A lot of players just need one circumstance to thrive. After failing at many other places, they find home in one spot or situation. That brings the best out of their abilities and they become household names in the space of months. This is something West Bromwich Albion’s Matheus Pereira would surely identify with.
The attacking midfielder has caught the eye of just about every fan in the Championship. His performances are attracting attention from the Premier League fans too, who can’t wait till Pereira comes into the top-flight with the Baggies next season.
A player with immense flair and creativity, Pereira has been key to the Baggies so far. For a side that is playing good attacking football under Slaven Bilic, he has been the chief creator. The club has seen Grady Diangana play out his best season in senior football, with Charlie Austin also scoring four goals so far. Matt Phillips and Hal Robson-Kanu are also thriving, contributing to a total of 15 goals in the Championship.
Then there’s Pereira. The 23-year-old has contributed to as many goals as Robson-Kanu and Phillips combined. He has five goals to his name, racking up a tally of ten assists as well. In the Baggies’ 4-2-3-1 shape under Bilic, Pereira is usually playing in the number ten position while being around Diangana and Phillips. One of Austin or Robson-Kanu play upfront, if not third-choice striker Kenneth Zohore.
It is surprising how playing in England has brought the best out of the player. It is rare for a Brazilian to come in and make an immediate impact. Especially in the Championship, which is a much more challenging league than the Premier League in terms of how many games teams play. But Pereira is loving it.
His most productive season in senior-level football came in the 2017-18 campaign with Chaves in the Liga NOS. He was on loan from Sporting and Pereira had a tally of seven goals and five assists. Last season, he was on a temporary deal at Bundesliga outfit Nuremberg. He scored thrice, assisting twice but couldn’t keep the club up in the Bundesliga.
For Chaves, Pereira was a regular on the left-wing or on the right-wing. For Nuremberg, he was a right-winger. But playing in the number ten position is helping him a lot at the Hawthorns.
Playing centrally, Pereira has come up with 2.4 key-passes per game. He is completing 1.1 dribbles per game, showing how he is more creative than quick. His blessed fair of feet make it tough for the opposition to catch him- exactly why he is fouled 2.8 times per game.
Playing in that role often exposes him too, as Pereira has been dispossessed the highest number of times at the club- 2.1. He has also come up with the second-highest number of bad touches per game at 2.1. But all that is a given considering how creative he has to be on the ball. The more he tries, the higher the output and the more are the mistakes.
Bilic recently drew comparisons with Luka Modric and Dimitri Payet, but he also told that the team’s efforts have been helping Pereira. He told The Times:
“Everybody likes to play with young players who are good on the ball. Is it Luka Modric when he was a kid in Croatia? Is it Manuel Lanzini? Is it Dimitri Payet? But I’m praising the team. To get Pereira into those positions, they need other players — Jake Livermore, Romaine Sawyers, the full-backs – it’s the whole team.”
There is no burden on him to play deeper. He has two sitting midfielders in Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers behind him. This gives him the freedom to create for others and score himself.
Because of this, Pereira has been one of the best in the Championship. Despite not scoring as many as Jed Wallace, Eberechi Eze or Jarrod Bowen, he has contributed to more goals than anyone else in the league, bar Aleksandar Mitrovic. These are players who have been in the Championship for a while now, but Pereira is outperforming them in his first season.
Playing for a settled side is helping Pereira. He isn’t playing for a struggling side like Nuremberg or Chaves. Those sides were contenders for relegation, while West Brom are at the top of the Championship. That is working to Pereira’s benefit. He has the atmosphere and an environment that is conducive for the development of players. Diangana’s and Nathan Ferguson’s examples also show that.