Now it’s official. Arturo Vidal is a new Bayern player, for a reported fee of 37M € plus other 3M € of eventual bonuses. As soon as Bastian Schweinsteiger was sold to Manchester United and reunited with his mentor Louis Van Gaal, the Bavarian club chose Vidal as the player to replace their charismatic midfielder. With a blitzkrieg like negotiation, they found the agreement with the Chilean midfielder, still in his home-nation after the victorious Copa America campaign (he will earn a salary in the region of 6M €/per year), and with Juventus, Vidal’s club for the past four seasons. Ironically, when in 2011 Vidal joined Juventus from Leverkusen, Bayern back then trainer Jupp Heynckes, explicitly wanted to add the midfielder he already coached at Leverkusen to his roster: even if Die Roten offer was greater than the 12,5M € (bonuses included) paid by Juventus, Leverkusen management decided to sell their player in a foreign country, to not strengthen a potential domestic rival.
During his experience with the Bianconeri, Vidal established himself as one of the best midfielder in football: a true engine on the pitch, capable of winning the ball back on a regular basis, but also to score a considerable amount of goals season after season, thanks to his trademark runs in the box or to his noteworthy shot from distance. He scored his first goal in his debut with Juventus, and with excellent shows in the next few games, he forced Antonio Conte to change his tactical plan, switching from the initial 4-2-4, to the notorious 3-5-2 that took the Scudetto back in Turin. From that moment, the Chilean midfielder never lose his spot in Juventus starting-eleven and became a key-player for Juventus, with 171 games played and 48 goals scored in the process, winning four Serie A titles in a row.
Despite Vidal’s remarkable curriculum (and his palmarès), someone disapproved Bayern purchase, considering him not the kind of player Guardiola needed, or criticizing the amount of money paid by Mathias Sammer, the club’s sporting director. The goal of this article is to try to convince a few of the sceptics, showing some of the reason why Vidal is the right player for Pep and for Bayern, and how he will fit in his new team.
German Bundesliga knowledge
First of all, he knows Bundesliga and he knows Germany, so he will not have any problem to adapt to his not-so-new German life. He moved from his first club Colo-Colo to Leverkusen straight after the win of 2007 Apertura championship, when Rudi Voeller bought him for 11M $ (around 7M € at the exchange) making him the most expensive player of Chilean football at the time. Back in Chile, Vidal played as central defender, but at Leverkusen he slowly started his transition to the midfield. After losing to Werder Brema in the 2009 DFB Pokal final, Bruno Labbadia was fired with Jupp Heynckes taking his place as Bayer 04 manager. With him on the bench, Vidal had his best Bundesliga season in 2010/2011: playing in the midfield alongside Simon Rolfes and the likes of Michael Ballack, he was the top goal-scorer of his team, with 10 goals (one more than Schalke 04 poacher Klaas-Jan Huntelaar) and a perfect record from the penalty spot (6/6). With his scoring record and with is energy on the field, he helped Leverkusen in clinching the 2nd place, only behind Meisterschale winners of Borussia Dortmund. Before his departure for Turin, he collected 144 games and 21 goals with Bayer Leverkusen, with a Bundesliga haul of 117 matches and 15 goals scored.
Vidal won 3 trophies with Colo Colo, the Apertura and Clausura of 2006 and the 2007 Apertura, but in his four years with Juventus, Vidal truly proved to be a winner. Before his arrival, Juventus came from a 9 years Scudetto drought, after the infamous “Calciopoli” scandal, and from two consecutive 7th places. Finally, with their former captain Antonio Conte on the bench, Juventus rediscovered how to win, and Vidal was instrumental in it. He and Conte won the Serie A championship at the first shot. From then, he won a poker of Scudetto trophies, with an impressive record of four championships played and four won. He also lands two consecutive Italian Supercup in 2012 and in 2013. This year he added the Coppa Italia, and he came only a step away from winning the Champions League in Berlin, against Barcelona. You could point out that not only Vidal won all these trophies, but also many of his Juventus team-mates, from the legendary Gianluigi Buffon to the third keeper Rubinho, from “il Maestro” Andrea Pirlo to the workhorse Simone Padoin. But statistics prove that Arturo Vidal is the Juventus player with the highest winning percentage in the Italian championship since 1994/1995, with an impressive 72% of of his 124 Serie A games won.
