Why we cannot give up on Paulinho

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.

Box-to-box presence

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.


Paulinho pressing and screening against Arsenal.

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.


Paulinho ball recoveries against Norwich.

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.


Paulinho passes received Cardiff 0 Spurs 1.

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.


Paulinho passes received, Sunderland 1 Spurs 2.

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.


Paulinho finishes from close range.

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.


Paulinho reacts quickest to Nacer’s 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.


Paulinho hoovers up the rebound.

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.


Paulinho is the fastest to the loose ball.

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.


Paulinho heads home from close range.

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.


Paulinho prods home from close-in.

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.

mason-position-spurs 1-southampton-0

Mason in supporting position to the front three.

Later in the game, we can see how he doesn’t over-commit as Lamela tries to dribble inside the box.


Ryan Mason supports from the edge.

At corners he often takes up a position on the edge of the area.


Ryan Mason ready to strike from distance at corners.

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.


Ryan Mason lets fly from distance.

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.

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24 Responses to Why we cannot give up on Paulinho

  1. Bleedlilywhite 13th November 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    How about his performance at WC this summer? Was he used incorrectly as well?

    If he is better suited for offensive MF role, where can he be helpful? Centre? Flank?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th November 2014 at 6:02 pm #

      That Brazil side was a mess and destructed under the pressure of having to win on home soil. The Confederations Cup win was good for them at the time, but also a bad thing overall, as it raised expectations even higher as they beat the then supposedly invicible Spainish side.

      Scolari knows how to use him, but Paulinho looked exhausted from several years of constant football without a summer off. He also looked low on confidence after his first season with us and he carried that form in to the World Cup. At the time the confederations Cup he was doing well for Corinithians having won the Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup.

      I see him being best used from a deeper position in a midfield three. Just in front of a holding player such as Capoue and behind a number ten like Eriksen. He needs to be given licence to get forward in to the box though. This is something i’m not sure that Pochettino will allow his number eight to do and why he has sparringly used Paulinho off the striker instead.

      • Bleedlilywhite 13th November 2014 at 8:14 pm #

        Unless Poch will use a diamond formation in 4-2-4 with Paulinho on the bottom of it, he cannot be truly effective, can he? I doubt that will happen. Well, there are many good players that would not be effective at WHL. They have to be elsewhere. So does Paulinho.
        Obviously, it is hard to show an enthusiasm while lack of confidence is killing you. That is why not every talent can become a star footballer.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th November 2014 at 10:59 pm #

          I think he can be effective. He was brought to play 4-3-3 and his skillset fits that kind of system. Not every player will work out, but why not give the lad a go and some time to prove his worth. He’s shown glimpses of what he can do, so its not like he’s some newbie from the lower leagues trying to make the grade. If he doesn’t work out then sell him in the summer.

  2. NCYIddo 13th November 2014 at 7:01 pm #

    Cardiff, Hull, Sunderland and Norwich.
    All he’s good playing against.
    Totally mediocre and a waste of money.

    • Chris 13th November 2014 at 9:06 pm #

      He got 8 goals last season from midfield. Eriksen, who most would say had a good season, got 10 and doesn’t really offer any defensive capabilities.

      Which of Stoke, Newcastle, West Brom (etc) are you ok with us not scoring against? I assume only goals against top-6 sides are of value?

      • NickyJJ 13th November 2014 at 9:31 pm #

        I’d be tempted to point you towards the point-securing goals Eriksen scored against West Brom, Manchester United, and Southampton (all non top 6 sides), but that aside, I think there’s a stark difference in the two in that Eriksen is only 22 years old and has massive, massive upside, whereas Paulinho doesn’t have the same superstar potential, and he’s never put together the same great, consistent run of form that Eriksen managed. While they scored a similar number of goals, Eriksen was our Player of the Year last season for a reason. He offers creative nous that no one else really does, and we desperately need it.

        • Chris 13th November 2014 at 9:34 pm #

          Sorry mate, I wasn’t trying to compare them directly – they play very different roles.

          • NickyJJ 13th November 2014 at 9:39 pm #

            Haha just perpetuating my Eriksen man-crush. But fair, you’re totally right. I’d love to see Pauli’s role fit in at Spurs, I just don’t see it happening. Hope I’m wrong though!

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th November 2014 at 11:03 pm #

        Very good point Chris.

  3. james 13th November 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    Hi Mark,

    Do you feel that this could be a case of MP needing to be a little more flexible?

    We’d spent a lot of money on recruiting players supposedly for an AVB style of play, brought in a DoF to protect against the need for wholesale changes with managerial rotation, and then hired a new head coach supposedly suited to getting the best out of these types of players. And so I feel that the Paulinho situation should have been avoidable.

    Fifteen months ago he felt like a genuine coup. Twelve months ago, his goals hid our attacking shortcomings and until Tim came in, he was perhaps the signing that had taken to water most convincingly. Even in July, we were supposedly braced for a bid from Chelski for him. So its galling that as a club, we’ve not got the best out of him. Presumably this is precisely the sort of situation Baldini was supposed to solve …

    You’ve done an enlightening job of explaining how he isn’t a perfect fit for MP’s 4-3-3, but its not so long ago that AVB lost his job for not getting the most out of an expensive asset.. – do you feel that MP ought to be adjusting his 8-role to get the most out of the player(s) at his disposal, or is it a case regretfully acknowledging the mis-match?


