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More end product than Hazard: Pedro’s Chelsea form reminds Barcelona what they let slip

7:23 pm AEST 30/9/17
Pedro Chelsea
The World Cup-winning forward took time to settle in Premier League surroundings, but his undoubted ability has shone through at Stamford Bridge

As Neymar packed his bags for Paris over the summer, one man could have been forgiven for cracking a wry smile as he monitored events in Barcelona from afar.

The Brazilian’s arrival at Camp Nou in 2013, coupled with the £65 million signing of Luis Suarez a year later, meant that a certain World Cup winner was nudged towards the exits.

Chelsea 14/1 to win Champions League

Having been a key component of Pep Guardiola’s mesmerising tiki-taka brand of football, Pedro was an unfortunate victim of a Catalan revolution.

Despite helping Spain to conquer Europe and the world, and Barca to countless major honours at home and abroad, the hard-working frontman’s face no longer fit – there was no place for a ‘P’ in the era of ‘MSN’.

After five successive seasons of making 20-plus starts in La Liga, in 2014-15 Pedro was handed only 15.

He remained an important squad player, and a firm fan favourite as part of a star-studded class of La Masia academy graduates, but a career crossroads had been reached and some tough decisions lay ahead.

In August 2015, amid interest from Manchester United – against whom he had famously netted in the 2011 Champions League final – Pedro took the decision to bid farewell to his roots and try his luck in London.

Chelsea stumped up around £19m and a new chapter in a distinguished career was opened.

Now, in a Neymar-inflated world of €222m transfer fees, a deal which was considered to be quite a coup at the time looks even better. Championship clubs can pay close to £19m for a player in the rather warped marketplace of 2017, but two years ago you could land a man who has won just about everything there is to win for the same price!

Barca had no need to sell either having tied Pedro to a new deal a matter of weeks before his departure – with those terms reported to have included a €150m release clause.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said amid the exit rumours: "Pedro has just renewed his contract. I'm reading that he doesn't play much, but he forms part of the club's history. He was part of the first treble-winning side and now the second.”

How they must be cursing a relaxing of that stance now.

With Neymar gone and questions being asked of Suarez following an uncharacteristic dip in form, Barca have found themselves in a position where a proven forward would be worth his weight in gold.

They have invested €150m worth of faith in Ousmane Dembele – a 20-year-old with just two full seasons of senior football under his belt and only seven international caps to his name – and could yet splash out a similar amount in luring Philippe Coutinho away from Liverpool.

Chelsea, meanwhile, are reaping the rewards of catching Clasico rivals cold.

The £70m purchase of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid already looks to be sound business, as he has slotted seamlessly in the boots vacated by Diego Costa, while Pedro remains a vital, if somewhat unheralded, cog in a Stamford Bridge machine ticking along nicely under the guidance of Antonio Conte.

The 30-year-old initially took time to settle in England, despite starting with a bang as he scored one and assisted another in a memorable debut against West Brom.

Quality such as his will always shine through, however, and few at Chelsea have got close to matching his end product as a creative influence over the course of the last year or so.

Only the now departed Costa (29) has been involved in more efforts (goals and assists) for the Blues since the start of 2016-17 across all competitions than Pedro (27) – with even the much-heralded Eden Hazard coming up short.

That situation remains the same when taking things back to the Spain international’s arrival in England, with 18 goals and 12 assists contributed across Premier League and Champions League competition –with another five efforts netted in domestic cup outings.

Hazard has 20 goals at elite level, 10 assists and three strikes in the cups.

He may have seen others steal the headlines – Costa’s goals, Cesc Fabregas’ assists, Hazard’s spark and N’Golo Kante’s destructiveness – but Pedro has shown himself to be a key man, one who delivers with a smile on his face and a strut in his step.

Conte said of his Spanish schemer in January: “He’s always in the right position to press to win the ball and also to score goals. We are seeing the best moments of Pedro. This is the Pedro who played this type of football when he was at Barcelona.”

Barca, of course, had no way of knowing that Neymar’s ego would inflate to a point that he no longer found it possible to operate alongside fellow star turns, but their sanctioning of a £19m sale in 2015 of a man who prides himself on being a team player has been very much their loss and Chelsea’s gain.