Why Joao Pedro Is Watford’s Key to Survival

Emmanuel Dennis, Joshua King, and Ismaila Sarr are the three main names that come to mind when considering the Watford attack. However, an injury to the latter has demanded the former two to step up, as well as young forwards Cucho Hernandez and Joao Pedro. After missing the start of the season due to injury and needing a few matches to return to full fitness, Pedro has started to show the priceless value he can give the Hornets in their search for safety. 

Starred All of His Career Thus Far

Despite being just 20-years-old, Pedro is no stranger to being in the spotlight for his club. Watford officially signed Pedro for £4 million in the January 2020 transfer window, though they secured rights for the player one-and-a-half years prior. The scouting masterclass by the Hornets showed immediate dividends, with Liverpool at one point vying for Pedro’s signature from Fluminense, but they were unable to make a move as he was already set to be a Watford player. 

In Pedro’s first 200 minutes of professional football, he scored six goals and provided one assist for Fluminense, including a hat-trick in the Copa Sudamericana. His senior season with the Brazilian side did not see such prolificacy continue, though he nonetheless became a key fixture in their starting eleven.

Once he turned 18 and was thus eligible to move to England, he did not see the pitch too much for Watford in his inaugural English campaign. He made three cameos from the bench in the Premier League before Watford were relegated. 

Once in the Championship, Pedro played a key role in making sure the Hornets did not stay there for long. When he was on the scoresheet, Watford were golden. In 38 appearances, he found the back of the net nine times and provided two assists: in every match where Pedro notched a goal contribution, the Hornets won. Despite going on a dry run towards the end of the season, he was still a pivotal part of Watford’s push for promotion from the first whistle of the campaign to when a return to the Premier League was clinched. Only Sarr exceeded Pedro for Watford goals in the 2020/21 campaign.

Adjusting to Premier League Well

It took Pedro until the 14th match of the season to complete his first full-ninety in the top flight. Nonetheless, he was able to make the most of his opportunities before that point, using his cameos to show why he deserves a starting spot. He assisted as a substitute in a come-back 5-2 victory at Goodison Park. Against Manchester United, Pedro’s strong finish put the game out of the Red Devils’ reach. Then came his first full-ninety, a narrow 2-1 defeat against Chelsea on December 1st.

He has played as both a center-forward and left-winger this season, though the position is fluid during the match as his attacking partners rotate between the central and wide positions as part of Claudio Ranieri’s free-flowing counter-attacking football. He scored a wonderful goal from a tough angle against Leicester City in the FA Cup, and then he found the back of the net in what could be the kickstart to Watford’s season by equalizing deep into the game against relegation-rivals Newcastle United. 

Joao Pedro’s Versatility Necessary for Linking Play 

When all of King, Sarr, and Dennis are fit, it is expected that they would be Ranieri’s first three choices in the attack. However, Pedro has recently given Ranieri food for thought, with the Brazilian’s contributions showing the importance he has in the starting eleven.

His three league goal contributions this season were all important, and of course, as an attacker, he needs to be able to continue to find the back of the net and create. That is not at all a worry. The way he leaped for the header in Saint James’ Park to keep Watford (temporarily/for now) above the drop zone showed the mature-finisher’s head on young shoulders. His wonder-dribble against Tottenham on New Year’s Day when he ran through the entire Hotspur lineup before being fouled just outside of the box shows the footwork prowess he has. On many occasions, whether it be assisting Dan Gosling impressively for a pivotal goal in the push for promotion last year or this season’s passes in the final third, Pedro has proved he has an eye to create when it is needed.

The ability he brings into the starting eleven that no one else at Vicarage Road does is being well-equipped at picking up the ball in the middle of the pitch and linking play during counterattacks. He drops back well to defend in a Roberto Firmino-esque role, and when he is found in transition from the backline or midfield, his dribbling talent and vision allow him to create effective counterattacks. King is good at bringing the ball down and holding up play when needed. Dennis’ and Sarr’s dribbling-with-pace skills are world-class. Pedro is the one who combines dribbling with drop-back play in the most effective way. 

Whether he is deployed out wide or starts as center-forward, he always finds a way to drift into central-attacking positions to be a true, multidimensional catalyst for attacks. This season, for Premier League attacking-midfielders and wingers, he ranks in the top percentile for defensive actions that led to a shot attempt (source: FBREF), epitomizing how he retreats when necessary to defend and then spurs effective Hornets’ attacks. 

Even when Sarr returns, choosing a starting eleven will be difficult for the head coach. Pedro is showing why he can play an important role in Ranieri’s counter-attacking playing style. The sky is the limit for Pedro, and he may still be many years away from his prime. There is still so much for the youngster to learn, but the Hornets might need him to step back into the spotlight now, for if he does not, then Watford will likely be stricken with relegation, and perhaps even a Pedro departure. 

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