Is There a Role for Pedro in Antonio Conte's Chelsea Side?

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Pedro of Chelsea wipes his brow during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on May 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

We're expecting casualties of Antonio Conte's new Chelsea regime this summer, and Pedro may well be one of the highest-profile.

It was only June when the Spaniard spoke of a desire to leave Chelsea. Pedro told beIN Sports (h/t Simon Johnson of the Evening Standard) he wanted a return to former club Barcelona.

"Hopefully [I can return to Barcelona] but I know it's hard," Pedro said. "[...] I have already spoken about it with the president. ... It's complicated, but I've always said that I would like to retire at Barcelona."

A few days after that interview was published, Pedro retracted his comments.

"Admittedly it seemed like I was going back [to Barca] this summer, but I have a contract with Chelsea, I've only been there for a year and it'd be very difficult for a return to happen," he explained to Spanish radio station RAC1 (h/t Jamie Anderson of the Daily Star).

Depending on how Conte sets his new Chelsea team up, that decision could be out of Pedro's hands. There doesn't seem to be a natural position where he fits in at Stamford Bridge, and that should be his concern.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 15:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates with his teammate Pedro Rodriguez of FC Barcelona after scoring his team's third goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Levante UD at Camp Nou on February 15, 2015 in
David Ramos/Getty Images

Throughout his career, Pedro has rarely played with an out-and-out striker as a team-mate. He's very much a child of the tiki-taka system championed by Pep Guardiola, which meant the rise of the false nine at Barca, with Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and even Pedro himself occupying the striker position.

With Diego Costa as Chelsea's striker last season, that all changed. Pedro was part of a three-man attack behind the frontman, playing either on the left or right side of a No. 10

That system seems to be going from Chelsea now Conte is on the scene. We're expecting anything from a 3-5-2 to a 4-2-4 or even a more traditional 4-4-2. Whichever way Conte goes, the expectation is two strikers will be leading the line in Chelsea colours next season.

What that means is Conte requires a different skill set from those who play in behind the frontmen. If it's a 3-5-2, the manager needs wing-backs to supply the width and also midfielders in central areas who can affect games defensively as much as they do in attack.

A 4-2-4 or 4-4-2 needs wingers, and given what Chelsea already have in those positions, Pedro doesn't exactly come out top of the pile. In either of those latter systems, Eden Hazard and Willian would seem the more likely players to be building that midfield around, while we can't forget that Juan Cuadrado is returning to Chelsea after his season-long loan with Juventus.

Juventus' midfielder Juan Cuadrado from Colombia celebrates after scoring with Juventus' defender Patrice Evra from France during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Palermo on April 17, 2016 at the Juventus stadium in Turin.  / AFP / MARCO BER
MARCO BERTORELLO/Getty Images

After his first six months at Chelsea, it's difficult to imagine Cuadrado having a future in west London. He was dreadful, and his signing weakened Jose Mourinho's side. He didn't suit the team's style of play, struggling to make any sort of impact.

Cuadrado is a winger, though, and he demonstrated with Juventus he has all the attributes Conte will be looking for to provide width to this Chelsea side.

Pedro can play that wide role, yet his desire to cut inside and play more centrally will be the Achilles' heel for what Conte is trying to achieve at Chelsea. The manager will have players in those central areas, performing certain jobs. It means he needs those on the flanks to stay there if Chelsea are to open teams up.

Conte's style of play may not be the most easy on the eye, yet it is incredibly effective. Each player has a role to play, and when they suit the system the manager is deploying, the results can be impressive.

He did it with Juventus, and Conte this summer took an unfancied Italy team to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. They did it the hard way too. Not only did Italy face Belgium in the group stage, but they were also drawn against Spain in the last 16.

BORDEAUX, FRANCE - JULY 02:  Antonio Conte head coach of Italy gestures during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between Germany and Italy at Stade Matmut Atlantique on July 2, 2016 in Bordeaux, France.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

On each occasion, they defeated superior opponents 2-0. When they faced Germany in the quarter-finals, it was only some poor decisions in the penalty shootout that saw their journey come to an end.

Conte had Italy competing with some of the best players on the planet. Italy stifled them and from there played their own game to good effect.

The stakes are much higher at Chelsea. Conte is inheriting a squad full of stars that has seen Roman Abramovich spend lavishly to compile. He can't just choke opponents to win matches; he needs to be somewhat more proactive.

It's why he will need those wide men at his disposal to be effective and play their roles the way he asks them to. Individually, there is no comparison between Cuadrado and Pedro; the Spaniard is the superior talent, yet one seems a more natural fit under Conte.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Pedro of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on May 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

We could even say the same when comparing Hazard and Cuadrado, but then Pedro doesn't have the same profile asthe Belgian. Pedro isn't the sort of player managers adapt for, whereas Hazard is. He is Chelsea's biggest star, and Conte arrives with a mandate to get him firing again after last season's disappointment.

The good news for Conte is Hazard has shown he can operate as a wide man and also through the middle. There's even a debate to suggest he could play as the second frontman alongside Diego Costa, being the Gianfranco Zola to Costa's Mark Hughes if we're looking for a Chelsea example.

It's not as clear for Pedro, and when he returns for pre-season training in the coming weeks, he may well find the only role for him at Chelsea is as a cheerleader from the bench.

    

Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes.