Spain made it through to the final four of Euro 2020 on Friday night, overcoming a resilient and hard-fighting Switzerland side 3-1 on penalties after seeing out a 1-1 draw in normal and extra time.
It was another decent performance, with just that little something missing. Not many of Luis Enrique’s players hit top level, but there was one that stood out… again.
No prizes for guessing who. Yes, it was 18-year old Pedri.
The Barcelona teenager was playing his 61st match of the season and, somehow, seemed the liveliest and most energetic player on the field. He put in a real box-to-box performance, and was influential in most of Spain’s exciting and attack-building football.
His natural ability to find pockets of space in the opposition half and make darts in behind the defence was on show once more, as he gave holding midfielders Denis Zakaria and Remo Freuler not a moment’s rest. What makes the youngster such a joy to watch is that he uses his footballing personality to its maximum potential.
His runs beyond Alvaro Morata were always considered and timed to perfection. When the Juventus man dropped deep and dragged Manuel Akanji out of position, Pedri would dart in behind to stretch the opposition even further, create openings and offer a valuable option.
Furthermore, every first touch he took would come with a picture already in his mind, immediately making his next step a progressive one. Whether it be gliding past a challenge, turning the ball round the corner quickly and efficiently, or spraying it out wide to stretch the pitch, he used possession to its full potential against the Swiss – as he has done throughout this summer’s European Championships.
One moment that really stood out came in the first half. Receiving the ball with his back to play from Pau Torres, the 18-year old shaped up as if he was going to take a touch towards his own goal and simply recycle the ball to a defender. Instead, he sharply knocked the ball just over the half-way line to his left, finding Sergio Busquets and rapidly surging upfield to offer himself as an option again – the move took out three Swiss players who were applying the press, opened up the game completely, and set Spain on the front foot.
HIs work on the ball was matched by his desire and tenacity off it. As well as being his side’s driving force and spark creatively (registering five key passes), Pedri showed his age-defying maturity to never neglect his defensive responsibilities.
He was always on hand around his own penalty area to put a foot in, snatch possession back for his side and break up play. Throughout his time on the field, the 18-year old managed five tackles (more than any other Spanish player on the pitch) and two interceptions (only Busquets registered more).
He was everywhere, and undertook his work impeccably.
The same, however, cannot be said about his teammates.
While Spain create a lot – a bloody lot – of goalscoring opportunities (inspired in large parts by our teenage sensation), their lack of clinical edge was blatant against the Swiss. It’s true that, in the two previous matches, La Roja had bagged ten goals, but the defending in most cases was very messy. Against Switzerland, glaring opportunities went begging and, when facing top European nations like Italy or England in later stages of the competition, those will become costly.
Behind Pedri is a back line that simply do not look comfortable. For a side that base their game on possession, Pau Torres looked vulnerable every time he touched the ball – notably being outmuscled in his own defensive third by Breel Embolo as if he was a schoolchild coming up against a professional boxer.
It was verging on embarrassing and, had it been against more clinical opposition, Spain’s night could have panned out differently.
The Switzerland goal came from a shocking defensive mishap. Aymeric Laporte bundled the ball into Torres in a situation that so clearly called for a Sunday League-esque ‘get rid!’, before Freuler cleaned up the pieces and gave Xherdan Shaqiri a tap in.
These are mistakes that simply don’t pass when it comes to semi-finals and finals of major tournaments – and they need to change.
Pedri has consistently performed at a level that is befitting of a world class player ten years his senior. His creativity, tenacity, intelligence and all-round brilliance is astounding and, at times, it has really carried Spain.
La Roja have a natural superstar in their ranks but, if they’re to really going to get something out of these Euros, Pedri’s performances are going to have to be matched by those around him.