Paulinho looks to be on his way out of Spurs and White Hart Lane, but should we let him go so soon?
“Players want to play,” said Paulinho whilst back in Sao Paulo. Followed by another sound bite that “there is interest from Brazilian clubs and “maybe there is the opportunity to go back.”
Signing the 26-year old was a major coup last summer, as we beat a host of other clubs to his signature. He’s failed in Europe before, an ill-fated time in Lithuania and Poland saw him score just 5 goals in 58 appearances.
However, an excellent 4-year stint at Corinthians followed that saw him net 25 times in 112 matches. Then came Brazil’s Confederations Cup success, with him being an integral member of the team that swept aside the then World Champions Spain.
As he arrived at White Hart Lane, we looked to have signed a dynamic box-to-box number eight. A player that had an exceptional engine and could not only be a force in recovering the ball, but also to get forward in to the opposition’s penalty area.
We’ve seen glimpses of what he can do, but nothing consistent with what was advertised when he arrived. He does have a number of core competences, but we haven’t used them often enough to get the best out of him.
Paulinho was renowned for this in Brazil and his effort and work rate were second to none.
It started with his ability to regain the ball in the defensive phase. This was either through pressing the opposition or by screening his back four. Paulinho’s powers of ball recovery were a vital part of Corinthians’ success.
It was something he brought to Spurs in his early starts for Andre Villas-Boas. The player was signed for the Portuguese coach and he arguably got the best out of him.
One of his first performances of note was in our early trip to the Emirates that season.
AVB was looking to create a very strong and physically imposing midfield to dominate the opposition. He did just this as we had a whopping 56% possession at the home of our biggest rivals, something we’ve not seen there in a long while, whilst also controlling large parts of the game.
Paulinho was a force in winning the ball back in our half, but also pressing up to regain it in the opposition half too.
In our next Premier League match with Norwich, Paulinho was at it again, helping to control the game with his ability to recover the ball in both halves.
But he wasn’t just a player that would win back possession. Paulinho would then be looking to support the play from box-to-box.
In our next match against Cardiff, we can see how he not only received the ball from our defenders, but also from passes back inside to him throughout the pitch.
This culminated with him getting the ball in the box. He took four shots from inside the penalty area, including the one for the winning goal at the death.
Soon after up at Sunderland, he was showing his energy to get from box-to-box, as he once more covered the ground. Again he was a presence in the opposition’s penalty area with four more shots from inside 18-yards.
This is a key part to Paulinho’s game. He is a threat to score goals if the system gives him licence to get in to the box, as this is where he is at his most dangerous.
Short yard strikes
If you’d never seen him before, you only had to watch Paulinho in the Confederations Cup to see how his late bursts in to the penalty area caused trouble for the opposition.
Operating from a number eight role in Scolari’s 4-3-3 system, Paulinho scored twice in four matches. An excellent finish from a Dani Alves cross in their first match against Japan was an archetypal goal for him. A late-timed run in to the area and a close range strike.
Getting in to the box, often with late runs, are how all of Paulinho’s goals have arrived in a Spurs shirt.
Take his first goal for Tottenham, as he arrived with a delayed burst in to the box to back heel Erik Lamela’s squared pass in to the goal.
It was just rewards for Paulinho who moments earlier had been denied by an excellent save from David Marshall. The Brazilian had started his run from the centre circle, then took Lewis Holtby’s through pass to in to the box, but saw his dink over the on-rushing Cardiff keeper saved.
His second Premier League goal arrived up at Sunderland. Again Paulinho was just yards out as he hoovered up Nacer Chadli’s headed knockdown.
His third goal of the season came away at Hull. Paulinho’s late run in to the box once more saw him gobble up Danny Rose’s driven shot that was palmed out. He reacted instinctively and fired it past Steve Harper from close range.
Number four arrived two games later, away at Newcastle. Once more it was a delayed run in to the area that saw him strike from just yards out. He was quickest to Emmanuel Adebayor’s parried effort with Tim Krul stranded.
His fifth Premier League goal also came from a couple of yards away, as he displayed his underrated aerial prowess to nod the opener against Fulham.
His sixth and last Premier League goal came against Villa, as he once more made another late run to get a shot away inside the penalty area. Brad Guzan managed to smother it, but couldn’t stop Paulinho rolling the ball home from just a few yards out.
Six goals, all from inside the penalty area, often in and around the six-yard box courtesy of late runs that defences were slow to pick up. Paulinho has to be given licence to get forward in any system he plays in, otherwise it limits his effectiveness.
Paulinho for Pochettino
Whilst Paulinho was a good fit for Andre Villas-Boas’ system, he was less so for Tim Sherwood’s often use of 4-4-2. Mauricio Pochettino’s 4-3-3 should also allow him to excel, but for two reasons.
The first is that Mauricio Pochettino uses his number eight as more of a player to distribute and move the ball forward through passing. This is done to hit the centre forward coming short and the wide forwards who are supposed to run off him. Ryan Mason currently has this role.
The second is that this player is not often required to burst forward in to the box, but to support the attackers from the edge of the penalty area.
We can see here how Ryan Mason supports Christian Eriksen as our front three of Adebayor, Chadli and Lamela look to run the channels against Southampton.
Later in the game, we can see how he doesn’t over-commit as Lamela tries to dribble inside the box.
At corners he often takes up a position on the edge of the area.
His only goal for Spurs, which was a spectacular one, arrived from a driven effort from outside the area. This type of goal is very befitting of the player in this role in Pochettino’s system.
This role of the number eight in Mauricio Pochettino’s system is different to how Paulinho prefers to play.
The Brazilian is not a natural creative passer. He also would’ve been looking to get up in to the penalty area through a late run or to sniff out any rebounds.
So far we’ve only seen him when the new coach has used him as a second striker off the centre forward. Paulinho did a decent job against Limassol where he jumped a pass between the defenders to set up Harry Kane to score. He then netted a goal, predictably from close range inside the penalty area, after Vlad Chiriches dispossessed a Limassol player.
Paulinho can play this second striker role, but as we saw when AVB tried to use him in the number ten position, he looks uncomfortable. This is because he is not used to making creative passes, neither is he good at starting his runs from much higher up the pitch.
Why we cannot give up on Paulinho
Mauricio Pochettino does need more attacking support and if used correctly Paulinho could provide this for him.
The Brazilian brings box-to-box pitch coverage and energy, but his ability to get up in the opposition penalty area shouldn’t be underestimated. We’ve lacked that this season from a player who can run off the centre forward, with Nacer Chadli the only one so far doing this successfully.
Paulinho has been rumoured to be on his way out of White Hart Lane before when linked with a move to Serie A last summer. This time it could well be more appealing with clubs in his homeland on the radar.
We may not be using Paulinho correctly, but letting him leave now may just be giving up on a talent that was a highly prized capture when we signed him.