The rumoured imminent arrival of Zenit St. Petersburg’s Leandro Paredes has made many fans ask themselves the same question: who is he? Is Paredes good enough to play for Chelsea? What can he offer the team? This article gives all the important information you need in order to get to know the highly rated Argentinian midfielder.
When the rumours first emerged that Cesc Fabregas was looking to leave Chelsea, Maurizio Sarri was quick to react by saying that he would need a replacement for his back-up ‘regista’ as cover for Jorginho’s position would be of the highest importance. This issue was underlined during Chelsea’s game against Newcastle at the weekend when the Italian coach no longer had anyone to come off the bench despite Jorginho apparently “struggling”, according to Sarri. There’s little doubt that the club is currently looking for a new face to come in and take up the Spaniard’s spot in the squad, with several names having popped up in course of the past two weeks. One such player is a midfielder who has somewhat faded into obscurity recently due to a move to Russia; his name is Leandro Paredes and he could be exactly what Chelsea needs.
An Argentinian international and already an experienced player at the age of merely 24, Paredes has been one of the most highly regarded midfielders in the ‘regista’ position for a while now and could very well be the perfect Fabregas replacement for a host of reasons. This article intends to present an in depth analysis of the player’s style of play and to offer insight into the many strengths and few weaknesses of the former Roma player. It also aims to elaborate on why Paredes would be a sound addition to this Chelsea squad, maybe even constituting a better option to Jorginho in certain situations.
The road from Buenos Aires to St. Petersburg
Leandro Paredes started his journey as a professional footballer in his home country of Argentina during the 2010/11 season, playing for domestic heavy weights, and coincidentally also his boyhood club, Boca Juniors in 29 games over 3 years. Still being a 16-year old teenager, the highly promising and talented midfielder unsurprisingly found it hard to receive minutes on a continuous basis initially but was able to cement his place as a squad player in the 2012/13 season, featuring in 20 games that year at the tender age of 18. In 2014, Paredes made the daring step to move to Europe and joined Italian side Chievo Verona on a six month loan deal, though he once again rarely featured (one short 15 minute cameo in half a season); however, this time an injury (fracture) was the reason for his lack of minutes and hindered the Argentinian from getting off to a flying start in Serie A.
At the beginning of the following season, AS Roma put their trust in Paredes and a further loan ensued for the midfielder, this time lasting for the entire 2014/15 season. Despite only starting 5 games in all competitions, Roma decided to take the risk and paid Boca Juniors £5.40 million for Paredes’ services, though they immediately loaned him out to fellow Serie A side Empoli on the last day of the summer transfer window 2015 (coincidentally, not quite 2 months after Maurizio Sarri left them for Napoli). Under Marco Giampaolo, who took over from Sarri and continued playing a very similar brand of football, Paredes had his first breakout season and made some huge steps in his development as a player. After an initial settling-in period, he became an essential part of Empoli’s midfield by November and went on to feature in overall 33 of 38 games (2.489 minutes) that season, scoring twice and recording one assist.
When the Argentinian rejoined Roma, he had become a far more assured and solid presence in midfield who began to take on the shape of the player we know him for today. Paredes was certainly up for the challenge and played a considerable part in the Italian giants finishing second that year. 41 games in all competitions (2.392 minutes despite missing two months with injury) was an impressive amount for a 22-year old in his first season at a big club and Paredes even scored 3 goals. While this may not seem like an impressive tally, scoring isn’t one of the common facets of the midfielder’s game.
Due to rumoured disciplinary issues and an alleged falling out with Luciano Spalletti, Leandro Paredes only played one full season in Rome and went on to make the move to Zenit St. Petersburg during the 2017 summer window in a deal worth about £20.7 million. Since then, the Argentinian international has featured in 61 games for the Russian side and has become one of the first names on their team sheet, playing an integral part in their domestic and Europa League campaigns last year. While the past season came to a disappointing conclusion for Zenit due to a fifth place finish, this year has been the exact opposite as Sergey Samak’s men currently lead the league table and Paredes has been at the heart of their success, the Russians only losing once in their opening 15 games with the Argentinian in the side.
With Chelsea rumoured to be close to striking a deal for Paredes this week, it’s worth taking a closer look at more than merely his past and the following sections will concentrate on three major areas of his play, namely his passing, his attacking ability and, lastly, his defensive prowess.
Style of play
Being able to play in both a double pivot or as the deepest lying player in a three man midfield, Paredes is a ‘regista’ who tends to organize play from deep in his own half. Despite not possessing much pace, this position suits his physical and technical abilities very well as his passing and vision on the field truly compensate for his shortcomings in respect to speed. Both of these areas certainly count to his strengths and could even be deemed world class due to the Argentinian’s phenomenal ability with his right foot; add to this that Paredes isn’t only very quick in his decision making but also has an extremely high success rate at passing (despite his risky style of doing so) and Chelsea could have a highly exciting player on their hands. In theory, Paredes is also able to perform reliably as a RCM or LCM but whether he’d be as effective further forward is doubtful and may not suit his style of play.
