One to Watch: Leandro Paredes
Author: ExWHUEmployee. Published: 16 March 2018 at 9:28pm
Written by HarryRawlings @harryrawlings1
In my last column I highlighted the importance of signing a central defensive midfielder and outlined the qualities that Lucas Torreira could bring to the club. Now, I want to explain further why it is so imperative we sign someone new, assess our current midfielders, and explain what tactical options it would present David Moyes with if we had a specialist in that position – assuming he stays past this season.
We have had a real issue with defending as a back 4 over the past 3 seasons. Even in our successful final season at Upton Park we were regularly conceding 2 or 3 goals a game and always looked exposed. Kouyate is a box to box midfielder; he has been poor over the past 18 months, especially with regards to the defensive side of the game. He has failed to track midfield runs on numerous occasions which has led to easy finishes for opponents and he lacks a tactical awareness to protect the back 4. He is a midfielder that needs someone behind him which can give him that license to go and do what he does best – driving the team forward with his runs. Mark Noble is our ball player who makes himself available and is not afraid to do so, the stats show we struggle without him as he keeps everything ticking over; even if this means backwards or sideways passing. Whilst he is tactically very aware and knows when to go forward or when to stay back, what defensive shape the team should take and barks the orders round, he can sometimes be physically beaten by strength and pace and again, is not a defensive midfielder. He, like Kouyate needs to play his game with someone protecting behind. Pedro Obiang on his day is a Rolls Royce of a midfielder. He can pass, shoot, tackle and run endlessly but this season he has shown to be a bit too inconsistent. He also lacks aggression and tries to play the miracle ball a bit too often for someone who wants to play in the position. While I do like all 3 players and their certain qualities, playing one of them in the holding role is just a square peg in a round hole, something we’ve seen far too often over the past couple of seasons.
If we look at Moyes’ best era as a manager at Everton, where he had time to build and develop a squad, he primarily played a 4-4-1-1. This could work well with the players we have. Arnautovic being the free man behind Chicharito, or, Lanzini in the hole behind Arnautovic leading the line could be options. Then for example, Lanzini and Mario (or a similar type of player if he leaves) could play as inverted wingers like Pienaar /Osman /Miralles /Barkley used to do at Everton. These technical players who drift off the wing and operate in the half spaces then create room for overlapping full backs and create overloads in wide areas. We would be able to get a lot more crosses this way, compared with our current 3-5-1-1 set up which offers no width. This might sound great but for these players to get forward there needs to be someone disciplined at the base of the midfield. I am a big fan of our well known targets in this position i.e William Carvalho of Sporting Lisbon or Leander Dendoncker at Anderlecht, but now I would like to mention another which we should be looking at.
Name: Leandro Paredes
Team: Zenit St.Petersberg
Paredes enjoyed a breakthrough season at Roma in the 16/17 season, having come through the Boca Juniors academy and being on loan at Empoli. Having made 27 appearances in the 16/17 Seria A season, he scored 3 goals and had an 88% passing accuracy, 82% dribble completion and 67% tackle succession. Surprisingly, Roma sold him to Mancini at Zenit for 25million so he has played there this season.
Footballing countries have their own interpretations of what roles certain shirt numbers have, and in Argentina, the number 5 is the prestigious one. Paredes is a typical Argentinian number 5 who is the general, sitting at the base of the midfield, breaking up play and dictating the tempo of the match. Let’s start by assessing his defensive skills. By being a specialised number 5, he is normally the deepest player in the midfield and has an excellent positional awareness, knowing exactly when to drop back and cover defenders out of position, track runs into the box or just hold his position. What makes him extra effective is his quick acceleration when he anticipates a pass where he dashes to intercept it. Combining this with his aggression and desire to win the ball, he is a man that is hard to get around in the middle of the pitch and protects his defence very well. He is also mature with his tackles, knowing when to stay on his feet and not just dive in and give free kicks away. If we signed him this would allow us to play a flat back 4 instead of a 5 and have another attacker without being exposed like we would be now.
His pace is quite unique for a typical player you would expect to see in that position. But his qualities do not stop there. When he does win the ball he will look to drive forward himself and has the ability to go past players, using his pace and tight ball control. This would be particularly useful when setting up for the counterattack. Instead of relieving pressure by booting the ball away, particularly like we do against bigger teams when we are sat back, he can beat a man, drive forward and then has a fantastic range of passing to play to teammates who are making the counter attack runs behind.
Paredes also has a very powerful and accurate long shot, and a great whipped delivery on corners and free kicks, which is something which we have lacked since Payet left. His delivery from free kicks and corners should increase our percentages of scoring from set pieces, as the bigger players will have a quality ball to attack. What I love about him when I watch him is his range of passing. He can hit raking cross field balls with ease from both feet, he can give quick 1, 2’s when in tight areas but his best asset is that he has his head up and wants to pass forward and break the lines. Players like Lanzini and Arnautovic would benefit greatly from finding spaces if he was picking them out. He fizzes the ball to the feet of other players which makes it harder to intercept and really does put opponents under pressure. He is not bothered about backwards and sideways passing to bolster up his pass completion percentage but is really focused on breaking teams down and being effective when in possession.
If I were to compare him to someone I’d say he is a better, more athletic, Jonjo Shelvey with a more advanced disciplinary. Seeing as we were linked with him in January and are so desperate for a player of that ilk, I would love for us to scout him for the remainder of the season and make a move for him. He could potentially be going to the World Cup, so using the Argentinian link with Lanzini and Zabaleta could be an option for the club to explore in their bid to sign him. Some people will say ‘if he is that good why haven’t a top club signed him’ and to that I would say that big clubs like Madrid and Liverpool are looking at him, but there is so much competition within those squads to get a game. So, coming to the premier league into a team trying to show ambition (as the board said they would) could become an attractive prospect for him if he would be one of the most important players.