding player on the Toronto Raptors. He led the Raptors in points (171), rebounds (59) and steals (12) versus the Warriors, ranking second in assists (25) and blocks (seven).

    Doncic made strides on defense over the course of the Suns series, but whether he is capable of such an all-round display is very much up for debate.

  • Red Bull closing on Ferrari as F1 returns to Europe ahead of Spanish GP Red Bull closing on Ferrari as F1 returns to Europe ahead of Spanish GP

    The drivers' and constructors' championships both heating up as Formula One makes its seasonal return to Europe seems fitting. 

    After legs in the Middle East, Australia and North America, Red Bull are comprehensively in the fight against Ferrari heading into this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

    With consecutive race wins at the Emilia Romagna GP and Miami GP following DNFs in Bahrain and Australia, Max Verstappen has closed the gap to standings leader Charles Leclerc to 19 points.

    After coming perilously close to such an error at Imola, a single mistake or DNF for Leclerc and a full points haul for Verstappen could see momentum in the drivers' championship completely shift.

    Barcelona is a happy hunting ground for Verstappen, who claimed victory there in 2016 in only his first drive for Red Bull.

    It could continue if the reigning world champion secures pole position, having converted 14 career poles into 10 race victories, the best rate of any driver in F1 history.

    Meanwhile, with Sergio Perez also contributing with solid driving and good race pace on Sunday, Red Bull have cut the gap in the constructors' standings to only six points.

    Only in Monaco have the team collected more points than in Spain, with 332 compared to 312, but that could change this weekend.

    With a fifth consecutive top-four finish, Perez could equal his best such run of results, recorded between Turkey and Qatar last season.

    Ferrari set for upgrades

    The gravity of Red Bull's resurgence could arguably be crystallised in the likelihood Ferrari will have upgrades installed for this weekend after only tinkering and researching on race weekends to this point.

    Leclerc will be looking to lead from the front, with all four of his race wins in F1 coming from pole position.

    Carlos Sainz will also be hoping for a strong finish at his home grand prix, where he has accumulated the most points (40) in his career alongside Monaco.

    Can Mercedes challenge?

    While they might not be a championship contender in either the drivers' or constructors' standings, Mercedes have at least shown improved performance to potentially challenge for podiums and race wins.

    The Silver Arrows come into this contest having taken the past nine pole positions in Barcelona, and they will likely need to make it another to challenge on Sunday.

    Lewis Hamilton is still waiting to surpass Michael Schumacher for the most consecutive seasons with a race win.

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 104
    2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 85
    3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 66
    4. George Russell (Mercedes) 59 
    5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 53

    Constructors

    1. Ferrari 157
    2. Red Bull 151
    3. Mercedes 95
    4. McLaren 46
    5. Alfa Romeo 31

  • US PGA Championship: What a difference a year makes, with Mickelson opting out of title defence US PGA Championship: What a difference a year makes, with Mickelson opting out of title defence
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.