Focus on Paulinho
I was going to post this as a series of tweets, but it quickly became too long so I thought I’d write a blog about Paulinho’s performance against Partizan Belgrade. I re-watched last night’s match against Partizan Belgrade in double speed to have another look at Paulinho as so many people had mentioned to me on Twitter that they thought he did well.
The fist thing to mention is that in our 4-1-4-1 in the first half he had a very ‘free’ role, with barely any defensive responsibility. I don’t know whether this was deliberate, but both he and Dembele left Stambouli exposed and we suffered as a result, getting caught on the counter. In fact, despite changing shape in the second half, we only looked more solid once Bentaleb came on.
In the first half, the majority of the passes he made were either sideways or backwards. Frequently he’d drop off his man, receive the ball with his back to goal and pass backwards to where it had come from. Alternatively, he’d pick up the ball in space in midfield and pass sideways, before trotting forward.
He intercepted one ball and wasted the opportunity to counter by dallying. His other interception came when the ball hit him; a counter was on if he played a quick pass into Soldado, but he didn’t get his head up, and instead ran into a cul-de-sac on the right flank and ended up turning back (although he retained possession sensibly).
All of his first time flicks failed. One in the first half was looking for Soldado, but was too heavy. The idea was a relatively good one, the execution was less good.
He played one good, floated ball out to Davies on the left, and soon after he nearly created something when receiving the ball wide on the left and cutting in, but he overhit his pass to Lamela, forcing Lamela to slide to retain possession.
Lennon fed him in on left of the box where he had two chances to shoot, but the move ended up with him passing up those opportunities, turning away from goal, and taking an awkward, heavy touch which saw him head out to the corner flag where he lost possession.
In the second half we switched to 4-2-3-1, with Paulinho dropping back in alongside Stambouli, and Dembele playing the more advanced role by himself. This was presumably because we were caught a number of times, and Pochettino wanted to ensure we were more solid at the base of midfield.
Paulinho played one nice pass with the outside of his boot through a tight space to Dembele, who immediately lost possession.
He made a useful burst into the six-yard box when Soldado got in on the left, but Soldado’s cross was poor and the goalkeeper claimed it – Paulinho might have had a tap-in otherwise. He then had a decent shot which the goalkeeper saved.
Once Bentaleb came on, Paulinho was pushed up into the most advanced midfield role, where he had another long period of not touching the ball.
He pounced on a loose ball, strode forward, dallied and ended up playing a pass slightly awkwardly onto Bentaleb’s weaker right foot, and Bentaleb mis-controlled.
Kane found him with a clever touch, but he hit a ludicrously heavy toe-poke well ahead of Lennon. Seconds later he was played in by another clever Kane pass, but he was slow to latch onto it. Lamela picked up the pieces and hit a shot just over.
After Kane came on, Paulinho was often the most advanced player, as Kane dropped deep and he ran in behind. But he had another long period of not touching the ball (failing to anticipate a clever Lennon pass in the meantime) and his next involvement was a failed first time flick to Kane.
His final involvement came when was found by a clever pass from Lamela between the Partizan defence and midfield, with an opportunity to hurt them. His clumsy dribbling led to the ball getting caught under his feet, which caused him to check and then to lose the ball with a pass straight at a defender. He immediately regained possession after a misunderstanding between two Partizan players but lost it again, dribbling straight into a defender. He was replaced by debutant Harry Winks shortly after.
Paulinho made a few runs either away from ball, or towards his own player who was driving forward in possession, which often led to the player on the ball being crowded out. But, in truth, these runs were few and far between, and he spent a lot of time just wandering around, neither showing for the ball or moving into space.
I still don’t really know what kind of player Paulinho is. I can list what he’s good at on one hand – pressing, making late runs into the penalty box, and keeping possession with backwards/sideways passes.
The things he is not good at are less easy to list succinctly: he doesn’t anticipate danger well, he doesn’t get his head up when he receives the ball, his shooting is wayward, he doesn’t have a good range of passing, he dribbles clumsily, he sometimes needs more touches than most to get the ball under control, and he can ‘go missing’ for long periods (often not showing for the ball).
I realise that he has not had a decent break from football for longer than is helpful to a top-level athlete but, even giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that after a rest he’d improve by 20%, I just cannot see any way back for him at Spurs.