Matheus Pereira’s backheel brilliance marks him out as the PL’s new Payet

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In Slaven Bilic’s first season as a Premier League manager, he was able to call on the maverick brilliance of Dimitri Payet. This time around, Matheus Pereira may be able to fill that role.

Pereira made a permanent switch to West Bromwich Albion over the summer after starring in their promotion campaign, and the sub-£9million fee looks likely to be a real bargain regardless of Albion’s finishing position.

And, like Payet at West Ham, the Brazilian has already been able to blend set-piece brilliance with the kind of touches that point to a man who finds football that much easier than everyone else.

The recent defeat at Everton gave Premier League audiences their first glimpse of Pereira the set-piece expert, with a left-footed goal so unstoppable you could be forgiven for thinking someone had run a Payet delivery through a mirroring tool in order to trick copyright checkers.

It’s one of those strikes in which it feels like the ball has taken on a life of its own, looking at its surroundings to determine whether it needs to gain an extra kick like a 10,000m runner shaking his tail at the bell.

However, as we know, there are more ways than one to announce yourself to a new league, and the less meaningful displays can often leave more of an impression than those with a clear end result; as we saw from Pereira against Chelsea.

Albion were within seconds of earning their first win of the new league season when Chelsea came to The Hawthorns on Saturday, taking a 3-0 half-time lead but conceding to Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham after the break.

Pereira played his part as creator, laying on the opening goal for Callum Robinson that looked for much of the game as though it would set Bilic’s team on course for a famous victory.

But if there’s any justice in the world, our main takeaway from the game won’t be any of the six goals.

Instead, the only thing from the match which is likely to remain worthy of our attention for months to come came from the boot of Pereira with his team leading 3-2.

It’s the touch of a man who is only worried about what you think when there’s a chance you’re looking somewhere else.

He’s looked at Chelsea’s star-studded team and decided not enough people are talking about Matheus Pereira, but he doesn’t want to make it too obvious.

Hence the extremely casual way in which he lifts the ball over the head of Reece James only after a careful glance down the line. He knows where every team-mate is at any given moment, and if they’re not there then he has a way to conduct their movements until they are.

It’s like watching someone put hours of effort into creating the perfect level of mess in their handwriting, or a chef producing a deconstructed dish with a consciously thrown-together look. You need to try twice as hard to make a convincing argument that you’re not trying.

The best place for this kind of player is in a team with plenty of options going forward and a leaky defence further back; as was the case with Payet in east London, it allows your team to keep opponents occupied enough that space opens up for you to add a sprinkling of extravagance just because you feel like it.

You don’t need an excuse for this sort of thing if you’re Matheus Pereira; the spontaneity eventually becomes part of your personality while remaining impossible to defend against simply because the only rules it follows are the ones you’ve created for it yourself.

Of course, when all of that fails and your rivals find new ways of shutting you out, you can always fall back on those free-kicks.

By Tom Victor


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