This weekend, Barcelona slumped to a third successive home defeat at Camp Nou for the first time ever in a single season, with some of the spotlight landing on a player who wasn’t even on the pitch.

Xavi’s side fell behind after just seven minutes against mid-table Rayo Vallecano, yet were unable to claw back any ground in the 83 minutes of fruitless toil that followed, leaving LaLiga rivals Real Madrid needing to accrue just one more point from their final five games of the season to clinch the title.

With Xavi arriving at the helm, Barca embarked on a 15-game unbeaten run in LaLiga between December and April that saw them rise from seventh to second in the table. However, a shock 3-2 home defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarterfinals, followed by a similarly galling 1-0 league loss against relegation-threatened Cadiz four days later, punctured the mini-renaissance.

Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
– Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access

Sunday’s disappointing result against Rayo means Xavi’s side still have work to do in securing qualification for next season’s Champions League. But perhaps Barca’s latest defeat shouldn’t have come as a major surprise — especially to anybody who has been keeping a close eye on the club’s league record with and without Pedri in the team this season.

The 19-year-old missed the game against Rayo with a hamstring injury that first forced him to be subbed off at half-time against Frankfurt and has since ruled him out of Barca’s last few fixtures.

This has understandably come as a major blow to the Blaugrana, who have relied heavily on their prodigious midfield maestro this season, particularly on the domestic league front, although Xavi has attempted to play down his importance in the past.

Still, it would appear that Pedri has become something of a talisman given that they are completely unbeaten in all 12 of the LaLiga games (W10 L0 D22) in which he has featured during the 2021-22 campaign and have noticeably struggled (W8 L6 D7) in those that he has missed.

Barca also averaged 1.39 xG in their last three LaLiga games, but in the three games previous to that (with Pedri in the side) that figure was 2.12. And they created 33 chances to 42 with Pedri in the team over the same time period.

This phenomenon has even given rise to the term “Pedri-dependencia” in Spanish football circles, in reference to the midfielder’s intrinsic importance to Barca and their perceived inability to break stubborn opponents down without him pulling the strings.

Pedri has missed 33 games in all competitions since the start of the 2021-22 campaign, with various muscular injuries responsible for the majority of his absence.

Since making his debut for Barcelona at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, he has played an inordinate amount of football for club and country — amassing 74 games in all competitions for Barca as well as 23 games for various Spanish national sides.

This includes Pedri’s infamously jam-packed international schedule over the summer of 2021 that began with him playing 629 minutes across six games for Spain at Euro 2020 — the only “rest” being granted amounting to the final 60 seconds he spent on the bench after being subbed off in the 119th-minute of La Roja’s quarterfinal win over Switzerland.

Just 16 days after his European Championship involvement came to a close, he then joined up with Spain’s under-23 Olympic team and proceeded to make a further six appearances (559 minutes) at the Games in Japan as his side reached the final.

This all came after he had already played 52 games in his breakthrough season with Barca, totaling 3,526 minutes on the pitch, in which time he became the youngest-ever player to make 50 competitive appearances for the club.

By the time his protracted 2020-21 campaign was over, Pedri had spent a grand total of 4,594 minutes on the pitch — that’s roughly 0.04% of his entire life up to that point.

No wonder the poor lad has been struggling with his hamstrings this year.

Source link