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Arturo Vidal: Midfield maestro or transfer flop?

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The Chilean is struggling to make his mark at Barcelona

Valencia CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Both criticism and praise has been directed at FC Barcelona’s decision to purchase box-to-box midfielder Arturo Vidal from Bayern Munich over the summer.

On one hand, the Blaugranas have acquired a key member of the Chilean national team and past Juventus and Bayern squads, capable of playing almost anywhere in the midfield. On the other hand, Barca may be exposing themselves to potential locker room drama due to Vidal’s fiery temper and proneness to injury.

The club has already received a taste of Vidal’s displeasure, with a minor social media incident taking place after the Champions League victory over Tottenham Hotspur, where Vidal only saw action for a few minutes after coming off the bench yet again. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished soon afterwards, with Vidal stating that while he is not happy if he doesn’t play, if he did have an issue, he would take it up with the manager.

FC Barcelona v PSV - UEFA Champions League Group B Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Barca director Pep Segura moved quickly to explain that whilst Vidal should act more professionally by showing his team-mates respect, it is good to see that he wants to play for Barcelona and contribute to the club’s success.

Whilst this incident was quickly overcome, what needs to be determined is whether or not Vidal will be more of an asset than a liability for the Blaugranas. This question can be answered by assessing his strengths as well as determining the gaps in the current midfield that he may be able to fill.

Probably the most important aspect of Vidal’s gameplay is his versatility. Whilst he started his career as a defensive midfielder, he soon transformed into a box-to-box midfielder during his time at Juventus. Never afraid to track back, he showed his defensive prowess through aggressive tackling and physicality. He was also effective on the offensive, bagging a respectable seven goals and four assists during the 2014-15 Serie A campaign. His impressive performances on the pitch significantly contributed to Juventus’ impressive league title win with 87 points.

UC Sampdoria v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Upon his subsequent move to Bayern Munich, Vidal was utilised as a centre-mid in both a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formation. This allowed him to dictate much of Bayern’s attacking tempo as a playmaker and press for the ball when defending. He was also utilised as the defensive midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation on occasion last season, where he could collect the ball from the defence and begin a fresh attacking motion from the back.

Probably the most vital role that he played at Bayern was that of the ultimate box-to-box midfielder, who constantly looked to switch play between wings when one side became congested, and looked for the pass to whichever full-back looked most likely to deliver the deadliest cross into the penalty box. Furthermore, he offered Bayern the option of a shadow striker, as once the pass is completed; he naturally bursts forward in support of the strikers, ready to collect the rebound.

Arsenal FC v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Vidal is the complete midfielder, ready to fill in wherever he is needed. This brings me to the second point of analysis, namely where in the squad Vidal can be utilised in order to both take full advantage of his strengths as well as patch up any of Barcelona’s weaknesses.

Valverde’s Barcelona line-ups have been known to make use of both a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formation, both of which Vidal could strive in. The only shortfall for Vidal is that he might not be utilised as a central defensive midfielder in the more common 4-3-3 formation, as club veteran Sergio Busquets already fills the role, and expecting to unseat him would be a tall order.

The Chilean would, however, be a more than stellar choice for either of the other two central-midfield roles. Whilst Arthur has displayed competence thus far this season, he has lacked any real impact on his side’s results and does not possess Vidal’s dynamism and ferocity.

Ivan Rakitic, whilst being a solid choice for an attacking midfield position, does not have Vidal’s defensive prowess and can thus not fill in for Busquets should he wish to push forward on occasion. Philippe Coutinho and Sergio Roberto, whilst also utilised in the central midfield on occasion, are better suited to their respective roles as winger and fullback.

FC Barcelona v SD Huesca - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

After comparing Vidal to his competition for a midfield spot, it becomes apparent that Vidal is able to provide his side with the aggression needed to penetrate their opponents’ defences that they have lacked in recent matches. Furthermore, he is the only midfield option that could switch roles with Sergio Busquets should he decide to push forward during an attack he started or in the event that he is unable to play and should require a replacement with enough character to fill his shoes.

Arturo Vidal clearly has the potential to shine in the current Barcelona line-up, and his time to do so will surely arrive in the coming days. One just needs to hope that he keeps a calm head and keeps on fighting, as he may be exactly what Barca needs to reach new heights.