International Football

Paulinho: Midfield Debate Continues Despite Match-Winning Goal

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 26:  Paulinho of Brazil scores his team's second goal to make the score 2-1 during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Semi Final match between Brazil and Uruguay at Governador Magalhaes Pinto Estadio Mineirao on June 26, 2013 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Christopher AtkinsContributor IJune 26, 2013

When Paulinho rose high at the back post from an 86th-minute corner, Brazil rose as one to acclaim the goal that would send the Selecao to the Confederations Cup final this weekend.

But the debate over how to best use the match-winning midfielder continues in earnest following another mediocre display from Brazil in midfield areas.

The decision to change back to a 4-2-3-1 formation pre-tournament has worked wonders in attack, with Neymar freed up by the change and Fred continuing to score.

However, the hosts have not been as impressive in their four victories as the score lines may suggest. In particular, they have looked disorganised at the base of midfield—the area patrolled by Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho.

The double pivot is a setup that both players are used to. Luiz Gustavo sits ahead of the side's centre-backs, while Paulinho is given nominally more freedom to push forward and support the attack.

Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe highlighted the problems with the setup after the opening day's victory over Japan, and the points are still very much valid.

There is often too big a gap between the pair, who are yet to strike a natural balance regarding Paulinho's attacking, while neither player is renowned for their distribution skills.

It is this lack of vision from the base of midfield that is an issue for the Selecao, who once more dominated possession against Uruguay but were slow and ponderous in their build-up.

Ideally, then, a deep-lying creative midfielder would be brought in, and Brazil have a great option for the role in Hernanes. While he may be a suitable fit alongside Luiz Gustavo, however, his partnership with Paulinho has proven to be defensively porous.

That argument would appear to suggest that maybe, for the good of the team, Paulinho would be better omitted in favour of the Lazio man.

However, with five goals in his 16 international appearances, Brazil would be hard-pressed to replace Paulinho's goal-scoring contributions—as well as his abilities at defensive set pieces.

Without changing the formation, which would be highly unlikely as the side continue to pick up wins, it therefore looks difficult for Luiz Felipe Scolari to split up the existing partnership.

The only option, perhaps, would be the introduction of Shakhtar's Fernando in place of Luiz Gustavo, with the former Gremio player's hybrid style at the base of midfield offering more imagination than seen at present.

Paulinho has done enough over recent fixtures to suggest that he must be accommodated moving forward, even if it requires a formational change ahead of World Cup 2014.

His goal on Wednesday night will go down as one of the tournament's most famous moments, but Paulinho has offered more than just his two goals over the past couple of weeks.

His all action style can offer Scolari's side great benefits at both ends of the pitch. Changes, though, are still required to get Brazil playing to their very best.

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