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th November 2014 at 10:28 pm #

      Great post James. MP might need to be more flexible, but it is his system and maybe he feels he doesn’t need such an attacking presence from the number 8 position and more of a forward ball passer instead. I think that this would be wrong to just dismiss him and given our current lack of attacking impetus, Paulinho is worth a try.

      I agree about having a DoF to protect against this kind of situation. Recruitment of players needs to be with a style and philosophy in mind and an appropriate coach needs to be chosen to fit that. I do feel that the choice to bring in Pochettino was a continuation from what we were looking for with AVB. Just that Poch is a more direct coach in terms of style than AVB whose build up and passing was a bit more pedestrian.

  4. Brian himself 13th November 2014 at 7:13 pm #

    He has not been played with regularity. He obviously has some talent.
    I don’t know why Poch doesn’t try him as a striker. He couldn’t be worse than Ade.
    He seemsto be relegated to a “don’t use” pile (along with Soldado). Makes me wonder how much influence Levy exercises.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th November 2014 at 10:44 pm #

      I think he has a place and it would be crazy to give up on someone with his talent after just over a year, but yes he and Soldado do seem to be in an “only use in case of emergency” pile.

  5. gyid 13th November 2014 at 7:56 pm #

    i agree pauliniho is an excellent player, anyone who watched him at corinthians could see that! however MP has not been playing 4-3-3 we play 4-2-3-1 and in this formation he only seems to be effective in the number 10 role. when playing as one of the holding two he dwells on the ball to long which slows down our attack, might like capoue with his long drawn out passes which Stevie wonder could read. paulinho would be effective in a 4-3-3 as he has a great engine and is an all round midfielder, i personally would play him next to mason with stambouli sitting behind the two of them. the absence of a number 10 would allow both mason and paulinho to break into the space behind the striker without leaving our midfield weak and vulnerable to counter attacks! also capoue and kaboul both need to go. one is lazy dont follow his runners and slows us down the other is a blunder merchant

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th November 2014 at 10:50 pm #

      We’ve seen a subtle shift to 4-3-3 ever since Mason has come in. The position of the number ten has alternated between a creative player in Eriksen and a more direct second striker in the form of Kane, Paulinho and the other week at Villa it was Soldado. Capoue has dipped in form recently after starting really well. You are right about Kaboul.

  6. samson 13th November 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    Paulinho is one of the scapegoats at spurs.How many goals has mason scored so far.Let us be faire to paul,If paulinho is rubbish,then mason has to be the rubbish bin.Against stoke last season he looked world class.Apparently this days beating minnows is highly improbable with capoue and mason at midfield.I rather see the dembele ,paulinho combo.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th November 2014 at 10:52 pm #

      Agree that Paulinho is an easy target, and its interesting you bring up Dembele, as he has fallen out of favour with Poch too.

  7. NickyJJ 13th November 2014 at 8:13 pm #

    Seems like if Paulinho does not fit the system though, recouping some kind of fee for him is more beneficial than trying to alter our play for one player’s benefit. I love Mason’s range of passing in our current 8 role and don’t really see it being beneficial to take that out, especially as it’s what’s kept us competitive in a number of games. He’s no better 10 than Eriksen, and he doesn’t marshal the back better than Capoue or (probably) Stambouli, so as nice as his output might potentially be, I think it’d probably be perfectly prudent to sell if we could get any sort of price for him.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th November 2014 at 10:55 pm #

      I don’t see it as one or the other, Paulinho or Mason. I see Paulinho as a change of pace and something different for the role. Opponents need to be attacked in different ways so it gives us a choice. We also have Premier League, Europa League, FA Cup and Capital One Cup games, so plenty of matches for both to be involved in. The problem with selling him is we’d have to take a hit, something Levy is probably not keen on given his love a making money, so playing Paulinho might bring him in to some form and rebuild his value.

  8. Bleedlilywhite 13th November 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    Loan Paulinho to Brazilian team that can pay him. If he comes from his lethargy, get him back to London. This way you let him go without letting him go.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th November 2014 at 11:03 pm #

      I don’t know what wages he is on, but we’d probably have to supplement them. Players usually come from South America for the pay day, then go back for retirement. His pay day would have been coming to Spurs.

      Maybe a return to Brazil would re-invigorate him, but the style is so different that it wouldn’t replicate back to the Premier League.

  9. Reinert 14th November 2014 at 8:27 am #

    Great article. I too would love to see Paulinho back in the form that made us purchase his services. We have so many options, and I personally think MP has now tested almost all of our assets. After one or two more matches I think we will see a clear plan, where his most favored players will excel. What kind of formation it will be, I don’t know. Mark, you pointed out his subtle changes, we even played 4-4-2 at some point. I don’t think the formation is the bigger issue, but rather what players click the best together, and how to best play all of them. The compabitlity of Lamela-chadli-Kane-Soldado makes me excited, and I would love to see a well-wrought rotation of Stambouli/Capoue/Dembele/Paulinho/Mason.

    Eriksen is the odd one out now, which makes me sad. I don’t see what he offers in MP’s plans.

    I am scaling the walls now, the nearest spurs-fix is still over a week away!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th November 2014 at 1:17 pm #

      Great point Reinert, the chemistry between players is very important. Soldado does seem to work better with Lamela, Chadli and Eriksen and i would like to see Paulinho have a chance with those guys. Pochettino does work on the training field with them, so hopefully he is exploring combinations in small-sided or training matches so that he can figure out his best eleven.