‘Finding space’: This midfielder is more important to Barcelona than people realise


Barcelona’s signing of Arturo Vidal in the summer of 2018 wasn’t met by too much enthusiasm. The Chilean was never seen in the same light as the technical midfielders that the club had in the previous decade. He was a mismatch when compared to players like Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

But no one thought it this way: Barcelona have never really had a player like Vidal over the past decade either. No one has seen his tenacious approach to the game in any of the players in the past- be it Ivan Rakitic, Xavi, Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Andre Gomes or Sergio Roberto.

On paper, Vidal’s value seems very little. He has started just one game for the Catalans this season, appearing five times from the bench. He has scored two goals. But both have come when Barca won their games by big margins (against Sevilla and Real Betis).

In the Champions League, he has made two substitute appearances. He has played only 49 minutes. That isn’t spectacular by any means.

But the manner in which he made a huge difference against Inter says a lot. He isn’t a starter. But the game against the Nerazzurri shows that he is a very handy, situation based player.

1-0 down at half-time and being nullified by the Inter midfield, Vidal came on to play the second-half. Frenkie de Jong came deeper as the holding midfielder and Vidal played as the most advanced midfielder. He brought a lot of tenacity and resiliency, chasing down the likes of Nicolo Barella and Marcelo Brozovic. He put pressure on them, allowing Barca control in midfield.

The former Juventus man assisted Luis Suarez’s first goal in what was a game-changing performance. Even though De Jong’s influence was key, it would not have been possible without Vidal coming on.

Ernesto Valverde hailed Vidal’s influence after the game. He said:

“We needed to change something up top. With Busquets, Arthur and Frenkie we had a lot of control but we lacked finding space, a tackle… in the end they were stuck deep at the back and we could turn it around.”

Despite having pretty less, Vidal has won two tackles per game- the third-highest at the club till now. He has also completed the second-highest number of dribbles per game- 1.6 (via Whoscored).

That is just a definition of Vidal. If you hold up these stats and ask anyone as to what Barcelona player they can belong to, the answer will be obvious. That is exactly why Vidal carries unique value. In the right situation- when circumstances favour him, he can still change games.

Ernesto Valverde isn’t a manager who prefers to play the game like how Pep Guardiola used to. It is slightly more pragmatic and direct. Last season, he started 22 times and came off the bench 11 times. He assisted seven times, winning the third-highest number of tackles per game (via Whoscored).

That shows that Vidal can still do a job for Barca under Valverde, considering the style has remained the same. When opposition teams are dominating games and refusing to allow Barca control in midfield, Vidal can come on and stamp his authority like no other. None of De Jong, Ivan Rakitic, Busquets or Arthur can do that.

But it worth noting that with increasing age, Vidal’s value in the market is also decreasing. There are players like Nicolo Barella and Ander Herrera in the market who belong to a similar batch of players as Vidal. Barcelona could look to cash in on Vidal if the right offer comes in. That will not be a bad deal at all.

Chinese clubs are always after South American players and can often offer big money to their clubs for them. A deal like that will make sense.