Moreover, in two different occasions, the Chilean midfielder scored the championship winning goal, against Palermo in 2013 (5 May 2013, Juventus-Palermo 1-0) and in 2015 against the Blucerchiati players of Sampdoria (2 May 2015, Sampdoria-Juventus 0-1). Winning attitude is not a feature you could easily teach in training, and Vidal will merge with ease with the many winners in Bayern roster
Lack for a box-to-box midfielder in Bayern midfield
Last year, with Schweinsteiger still in Bavaria, Bayern had a lot of options in midifeld: other then Schweini, they had Xabi Alonso, Philip Lahm, Thiago Alcantara, Mario Gotze, Sebastian Rode, Javi Martinez (when fit), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (for the first part of the season) and the youngster Gianluca Gaudino.
During the first season with Guardiola as Bayern manager, Lahm moved from the right-back position in which he excelled to a “number 6” position in midfield. Even if results were pretty good, last year Bayern bought Xabi Alonso from Real Madrid to play as deep-lying playmaker. But Lahm continued to play in midfield: Bayern had a lot of passers in the centre of the pitch but what lacked the most was a player who consistently runs from touchline to touchline and who is also capable to win the ball back. The main candidate Schweinsteiger didn’t have the pace and the stamina he had when he was a young athletic winger. Lahm was a reliable option in terms of tireless runs, given his fullback past, and he proved to be very good in the passing-game, but not so much in ball-winning. As shown by the following table, Vidal’s contribution in terms of tackles won plus interceptions, is three time bigger than Lahm’s. No other Bayern midfielder’s contribution is even near to the Chilean height: the best is Xabi Alonso, but it has to be said that he played a role in which he often shifted in defence
But Vidal not just outclassed every Bayern midfielder in terms of tackles. He outclassed anyone in Europe: in the last four seasons he has made more tackles (546) than any other player in Europe’s top 5 league. So Die Roten not simply acquired a ball-winner, but the best ball-winner on the market. Though, Vidal is not only capable of running for two. Is also a tidy passer: he completed the 85% of his Serie A passes last season.
Bayern passing-game is probably the best in football, so it’s difficult to make a comparison between Vidal and Bayern midfielders, but his already top notch passing statistics will probably match his new team-mates figures next season.
With Vidal in midfield, there is now the possibility to see Philip Lahm again at right-back. In June and early July there were some rumours which linked Torino Matteo Darmian to Bayern. With Rafinha already in the roster, the arrival of another right-back would have probably meant the definitive switch in midfield for Lahm. Later on, the Italian fullback joined Manchester United, and with Vidal likely to play in his box-to-box role, Lahm can go back to the past, and play again in the role in which he was world-class for many years. With this in mind, I tried to predict how Bayern could line-up next season in the following pictures.
Great tactical versatility
Even before the completion of the deal, doubts were raised about Vidal adaptation to Pep Guardiola’s famous Juego de Posición, where players have to be tactically clever and capable to move all over the pitch with the precise aim to always create superiority behind each line of pressure. But, during his Juve spell, Vidal gave many proofs of versatility, and also some hints of his probable suitability to positional play. For example he played as the central of the three defenders of Conte’s 3-5-2 in Livorno-Juventus, a match of 2013/2014 Serie A, or in a 4-man defence alongside Caceres in Genoa-Juventus of the season before. But last year, with the new Juventus manager Max Allegri he showed the best of his multifaceted play. During the first part of the season the ex-AC Milan manager didn’t change Conte system, and Vidal played his usual midfielder role in the 3-5-2. But then he started to train his favourite system: the 4-3-1-2. During his time with the Rossoneri, Allegri didn’t deploy a classical trequartista, but a more mobile and physical offensive midfielder like Kevin Prince Boateng. So Vidal was the natural and more logical choice, for the spot between the lines in Max Allegri’s system: a role he already played with his national team, yet another radical change in his already multi-positional football career.