Ball control and passing – the master of low driven balls
The ability to pass is arguably the most important trait of a ‘regista’ and Paredes is a very special player when it comes to this specific area. On average, the Argentinian makes 62 passes per game with a 87.5% pass success rate this season. Though he tends to remain further back while in possession, Paredes always supports his team mates by offering himself as the open man in order to rapidly shift from defense to attack and start the build-up play for an attacking move. He does well to link up play between defense and midfield from a deep starting position and is also able to see passes that you’d normally associate with, for instance, Cesc Fabregas, preferring to drop in between his centre-backs instead of carrying the ball forward like Mateo Kovačić. While such ‘quarterback-esque” passing is a quality Jorginho may possess, the Italian rarely makes use of it and the Argentinian, on the other hand, opts to do exactly that, accelerating the speed of play and not minding to take risks, especially as these passes often find their intended target.
Paredes’ high passing success rate is truly phenomenal as Jorginho may have an even higher one with 90.5% but merely records 0.7 key passes per game compared to Paredes’ 2.1. A further area in which the two differ is that the former Roma midfielder doesn’t tend to play one touch football as frequently as Jorginho; rather, Paredes invites (sometimes insane amounts of) pressure with his first touch to provide team mates in front of him with the necessary time to make runs into the vacated spaces and, as a result, frequently catches the opponent out of position. By taking an extra touch, he basically invites pressure and lures opposing players into running at him and, while this may seem risky, Paredes always seems to be in control of the situation, his physicality contributing greatly here. Essentially, Paredes is consequently able to bring an injection of pace into a team’s passing, as well as in regard to getting the ball up the pitch. Moving the ball with tempo is something the Blues have been lacking this year and, by trying to speed things up, this partially explains why Paredes records less passes per game compared to Jorginho.
It’s also worth noting that while Paredes does like to take an extra touch, he’s very much capable of playing the same way Jorginho does, ergo with one touch passes, and therefore does just as well when playing out from the back. Quite notably, the midfielder has always had an immense amount of composure for a player his age and it makes him seem nearly completely immune to opponents who utilize a high press. Despite only being 5 foot 9, one of Paredes’ great strengths next to his passing ability is his physical presence as opposing players tend to have an extremely hard time dispossessing the Argentinian due to his excellent close control of the ball (0.8 times per game on average), often only being able to resort to a foul in order to stop him. Paredes has become somewhat of an expert in regard to using his body to his advantage in one-on-one situations and runs around with a swagger as if he already knows he’ll ease past an opponent, something which is highly enjoyable to watch. The midfielder also rarely miscontrols the ball, counting merely 0.7 times per game.
As a traditional but dynamic ‘regista’, one of Paredes’ finest qualities is his ability to make astonishing low to half-low driven passes which severely punish opponents if they let their guard down, cutting through them like a knife through butter. For many, this is the one aspect of Paredes’ game which makes him truly special as he is able to come up with a sublime, world class pass out of nowhere and these defense splitting balls frequently lead to threatening situations for opposing sides. The Argentinian has learnt to adjust the shape of his body right before making these low passes which leads to opponents being fooled in regard to the direction of the ball; one could even say Paredes has developed his own technique of passing here and this aspect of his game can prove to be essential against very compact teams. Importantly, he is perfectly capable of doing so with both his right and his left foot, though his right one is naturally the midfielder’s preferred option. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that Paredes can also eye some magnificent passes with his weaker foot, even when under severe pressure.
While these low driven passes may be his specialty, the Argentinian international has also mastered the art of possessing a pinpoint accuracy in regard to his long balls. Similar to David Luiz, the player records a staggering 7.6 successful long balls per game compared to Jorginho’s 2.4, a statistic which illustrates one of the big differences in their play. No matter what sort of long ball, Paredes can literally execute them all equally well, which is also why he resorts to them regularly. Once again, Paredes has developed his own technique of hitting these long passes and this aspect makes them so quintessentially effective and dangerous. The midfielder’s crossing isn’t bad either though I wouldn’t necessarily refer to it as one of his strengths; then again, residing in these wider areas is rather uncharacteristic of him so one shouldn’t expect the current Zenit player to hit too many crosses.
To sum up, Paredes could be characterized as a mixture of Fabregas and Jorginho in his favoured position and he will certainly contribute to Chelsea’s passing picking up the pace as his individual style of play and his potent low and long balls give the team an extremely potent outlet to initiate attacks.
Attacking ability – the search for a goal scoring midfielder continues
Coming to his attacking contributions, this area isn’t one of the major strengths of Paredes compared to his passing and defensive contributions; however, he has recorded, as already mentioned further above, 10 goals and 15 assists in 61 games for Zenit St. Petersburg over one and a half seasons. If we take a look at his overall tally while at Empoli, Roma and Zenit, then the midfielder has actually scored 16 goals and 18 assists in 148 competitive games, with merely two coming from the penalty spot. While these numbers may appear quite meagre, in comparison, Jorginho has ‘only’ 6 goals and 14 assists in 160 games for Napoli (his goals mostly coming from penalties) despite playing in more or less the same position. The actual value of this particular stat is of course debatable.
