The Paulinho perplexity
Is Paulinho's charm fading for Barcelona? Or are there deeper issues for his abhorrent run of form?
Football can be pretty cruel at times, more so when you consider the fans of the top clubs - and Barca's die-hard culers are no different.
When FC Barcelona spent what has been estimated to be 40 million euros to land a player from Guangzhou Evergrande, the football world was aghast. After all, this was a guy who flopped at Tottenham Hotspurs. The months after that have changed the script altogether.
Barcelona have experienced a sort of renaissance under the new manager Ernesto Valverde. This was a team that was never renowned for its defense, but right now, they are only second to Atletico Madrid in the least number of goals conceded in La Liga.
The man they procured from China - the man who everyone thought was burnt out - has had a huge role to play in this transformation, because of the different kind of player that he is in the Barca squad.
Paulinho is not about magical creativity, but rather about being in the right place at the right time. The fact that he is the third top-scorer for Barca with 8 goals in the League, only behind Messi and Suarez thus far, is a testament to this fact.
So, what has happened now?
Since the turn of the new year, there has been a dip in his performance. His game against Chelsea was severely criticized and he was regarded as a liability both offensively and defensively. This 'drop in form' had gone long enough that the fans who had embraced him with suspicious arms came out once more with their swords drawn.
The heart of the matter lies in the difference in schedules between the Chinese Super League and of that in Spain. At the start of this season, when Messi and co. came off refreshed after a two-month long off-season, Paulinho was not allowed that luxury. This was due to the fact that the Chinese Super League has its off season at the end of a year.
So, while his teammates had their season beginning in July/August 2017, Paulinho started his in the February of 2017. Add to this the minutes that he has played in the first half of the season, and the equation is complete - he has been playing continuously for more than a year now, and fatigue is finally catching up with him.
With the World Cup just around the corner, it is of extreme importance to Brazil as well that Paulinho gets back to form. Some rumors have surfaced that Paulinho is playing with a broken foot, but no official confirmation has so far been provided by Barcelona.
On the other hand, Ousmane Dembele's injuries and gingerly recoveries, Philippe Coutinho being cup-tied in the Champions League and Andre Gomes' inconsistency means that Paulinho is not going to get much reprieve either.
The remaining quarter of the season is going to be very long for him, and it is up to Valverde to rotate him enough and keep him well-rested and steady.