Leicester City came to this season with high ambitions. After finishing in the eighth spot under Claude Puel last season they knew that improvements were needed. Such improvements are not only to stay in the top-flight but to fight for a European spot; something they secretly miss after a huge success in 2016/17. Veteran Jonny Evans, youngster James Maddison, and midfielder Nampalys Mendy were among the names brought into the squad.
One interesting addition to Leicester this season was a Portuguese right-back, Ricardo Pereira. Pereira was bought from FC Porto last summer with quite a hefty fee, €22 million. That price tag was logical considering the fact that he was one of Porto’s main protagonists to help the club clinching the Liga NOS title last season. So far with more than 20 league games under his belt, Pereira has proved himself as one of the highest-potential full-backs in the Premier League.
Who is Ricardo Pereira?
Let’s take a look at Pereira’s profile.
Pereira is a versatile full-back who can play on both sides, but he prefers the right-back position as his main role. Pereira is also an aggressive player who previously played as a right midfielder. He was the top-scorer of 2012/13 Portuguese Cup; a feat he accomplished by playing as a right midfielder.
Leicester’s main option
Puel’s more offensive approach suits Pereira’s attacking abilities, thus making him the first-choice right-back this season. Pereira also possesses a decent defensive ability which has helped Leicester to only concede 34 league goals so far this season; a respectable number for a mid-table side, better than Manchester United and Arsenal.
In the image above, we can see that Simpson comes out as the clear winner. Claudio Ranieri‘s preferred low-block 4–4–2 in the 2015/16 Premier League season is the main reason why Simpson has produced better defensive numbers than Pereira. Simpson has produced more interceptions, more clearances, and more blocks; making him a better reader of the game than Pereira. On the positive side, we can see that Pereira manages to make 3.9 tackles per game so far, twice more than Simpson ever produced in that league-winning season. This proves that Pereira is a more aggressive defender than his senior.
Puel installs a more attacking attitude for the Foxes. He allows his full-backs to bomb forward and create chances; with Pereira and Ben Chilwell as the main outlets. So far, Pereira has created two goals and four assists from his 23 appearances this season. To compare, Simpson created has zero end-products with seven more appearances.
Pereira’s aggressiveness is also shown by the high amount of shots per game he has made so far (0.9 shots per game). The Portuguese also has made an average of 1.7 successful dribbles per game and been fouled 1.5 times per game; a relatively high number for a full-back. Furthermore, Pereira averages one key pass per game until this very date, five times more than Simpson did a few seasons ago. This is why Puel trusts Pereira to be his main option as Leicester’s right-back.
The best in his class?
Before making early judgments to answer that question, let’s compare Pereira to two of the most promising right-backs in the mid-table first: Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace) and Matt Doherty (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Due to Palace’s tendency to play defensively, Wan-Bissaka prevails in this comparison. With 2.4 interceptions and 0.5 blocks per game, the 21-year-old Englishman rises as the better defender of these three. Even so, Pereira is able to produce a high number of defensive products. He averages three clearances, 3.9 tackles, and wins 0.3 offsides per game, relatively the same rate as what Wan-Bissaka has created so far.
As we can see from the image above, it shows that Doherty produces better offensive statistics than Pereira and Wan-Bissaka. He averages 1.2 shots and 1.1 key passes per game, which makes him a useful weapon for Wolves this season. But, we must also take into account the fact that he’s often deployed as a right wing-back in Nuno Espirito Santo’s favoured 3–5–2. Being a wing-back means Doherty has more freedom in the flank and has less responsibility in defence.
Now let’s see Pereira’s numbers. He creates 0.9 shots and 1.1 key passes per game, just slightly behind Doherty’s numbers; and almost three times more than Wan-Bissaka’s. Pereira proves that he’s a very energetic right-back since he’s got fouled 1.5 times per game, far above Doherty and Wan-Bissaka’s numbers combined. Pereira’s end-products are very good, too. With two assists and four goals, he’s just one goal shy from Doherty’s tally of seven goal contributions.
What if we compare Pereira to Premier League’s top right-backs at the moment; Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), and Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)?
Pereira is definitely not the best defensive right-back in this comparison; shown by his high numbers of dribbled pasts and low amounts of blocks per game. Chelsea’s Azpilicueta leads these sectors, with numbers at least three times better than Pereira’s. Pereira also makes 1.3 fouls per game so far, a lot more than the remaining three; their combined average is 0.8. Pereira has also got dribbled past far more often (twice per game) than his counterparts.
In other aspects, Pereira surprisingly comes out as the winner. He makes more tackles (3.9 per game), more interceptions (1.8 per game), and more clearances (three per game) than his top rivals. To be honest, Pereira leads those sectors with a relatively big gap, especially in tackles and blocks.
Interestingly, Pereira puts up a hard fight in offensive comparisons. With 0.9 shots per game, his number is just slightly smaller that Alexander-Arnold’s; and a lot more Trippier and Azpilicueta’s. He has got fouled more often than his top rivals; twice more than Trippier and five times more than Azpilicueta. He also creates 1.7 successful dribbles per game, almost two times more than his rivals’ numbers combined. Furthermore, his goals and assists statistics are better than those of the remaining three.
From the comparisons above we can see that Pereira is arguably better than his mid-table rivals. Defensively, he is able to produce numbers of a defensive full-back like Wan-Bissaka. On the other side, his creativity and offensive threats allow him to create outputs in the level of an offensive wing-back, such as Doherty.
Pereira has not reached the elite status yet, as we can see from his relatively low defensive numbers when compared to the Prem’s finest right-backs. However, his grit and aggression allows him to produce high offensive numbers. This is what makes Pereira a very valuable asset for Leicester.
The Portuguese is still 25; not even in his prime age yet. Indeed, he has to improve his defensive game, but with so much attacking potential, he verifies himself as one of the best-potential right-backs in English football right now. With the traits he possesses, elite clubs will swarm around him this summer.
What’s next for Pereira?
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