SPORTS: Pedro enjoys a rousing Chelsea revival in Antonio Conte’s title challenge

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Chelsea’s remarkable form shows no sign of
wilting. Claiming 12 straight Premier League
victories with 28 goals scored and two
conceded is title-winning form and with the
Blues holding a six-point advantage at the
top of the table, the omens look good.
Manager Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 template
looks invincible and it’s a credit to the Italian
that the players he deploys slot seamlessly
into the system and are capable of near
faultless performances week in, week out.
Among the stars to catch the eye is Pedro,
whose brace against Bournemouth on Boxing
Day helped seal another three points. Pedro’s
sublime first goal came as a result of some
beautiful interplay with Spain international
teammate Cesc Fabregas that also involved
Eden Hazard. Pedro’s awareness and speed
saw him perfectly positioned to latch on to
Fabregas’ perfectly weighted through ball. A
one-touch shimmy followed by a deft tight-
angle chip was enough to beat Bournemouth
goalkeeper Artur Boruc.
It’s easy when you know how, and there is no
doubting Pedro had the know-how when
Chelsea, at the behest of then manager Jose
Mourinho, paid Barcelona £21 million for him
in August 2015. A product of the Catalan
club’s youth academy, Pedro scored 99 goals
in 321 appearances for Barca, winning La
Liga five times and picking up three
Champions League winners’ medals. On the
international stage, Pedro had also won the
2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 with Spain
before arriving at Stamford Bridge. A very
fine pedigree indeed.
Unfortunately for Pedro, despite scoring on
his debut against West Brom he joined
Chelsea at the beginning of what was to
prove a cataclysmic season at the Bridge. By
Christmas, Mourinho’s empire had crumbled
and amid tales of dressing room skulduggery,
the Portuguese was sacked.
Given the subsequent upheaval that
culminated in Conte’s appointment, it would
have come as little surprise if Pedro,
destabilised by the goings on, had left in the
summer. Indeed, the player had spoken
openly about returning to the Camp Nou. Had
he left, the 29-year-old’s departure would
scarcely registered with supporters already
used to Chelsea rapidly churning through
attacking midfielders.
Juan Mata, Andre Schurrle, Mo Salah, Kevin
De Bruyne and Juan Cuadrado are names
that crop up in related conversations. Pedro
could easily have joined the list, especially
given that at the outset of this season he
started just one of the first seven league
games under Conte.
Going 3-0 down to Arsenal proved to be the
catalyst for change in the Italian’s game
plan, but a switch to 3-4-3 still saw no place
for Pedro in Chelsea’s starting XI. The
Spaniard was given six minutes off the bench
in the Blues’ 2-0 away win at Hull City — the
first victory in the current unbeaten sequence.
Willian being granted compassionate leave to
attend the funeral of his mother meant Conte
had to make a change for Chelsea’s next
game against Leicester City. Pedro was given
the nod and played well, contributing an
assist in a 3-0 win. Then followed a breath-
taking 4-0 rout of Manchester United in
which Pedro scored and assisted.
It is in such games that reputations are made
and the value of the Spaniard’s currency with
fans was on the rise. It was enhanced
markedly when he scored a stunning goal a
few weeks later against bitter rivals
Tottenham.
Suddenly, Chelsea supporters had a new hero.
As Pedro seized the opportunity presented to
him to prove his class, it has become clear
that Conte’s outstanding man management
skills and tactical nous has had a part to
play in the player’s success. By carefully
managing playing time which included
resting him for the away fixture with Crystal
Palace, Conte has ensured Pedro has the
energy reserves to constantly menace
opposition defences.
A fifth yellow card, picked up for a foul on
Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter, means
Pedro will miss out playing against Stoke
City on New Year’s Eve. This could be viewed
as a blessing in disguise as it means he will
be rested and available for selection a few
days later, when Chelsea travel to White Hart
Lane to face Tottenham.
With a likely front three of Hazard, Willian
and Diego Costa, no matter how the Blues
fare against Stoke, such is Pedro’s form at
the moment that Conte is likely to have him
pencilled in to start against Spurs.
Another standout performance at the Lane
would further underline Pedro’s value to
Chelsea.

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Posted in Sports

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