Latest Tips

Today's tips Real Sociedad vs Atletico Madrid Valencia vs Sevilla Hertha Berlin vs Union Berlin Hoffenheim vs Freiburg

The collective sigh of Barcelona fans could be heard around the football world when the Catalan giants completed a €40million move for former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho in August, meeting Guanghzou Evergrande's hefty valuation of the 29-year-old.

They had set their hearts of Marco Verratti, come round to the idea of Nice's Jean Michaël Seri, and been all but promised Philippe Coutinho. Yet they had to content themselves with a man who'd washed out in the Premier League and spent the last three seasons exiled in China.

This, added to the embarrassment of losing Brazilian superstar Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain, and the continual rise of Real Madrid as Europe's dominant force, made for a glum summer for Barcelona and their followers.

However, six games into the 2017/18 La Liga season, the skies above the Camp Nou have taken on an altogether brighter complexion.

The form of Lionel Messi, restored to a central role by new manager Ernesto Valverde and thriving with 12 goals from nine games, has been a major contributor to Barça's upswing. But the way Paulinho has gone about his business since moving to the Camp Nou, catching many by surprise with some fine early performances, has played no small part.

Granted, the sample size is negligible (just 189 minutes of La Liga action to date) and tougher tests lie ahead. But Paulinho is repaying his new club's faith in him by instantly acclimating to his surroundings and proving impactful for the Blaugrana.

The São Paulo-born midfielder almost marked his home debut, a 17-minute cameo in Barcelona‘s 5-0 destruction of Espanyol in September's Catalan derby, with a goal, sliding in at the far post but failing to make enough of a meaningful contact to divert the ball goalward.

But he didn't have to wait long for his first strike for the Barça. A trip to the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez to take on Getafe was proving a trickier proposition than expected for Velverde's men, who went behind to a first-half wonder goal by Japanese playmaker Gaku Shibasaki.

Huffing and puffing, having lost record signing Ousmane Dembélé to an injury that will keep him out until December, substitute Denis Suárez levelled for the visitors. But it was hardly warranted and Barça's 100 per cent start to the campaign was in serious jeopardy.

Enter Paulinho, stage left. His 77th-minute introduction left little time in which to work, but it mattered not. The Brazilian, typically energetic and industrious, added verve and bite to the Barcelona midfield. And, with just six minutes remaining, latching onto a perfect Messi through-ball, the former Corinthians man emphatically struck across Vicente Guaita to rescue three points.

Already on the same wavelength as Messi it seems, the pair combined to save Barça's blushes as though they'd been playing together for a lifetime, with telepathic coordination of both run and pass.

Paulinho's reward was a start in the next game, at home to Eibar. The match proved to be much more straightforward for Barcelona, running out 6-1 victors, with Messi scoring four. Most striking, again, was the on-field relationship between the Argentinian magician and his new Brazilian cohort.

A one-two between the duo carved the Eibar defence open and allowed Messi to claim his hat-trick. Paulinho, scorer of Barça's second on the night, cut the confident figure of a man comfortable in his milieu, in full knowledge he deserved to be there. They'd never have believed you if you'd told them they'd be doing so a few weeks ago, but the Camp Nou faithful gleefully chanted his name.

Fostering an understanding with Messi will go a long way towards securing a player's future at Barcelona, and the fact that the five-time Ballon d'Or winner appears impressed by Paulinho will stand the 29-year-old in good stead.

But beyond that, it is clear that Barça's oft-maligned recruitment team applied sound reasoning when identifying and then aggressively pursuing Paulinho; he offers them something they didn't have.

Chock-full of gifted technicians, tidy playmakers who get the ball and never give it away, Valverde's midfield roster makes for envious reading. But if it lacked for anything, it was the presence of a dynamic box-to-box midfielder; someone with the engine to set a pace and maintain it for 90 minutes; someone prepared to mix it physically, while offering no reduction in standards with the ball. Someone like Paulinho.

And goals, too. He can hardly be expected to maintain his current output of being directly involved in a Barcelona goal, as either scorer or creator, every 63 minutes, but Paulinho and the net are no strangers. At Spurs, despite walking into the post-Gareth Bale transition period at White Hart Lane, he notched eight times in his first season; in China he struck 28 in 95 appearances; and on the international stage, where he is a key player for Brazil, he has scored ten goals from 43 caps.

Of all the Barcelona midfielder players, only Ivan Rakitić (eight) and Rafinha (six) managed more than three league goals last season. Paulinho will help support the frontline in this regard, a helping hand that will be gratefully received given Neymar's departure.

With a point to prove, a desire to show he belongs on Europe's elite stage, Paulinho is showing the derision he received upon signing for Barcelona was unwarranted and unfair. He may never be the star of the show, but Barça have plenty of those.

Paulinho brings work, desire, energy and quality: a contribution that will no longer be sniffed at.

La Liga