That game was supposed to be easy. That game was supposed to be done by the 60th minute. And yet, it wasn’t. Barcelona won the UEFA Super Cup yesterday on the back of a dispiriting performance, one in which seemingly two teams showed up.
The first sixty odd minutes saw the Barcelona of the treble winning season, the Barcelona that was head and shoulders above the rest of Europe.
After Éver Banega put Sevilla up 1 in the third minute off of a glorious free kick, Lionel Messi decided to better his countryman and score not one but two free kicks. He scored the first one mere minutes later and another in the 16th minute and just like that, Barcelona were in business. A Rafinha goal just before half time and then a Suárez finish in the 52nd minute made it 4-1, and that was seemingly the death knell.
Or so we thought.
Sevilla refused to welt, refused to go away and in the 57th minute José Reyes made it 4-2. That goal was, to me, the turning point. Barcelona began to fade away (their defense was basically nonexistent for an hour) and that’s when Sevilla made their move, attacking the flanks mercilessly and taking advantage of Jérémy Mathieu time and time again.
It was Mathieu who gave up the penalty in the 72nd minute, and it was on the side he was occupying where Konoplyanka equalized in the 81st minute, with Ciro Immobile turning Marc Bartra into a turnstile before squaring for Yevhen.
By the time extra time rolled around, I couldn’t foresee a scenario where Barcelona would win this game. Sevilla appeared more physically fit, more mentally astute, and were quite aggressively chasing the game in a way Barcelona was not. Their final half hour was light-years ahead of their display in last year’s Super Cup, a drab 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid.
Then Pedro Rodríguez checked in.
Getting saved by Pedro is never ideal, in much the same way getting saved by Coutinho week in and week out isn’t (dig at Liverpool: check). You can count on Pedro to do a crap ton of running, though, and that is exactly what he did. He checked in during the first few minutes of extra time and, for twenty minutes, did all the running Messi and Suárez wouldn’t do. He chased and tried to break down Sevilla’s attackers. He ran on the break. And then, in the 115th minute, he ran to slot home a goal off Beto’s deflection of a Messi free kick.
Pedro likely played his final game in a Barcelona uniform last night. He was never the superstar other attackers were, never the most reliable finisher or the most creative attacker. What he was, however, was an under-appreciated, tireless worker who would do whatever was asked of him with little or no fuss, which is why he is probably perfect for Louis van Gaal.
What van Gaal wants from his wingers is that they do the job asked of them, no added flair necessary. It’s why players like Rivaldo, Juan Roman Riquelme and Hristo Stoichkov hated playing for the man. They thrive on their creativity, creativity that is surplus to requirements in a van Gaal system.
That will go over just fine with Pedro, though, who suffers when he is doing anything that requires some creativity. Simply put, Pedro is a workhorse, and in the right system, when he is asked to just tirelessly run, he will thrive.
Will Pedro make Manchester United more aesthetically pleasing? Hell no. They’ll still look awful, as they did against Tottenham. What Pedro will do is make that team more cohesive. They will look more like a team with a defined #philosophy. They will finally look like a team that knows what it wants to do – something they struggled with in LvG’s first season at the helm. (Of course, it may take van Gaal another two months of dicking around to do that.)
Pedro will never be mistaken for a game changer, a guy you can build around. If he’s your primary attacking force, you’re basically screwed. But if you want someone to fill in the gaps, someone to do a little bit of everything while asking nothing, then you can do worse than Pedro.