Since the era of the Xavi-Iniesta midfield, Barcelona have not been able to repeat that incredible tiki-taka. Luis Enrique’s vertical style was fast and won a lot for Barcelona. However, it just wasn’t the art that Guardiola’s Barcelona created.
Ernesto Valverde came next and with a very difficult start to his season with Neymar leaving and Barcelona being humiliated by Real Madrid in the Supercopa. His job was by no means straightforward. Neymar, part of the deadly trident that he formed with Messi and Suarez, left and because of this Valverde had to do no less than re-engineer the whole team. This saw him bring in the Brazilian Paulinho.
Paulinho was not by any means young and not was he a player that one would expect to go to Barcelona. However, because of him being a utility player he proved to be very effective and was always in the right places at the right times. With Guangzhou Evergrande offering a lot for Paulinho and Barcelona financially, he was loaned off and eventually bought.
With this saga over, Valverde and anybody watching Barcelona’s matches knew that somebody similar to that profile has to be brought in. And here we are, with the person being Chilean veteran Arturo Vidal.
It was very clear that Paulinho was a very important asset to Barcelona. Here, we will analyse whether Vidal holds the same importance.
As of now, midway into the season, Vidal has started 11 of the 19 matches he has played in. Averaging 48 minutes per match, we see from his heatmap that he has either played as a right centre-mid or a central defensive midfielder. Paulinho’s heat map shows he played majorly on the right of the field in both attacking and defensive positions.
Vidal, at 180cm and Paulinho at 181cm, are virtually similar in height. Defensively, they both play or played a key part for Barcelona. In midfield, at 0.6 interceptions Vidal is more than sufficient to cover Paulinho’s 0.4. However, the Brazilian makes 1.1 tackles to Vidal’s 0.7 per match. Considering this, both have similar records in the number of times they are dribbled past per match at 0.8. However, the more aggressive physicality of Vidal means he’s dispossessed only 0.4 times in a match compared to Paulinho’s 0.9. The very close fight for supremacy in defence continues with the Chilean having committed more fouls per match.
From these numbers, Vidal had proven himself to be a very good replacement to Paulinho. However, to consider the full range of their abilities, it’s apparent that attacking facets must also be considered.
In the attacking department, Paulinho is a much more prolific goalscorer than Vidal. With 2 goals in 19 matches for Vidal but 9 in 34 for Paulinho, the Brazilian has a high scoring frequency at a goal every 215 minutes to Vidal’s 464 minutes passing between two goals.
But what is impressive is that Vidal is quite active in creating chances for a defensive midfielder. He has 4 assists in 19 matches whereas Paulinho is far behind at 2 in 34. Not only that, but Vidal has already created 5 big chances for Barcelona which is on par with Paulinho’s throughout his stay with the Catalans.
There is one aspect that is very similar in both midfielders. They play a similar role in Valverde’s tactics. This is to be expected if we consider Vidal as Paulinho’s replacement. There are very small details that differ in their tactical instructions.
Both can be seen approaching the edge of the box when the ball is on either wing ready for a cross. Vidal will tend to go in for a header standing in line with Luis Suarez as far as possible. But Paulinho used to either stay on the edge of the box and wait for the ball to fall to him or stand near Suarez like Vidal but he would tend to get more tap-ins than headers due to his positioning.
Vidal also plays a more aggressive role than Paulinho. Paulinho will tend to fall back when needed to try and push the opponent off the ball. But Vidal, not being the fastest of players will generally look to cut passing lanes. As mentioned before, he does have a better rate of interceptions than the ex-Barcelona player. Again, we can tie this up with the statistic of Vidal creating more chances. His interceptions further up the pitch naturally allow for more offensive passes.
Vidal and Paulinho both, have been brought in for a short term role. They do provide the utilitarian player role that was expected from them.
So is Vidal really what Barcelona wanted? In short, yes. He has fit in very well into Valverde’s system. His work rate, determination, stamina has been displayed in every opportunity he has been given. And from the analysis, we can conclude that he does help Barcelona in ways that Paulinho did and more.
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