In Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro, Barcelona boast three of the most clinical finishers in the game. While the abilities of the former two are widely recognised, it is the natural finishing of Pedro which is often underestimated. In his breakthrough season of 2009/10, Pedro was ruthlessly efficient in front of goal and until the spring only required two shots for each goal. While that average ratio dropped slightly by the end of the season to a shade over three shots, it was nevertheless far better than any other big-name striker with the likes of David Villa, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie requiring roughly six-to-seven shots per goal.
The Spanish international has an unerring ability to find the bottom corner and is equally at home using either his left or right foot. Consider, for example, his goal in April 2010 against Real Madrid when, latching on to a Xavi through-ball in the inside-right channel, he took the ball onto his left foot to ensure an easier finish rather than engineer the ball onto his ‘stronger’ right side.
It is the type of finishing that led Guardiola early last year to say that Pedro had become “absolutely fundamental” to la Blaugrana. Since then the 23-year-old’s stock has risen yet further having demonstrated a flair for scoring against high-calibre opposition with strikes against Inter, Real Madrid (three times) and the crucial opener in May’s Champions League final against Manchester United. Like Samuel Eto’o before him, Pedro has shown there is nothing more valuable than a striker who will rack up the goals – irrespective of the quality of the opposition.
It is not only the standard of Pedro’s finishing which makes him such an important player it is how smoothly he fits into the team. Schooled at La Masia, his nimble feet allow him to duck and dive to form an integral part of the tiki-taka approach of both Barcelona and Spain. However, he complements the metronomic ball retention with a directness of approach and, in the post-Eto’o and Thierry Henry world, his emergence has filled the cut-and-thrust void. While Zlatan Ibrahimovic had once been regarded as the ideal ‘plan B’, it is the directness of Messi and Pedro which ultimately justifies and validates all that possession.
The arrival of Alexis Sanchez offers greater competition for first-team places at the Camp Nou. Given that Barcelona are scheduled to play 65 matches this campaign, the signing of the Chilean will enable Guardiola to rotate his squad better than ever before. Rather than run Messi and Villa into the ground, they, along with Pedro and Sanchez, can now feature around 45 times a season rather than an exhausting 50-60 times. This way their long-term fitness and freshness for the business end of the season will be collectively preserved.