Ernesto Valverde is confident the Chile international, who has completed his move from Bayern Munich, will offer his side something different and compliment the more technical players around him while being proficient on the ball as well.
“He’s a player who we hope will bring energy to the midfield,” Valverde said. “He’s a warrior. Our team has space for many different types of players.”
Vidal certainly brings a different dynamic to the Blaugrana and there’s plenty to look forward to.
HOW HE FITS IN
Vidal usually played in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system at Bayern. While Barcelona set up in a 4-4-2 formation last season, Ernesto Valverde’s variation of the system is far more fluid than most and can often boast three players in central midfield during certain phases of play.
In that scenario, the Chilean midfielder would be expected to play alongside the sitting Sergio Busquets in the middle of the pitch but will likely be joined by Philippe Coutinho as well with the Brazilian often tucking in from the left flank.
Vidal may have seemed like a strange inclusion for Barcelona teams of years gone by but Valverde’s system can not only accommodate his brand of all-action midfield play but perhaps even be enhanced by it and Paulinho’s surprising impact last season.
While Barcelona under Valverde aren’t wholly obsessed with possession, they do tend to dominate the ball in games and Vidal has grown more than accustomed to that during his time at the Allianz Arena.
It’s without the ball where he may not conform with the strategy they used last term which was to retain their shape and stand firm as a compact unit. The feisty Chilean is more inclined to be proactive and attempt to win possession, sometimes a little recklessly.
However, the compact 4-4-2 system was engineered by Valverde as a means of compensating for their lack of defensive stability. The arrivals of Clement Lenglet in defence and now Vidal in midfield could well inspire a change in formation.
Valverde largely employed a 4-2-3-1 system at Athletic Bilbao and a move back to that or a 4-3-3 now seems viable at Barcelona. Vidal’s ability to play as an anchorman, as part of a double pivot or even an attacking midfielder opens up several tactical options and personnel permutations for his manager.
Following Ivan Rakitic’s impressive showing at the World Cup in Russia, Valverde may even be tempted to field a formidable midfield three which sees the Croatian joined by Vidal and Busquets. However, that would mean Lionel Messi shifting out to the right side of the attack – a big call to make considering how integral he’s been to Barcelona in a central role in recent times.
The 31-year-old is fully deserving of his categorisation as a complete midfielder. While Paulinho was competent with his passing, Vidal excels, boasting a far more impressive array of distribution. Switching play from one side to another at the right time is second nature to him.
Not only does he recycle possession effectively, but can read the direction of the play early and position himself in the last third to get involved in the final stage of moves he often initiates. He has a knack of timing his forays forward to perfection, making a habit of ghosting into threatening areas from where he can either have a shot or set up someone else.
Paulinho managed 1.4 tackles and 0.4 interceptions per game at season before returning to the Chinese Super League with Guangzhou Evergrande this summer. Vidal is a huge upgrade in that regard and will serve to ease the workload on Busquets in particular.
Vidal on the other hand is like a rottweiler, buzzing about the pitch and snapping the ball away from opponents. In the Bundesliga last season, the busy midfielder averaged 3.1 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per game. He betters the Brazillian in terms of passing as well, boasting 52.8 passes and 1.2 key passes per game to Paulinho’s 35.9 and 0.4.
Some will argue that the former Barca midfielder’s real value was his goals from midfield, scoring nine in 34 La Liga appearances but the Chilean is just as good if not better in that department. Injuries limited his Bundesliga outings last season but he still managed six goals in 22 appearances at an average of 0.27 goals per game against Paulinho’s 0.26.
Vidal also brings a wealth of experience to the first team, something more than welcome at Barcelona following the departure of Andres Iniesta. He’s a warrior, like Valverde describes him, and the Catalans could certainly have used one of those against Roma in the Champions League last season.
During his time with Juventus and Bayern, he won seven league titles and 13 trophies in total over a period of seven seasons.
One of the foremost concerns over the acquisition of Vidal is the trouble he’s found himself in off the field. The midfielder has had his fair share of scandals with the national team set-up and during his spell with Juventus.
At 31 as well, he is not a typical Barcelona signing and given his dynamic style of play, may only have a couple of good years ahead of him. A knee injury in April ruled him out for the rest of the season and that was following an inflammation around 10 days prior. For a player past the 30-mark whose game is heavily based on powerful running from box-to-box, that doesn’t bode well.
While his aggressive tackling may help Barcelona win the ball quicker and higher up the pitch, thereby affording them more opportunities in the transition, he can also be too eager and get beaten easily. Only Wolfsburg’s William was dribbled past more times per game (1.8) than Vidal (1.6).
Finally, the Chilean is no longer in his pomp and, while impressive at Bayern, has never hit the heights of the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons at Juventus when he scored 33 goals in 91 appearances across all competitions.