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Arturo Vidal finally got his start for Barcelona in La Liga. The big Chilean was given a nod in front of Ivan Rakitić as Barca hosted Girona at the Camp Nou for the Catalan derby. Although it did not all go as planned for the Blaugrana, we did see a glimpse of what the ex-Bayern star was bought for this summer. Here is a short tactical analysis of what his big day looked like with some references to the previous game(s) with statistics.

Paulinho 2.0

When he first joined the club it was initially thought that he would be filling a “Paulinho-sized” hole in the team, and at least at first, all the signs pointed exactly at that. Ernesto Valverde opted to use the Chilean only as a substitute for the last quarter of an hour or so to protect a lead and to break opponents’ attack. As it turned out, Barcelona got the opposite effect when Vidal was used in this line-breaker defensive role.

Vidal Busquets Sociedad

When the Chilean was subbed in against Real Sociedad Barcelona dropped their possession style of play and started a more defensive approach, spending only 49 % of time in the opposition half, as opposed to 65 % which was recorded when Sergio Busquets was in game. Furthermore, Blaugrana went from 75 % to 64 % possession in game which was a direct result of that Busi-Vidal change. The Chilean also recorded only seven passes in 13 minutes (2.28 minutes per pass) that he spent on the pitch, which was the worst of all Barcelona midfielders that day: Rakitić (0.81), Busquets (0, 9), Coutinho (1), Rafinha (1.04) and Sergi Roberto (1.45). Barca eventually won the game but Valverde realized that Vidal was, for the most part, misused.

Making amends

In the game against Girona Arturo assumed the position of Ivan Rakitić instead of Sergio Busquets and operated on the right side of midfield in a trident consisting of him, Arthur Melo and Busi as the CDM. In this position, Vidal was free to advance further up the pitch, and make combinations with Semedo on RB as well as Lionel Messi who was cutting inside from the right. His role as a right CM was completely different than the one he assumed in the previous game. The Chilean was free to roam around the field but Girona’s setup and defensive wall unfortunately forced Barcelona to funnel wide and make crosses where Vidal was one of the only real areal threats, although without real results.

Barcelona Girona setup

His biggest mark on the game came with the assist to Leo Messi in the 19th minute to open the scoring at the Camp Nou. The goal was a direct result of the combination of the three before mentioned players: Semedo – Vidal – Messi. The play was done in that exact order. Semedo gets the ball, holds it, and passes to roaming Vidal on the right side who tricks two opposition players, and finds Messi with a brilliant touch while the Argentine finishes the job with a first-time strike into the bottom left corner.

A significant improvement in the numbers

If we compare his stats from the game against Sociedad, Vidal has certainly gone a long way. In his CDM role he seemed ineffective and lost at times but when used in a more aggressive role (e.g. as RCM) his qualities come to light again. Although the trio of Vidal-Arthur-Busquets was a new one, all three played well together. This time around the Chilean was much more involved in both the build-up, and the final attack of Barcelona’s play. He played 58 minutes against Girona and managed a total of 58 passes which means he made one per minute. This is a huge improvement on his pas per 2.28 minutes in the last game. It has to be noted that Vidal also made only two passes less than his CM Brazilian partner Arthur Melo (60).

Arturo Vidal heatmap

In addition to being a lot more proactive, Vidal seems to be adapting to Barcelona’s tiki-taka style of play with ease. With a huge emphasis on the possession and moving the ball with extreme speed, the Chilean seemed to thrive in such an environment. Vidal made 88 % of all of his passes with one or two touches tops while, for example, Arthur Melo recorded only 50 %. The speed of his passes did not interfere with his accuracy since he recorded a 90 % pass accuracy with 16 of those being sent backwards. Still, Melo was better in defense, recovering six balls to Vidal’s two but both of them lost possession four times.

Moving forward

While Arturo Vidal seems to still be fully adjusting to his new surroundings, his pros and cons are already pretty visible. The Chilean was struggling in Valverde’s defensive-minded setup when assuming the role of Sergio Busquets but seemed to come to life in a more aggressive, free-roaming Ivan Rakitić role. His fitness is still in doubt even though there don’t seem to be any indications of injuries or discomfort. Still, his 57 minute run against Girona was the most that he has been out there defending the Blaugrana colors in one game.

Counter-attacking teams do not suit him that well as he can often be caught “on the wrong foot”, but going forward he offers a different dimension and a fresh combination with the entirety of the right side of the pitch. His involvement did eventually diminish as time went by and Barcelona dropped to 10 men. Naturally, he had to cover more ground and expend more energy while doing so which justifies the substitution in the 58th minute.

Vidal’s first-half performance is very much a good sign moving forward for the team. He might not be the biggest game-changer Barcelona has to offer but for only about 18 million euros he is already pulling his weight.

Nonetheless, he still needs time to complete a whole 90-minute game.