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It was all starting to fall into place for Aleix Vidal. A string of impressive performances in the Barcelona first team had him cementing a place as the side’s attacking right-back, and the club looked to have found a player who was ready to step up and replace Dani Alves on a permanent basis.
Patience has been key to Vidal’s career since he became a Barcelona player back in June 2015. He was signed by the club, along with Arda Turan, at a time when the Catalan giants were serving a transfer ban and had to wait until January 2016 to make his debut for the club.
Though he appeared regularly during the first couple of months he was eligible to play, he was eventually dropped to the bench and at times left out of the squad completely. This was due to the rise of Sergi Roberto as an important cog in the Barcelona machine in numerous positions, including right back, and the return of Alves to the fold. But the Brazilian left the club in the summer of 2016 and his two understudies were to fight it out to be his full-time replacement.
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Biding his time
Sergi Roberto started the 2016/17 season as the preferred option in the position, and his midfielder skill-set allowed the side to keep possession down the right of the pitch.
It was yet another occasion where Vidal had to bide his time, but as he failed to even make the match day squad for much of the new season, his patience was really tested.
This led to rumours that he would leave the club in the 2017 January transfer window, but being cup tied in the Champions League persuaded him to wait until the summer where he would have a wider range of options.
Then came his chance. It was Sergi Roberto’s turn to be left out of the squad, and Vidal was given just his second league start of the season at home to Las Palmas. He grasped the opportunity with both hands, scoring the fifth goal in a 5-0 win. Despite this he was dropped the the bench for the next league game at Eibar, but still came on in the second half to assist Neymar’s injury time goal in a 4-0 victory.
He would go on to play the next three league games, scoring another goal against Athletic Bilbao, and picking up an assist against Alaves.
Aleix Vidal heading back to Barcelona from the hospital. https://t.co/nb47kB9C4M
— Barça Worldwide (@BarcaWorldwide) February 12, 2017
A season-ending injury
But just as the Spaniard’s fortunes started taking a turn for the better, he suffered another setback in the form of a season-ending injury towards the end of the Alaves game.
A challenge with Theo Hernandez in the 85th minute saw him leave the field on a stretcher, and it didn’t take a specialist to announce that the player had dislocated his ankle, such was the visible, sickening nature of the injury.
The injury leaves him out for the rest of the season, and Luis Enrique’s side will have to go back to the drawing board in their search for a steady presence at right back.
Vidal had offered the side the type of attacking threat down the right which Barcelona had become known for during Alves’ time at the club, and in the five league games he was involved in at the start of 2017 the side scored 19 goals
The 27-year-old had played much of his football on the wings at former clubs Almeria and Sevilla, so the attacking part of this role came naturally to him. His goals and assists record in these recent games indicated what he offered to the team, and his loss will hurt the club as much as it has the player himself.
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How will Barcelona cope without him?
Sergi Roberto will be able to slot back into the position, and while he’ll help the side in numerous ways when it comes to passing, possession, and work rate, the side will miss the dynamic attacking wing play of his fellow Catalan.
It remains to be seen whether the club will persevere with Vidal into next season, or if they’ll look to bring in an attacking full back from elsewhere. Much will depend on how well he recovers from this nasty injury.
During his short stint in the side his presence had buoyed the team in their quest to catch real Madrid at the top of the table, and now his absence might have the opposite effect.
They might even have to start looking over their shoulder as Vidal’s former club Sevilla look to put a string of wins together under Jorge Sampaoli.
Whatever the future holds for Barcelona’s right back position, it’s a cruel blow for the player’s career. This injury would be a tough one to take for any team or individual, but it’s especially so for Vidal who’d taken his chance when it came, and whose patience was finally starting to be rewarded.