Paredes certainly isn’t a goal scoring midfielder so it’d be unrealistic to expect him to consistently contribute an insane amount of goals at Stamford Bridge, especially due to him sitting back most of the time. Even though the Argentinian certainly has the ability to come up with the odd cracker (something Jorginho hasn’t been able to do for most of his career), his 1.9 shots per game are ‘only’ on target 36% of the time this season and illustrate that he’s not going to produce these moments of brilliance too often. The Chelsea target is however very astute in starting counter-attacks and, while the Blues may no longer rely on this style of play, it’s a good skill to have in Paredes’ locker. The midfielder doesn’t resort to dribbling too often (0.6 times per game on average) as he prefers to look for the pass and keep the ball in motion.
Finally, Chelsea may currently have a variety of specialists for dead ball situations in form of Willian, Hazard and Alonso, but Paredes is also a perfectly viable choice when whipping in free kicks from further out, being able to place them in dangerous areas and frequently find a connection with aerially potent players like Olivier Giroud or Antonio Rüdiger.
Defensive ability – fight, fight and more fight
While Paredes isn’t overly prolific in attack, the defensive side of his game is certainly one of his assets. Apart from the Argentinian being rather poor in aerial duels, Paredes makes up for any short comings regarding his height through a strong physicality, tenacity and extreme aggressiveness in one-on-one situations. As is the case with his ability to easily overcome an opponent’s press, Paredes knows how to employ his body to his advantage in order to fulfill his defensive duties and does so expertly, even against physically imposing players. Generally, he does remind one a bit of Diego Costa due to his combative nature and his ‘get-in-the-opponents-face’ attitude which are both highly effective and entertaining. This polarizing behaviour does of course lead to him being booked frequently as he’s received 45 yellow cards in course of his career. Despite his aggressiveness, Paredes has surprisingly never been shown a straight red card for his roughness.
Paredes’ discipline issues represent one of his few weaknesses as he has the tendency to commit numerous fouls in course of a game (1.8 on average). However, it’s worth noting that the midfielder isn’t shy to take one for the team and commits tactical fouls when necessary, highlighting a great awareness of his surroundings. The key is that Paredes may get booked but has the ability to then immediately calm down, adjust his behaviour and then receive no further booking, a quality which is illustrated in him only being sent off for a second offence thrice since 2010.
From a personal perspective, it’s truly a joy to watch Paredes regularly slide into a challenge with a crunching tackle as his no-nonsense approach of doing so often leaves opponents comically rattled. The Argentinian certainly has no fear of putting his body on the line and due to his way of fairly, but powerfully dispossessing opponents through his tackling, he’ll definitely take to the Premier League like a duck to water. A 70% tackle success rate and 1.6 interceptions per game underline Paredes’ combativeness and Chelsea would surely benefit greatly from his defensive prowess.
Paredes’ third and final weakness, next to his poor aerial presence and occasional showing of ill discipline, is that he tends to switch off after venturing forward and then requires some time to get back into position. While such adventurous bursts forward don’t happen too frequently, they do highlight the Argentinian’s lack of pace and exemplify why he prefers to stay back; it’s also worth noting that this particular vice is something many fans have tended to criticize Jorginho for this season. Maurizio Sarri and the player would certainly need to work on this ‘deficiency’ as the possibility of Paredes taking too long to track back is the only aspect of his game which can be deemed irritating at times.
Cynics may argue that this laziness originates from the midfielder simply being unchallenged in the Russian league and that this situation would rapidly change in England. Whether or not such an assertion is true, this possible explanation shouldn’t serve as an excuse for Paredes to maintain such lapses in concentration and thus this weakness would need to be eliminated from his game. However, all in all, this one negative aspect shouldn’t deter Chelsea from securing the services of the highly rated Argentinian international as such defensive frailties can certainly be worked on in training.
Overall, Paredes doesn’t possess any glaring weaknesses in the attacking and passing side to his game; on the contrary, the Argentinian does phenomenally well delivering short, long, chipped or drilled passes with pinpoint accuracy and his individual way of hitting low driven passes and retaining the ball are certainly top-drawer. Defensively, Paredes is definitely more physical and tenacious than Jorginho and his aggressiveness in one-on-one situations is truly an asset to any team.
There are however the three aforementioned flaws in the defensive side of his play and while his occasional lack of concentration and discipline can be improved upon, his shortcomings in regard to his aerial prowess and pace will remain. Paredes may not provide you with a high amount of goals and assists but, as a ‘regista’, this isn’t his primary concern in a system such as Mauricio Sarri’s.
Personally, I believe that Paredes would be an incredibly sound signing. The rumoured fee of approximately £20-23 million, similar to the amount Zenit initially paid, would be a fantastic bargain for a 24-year old midfielder with both bags of potential and a lot of room for improvement. If Marina Granovskaia is able to complete this transfer then Chelsea would most likely only profit from Leandro Paredes wearing the royal blue.
On a side note, it’s important for me to clarify that this article isn’t intended to be overly critical of Jorginho or attempts to claim that Paredes is the superior player to the Italian. I rate Jorginho highly and merely intend to propose that Paredes would add another dimension to Chelsea’s play in midfield.
Written by Jimmy Funnell (@JimmyFunnellCFC).