However, the two Champions League matches against Real Madrid were the real masterpieces of Vidal’s versatility and tactical intelligence. In the first leg played in Turin, Vidal started as the offensive midfielder in the 4-3-1-2. In the first minutes of the game Juventus pressed Real 4-4-2 really high, to hinder their play trough the flanks. The two midfielders, Sturaro on the left and Marchisio on the right, put pressure on the wingbacks Marcelo and Carvajal every time they have the ball, while Vidal slid towards the half-spaces to narrow the space on the inside. At the same time he always looked for the position of Kroos, in order to close eventual passing lanes for the German playmaker. When, after Morata’s opener, the tempo slowed, Juventus assumed a more compact shape, switching from their 4-3-1-2 to a narrow 4-4-2 during the defensive phase. Vidal was once again pivotal in this tactical adjustment: he shifted from his offensive midfield role to a deeper central midfield position, while Marchisio and Sturaro slid as the lateral midfielders. In doing this, the Chilean midfielder never omitted to gave his offensive contribution, often switching positions with Carlos Tevez: he was pretty much everywhere on the pitch.
In the first half of the second leg played at the Bernabeu, Juventus defended in their 4-3-1-2 system against Real 4-3-3. After Ronaldo’s penalty put them behind, Allegri switched to a 4-3-3 at the start of the second half, with Vidal playing alongside the two strikers Tevez and Morata, in a free-role. In the defensive phase the Bianconeri pressed Real defenders high, in a way similar to what they did in the first minutes of the Turin match, with the aim to not give them enough space to find the midfielders. In the attacking phase, Vidal acted as a forward in relation to Tevez’ movements and positioning. Every time Tevez played the False-9 role, coming deep, Vidal took the Argentinean’ position as striker, and vice versa, when was the Chilean himself to come deep. The purpose of this strategy was to always keep the defenders occupied, and to try to find Tevez (but also Morata and Vidal) free in the pocket. We can define this tactical move as a true example of combinational-positional-play, as reported by Albin Sheqiri (@mrSheqiri on twitter) in his analysis of Real Madrid – Juventus for outsideoftheboot.com, a piece that I recommend you to read if you haven’t already (you can find the article here). This expedient lasted for 15 minutes, until Alvaro Morata found the equalizer, but was a prime example of Vidal’s tactical awareness and predisposition to positional play.
Then we have to keep in mind that Vidal plays in then Marcelo Bielsa’s and now Jorge Sampaoli’s Chile, probably the national team which plays the most fluid system on the international stage. With Chile Vidal played almost everywhere: as central defender and then as inverted-wingback (or to explain it better in a hybrid role between a wingback and a box-to-box midfielder) in “el Loco” 3-3-1-3, and as offensive midfielder and then again in his classical high-energy role in midfield with Jorge Sampaoli. Chile plays an attacking and direct football, defined by clever movement and quick combinations between the players. They always try to stretch the opposition, both laterally and vertically, and they use movement to create overloads and dangers. Their predominant feature in defence is their relentless pressing (and counterpressing), which allows them to defend in the opposition’s half of the pitch. Vidal is always in his element when playing with Chile, and his experience with the national team will help him a lot in the understanding the principles of Bayern style of play.
If there is one, Vidal is the man to inherit Bastian Schweinsteiger spot in midfield, and on paper he seems the kind of midfielder Guardiola’s Bayern missed. Now it’s time to prove it on the pitch!
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