After an impressive three seasons with Sao Paulo side Corinthians which saw him win a Brazilian first division title and a Copa Libertadores, Paulinho popped up on the radar of a number of European clubs.
Then, an impressive showing as a key member of Brazil‘s Confederations Cup-winning team, Paulinho officially became a known name to all casual fans watching. On Monday, Paulinho announced that he would join Tottenham for a transfer fee of around £17 million.
While many would characterize Paulinho as being a defensive midfielder given where he plays in the midfield and because he has been compared to former Brazilian international Emerson, the characterization is not quite accurate. To best describe Paulinho’s playing style, he is a box-to-box midfielder who is equally comfortable and capable of being an integral part of the attack as he is helping out defensively.
Given his box-to-box ability, Paulinho should fit in quite perfectly with Tottenham and be used appropriately by Andre Villas-Boas. At Tottenham, expect to see Paulinho be deployed as the holding midfielder whether Villas-Boas decides to play with a 4-3-3 formation or a 4-2-3-1 formation which will allow him to settle in and be utilized appropriately.
In a 4-3-3 formation, I anticipate Paulinho playing the holding midfield role with Moussa Dembele flanking him to the right and Gylfi Sigurdsson or Lewis Holtby to the left side of the formation, possibly even Gareth Bale if he plays a more withdrawn midfield role.
In a 4-2-3-1, Paulinho will play as one of the two holding midfielders with three attacking midfielders in front, and he would be partnered with a healthy Scott Parker, fellow countryman Sandro and/or Tom Huddlestone. In this formation, Paulinho would theoretically be the holding midfielder who gets to push forward, much the same way Bastian Schweinsteiger does in his partnership with Javi Martinez with Bayern Munich.
In addition to what he brings formationally and tactically, Paulinho also fits into giving Tottenham another piece to use in set pieces. When defending set pieces, Villas-Boas can use Paulinho to mark the opposition’s best aerial or second-best aerial threat.
When Tottenham are attacking on a set piece, he gives them an aerial presence, as exhibited by his game-winning goal against Uruguay in the Confederations Cup semifinal. Given that Bale is one of the best at delivering a quality ball into the penalty area on set pieces, Paulinho’s value increases.
Paulinho has developed into one of the best holding midfielders in the world of soccer, and his acquisition by Tottenham should improve their midfield significantly. And with his box-to-box abilities, there is no reason to suspect that his talent will be wasted or misused by Villas-Boas, a coach who is recognized as having one of the most innovative tactical philosophies in the sport.