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Barcelona midfielder Paulinho must go some way to justify £36m price tag… but he has made a phenomenal start

The biggest mystery of the summer was why on earth Barcelona wanted to buy Paulinho. The new mystery is what the hell was he doing at Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super League – a €14m Tottenham reject that nobody else in Europe wanted.

At least that’s the conclusion Barcelona supporters have reached after watching his display at the Nou Camp on Tuesday night. The powerful headed second goal, his dummy for the fourth goal, and the one-two with Lionel Messi ahead of the fifth goal were highlights from a convincing 6-1 win.

It’s still early days. Teams will soon learn not to leave him completely unmarked at corners as Eibar did on Tuesday night.

And Dani Alves might have been a lot over-the-top when he tweeted of his Brazil team-mate: ‘He will end having been a cheap signing’.

He will have to have some season to justify the €40m (£36m) paid for him. But it has been a phenomenal start.

He scored with his first shot on target – at the weekend having come on against Getafe – and he was the third best player on the pitch on Tuesday night behind four-goal Messi and impressive right-back Nelson Semedo.

There’s a swagger to him, right down to the smoke-an-imaginary-cigar goal celebration, and he looks physically imposing too. The way he bounced his Getafe marker off on Saturday as he scored was something we usually only see from Luis Suarez.

Then there are the well-time runs runs from deep. There was a Frank Lampard comparison from one Catalan broadcaster on Tuesday night and his two goals so far in the Barcelona shirt do have something of the former Chelsea midfielder to them.

Barcelona’s technical secretary Robert Fernandez deserves some credit. He always insisted Barca were buying the Brazil captain and the people should concentrate on that and not the fact that he had washed up somewhat prematurely in the Chinese Super League.

No one has scored more goals in Brazil’s World Cup qualifying campaign than Paulinho. No one apart from Neymar who was supposed to be Paulinho’s Barcelona team-mate – a plan scuppered by his £198m move to Paris Saint Germain.

Those close to the Barcelona dressing room say Paulinho’s positive disposition has also filled the joy deficit left by Neymar.

And while he has Neymar’s chirpiness he doesn’t have his ego. There was no dance routine when he buried that header in the first half, he just ran straight to Denis Suarez who had delivered the corner.

Neither has come with the nerves of some of the other summer signings. Ousmane Dembele’s willingness to please may have contributed in him getting injured.

And Gerard Deulofeu looks like he knows he’s on his last chance at the club. Paulinho in contrast oozes self-confidence.

‘I don’t have to prove anything to the people who doubted me,’ he says. ‘I just have to prove myself to my team-mates and the supporters.’ He’s well on the way to doing that.

The real test will come when the Champions League begins to hot up. It’s the principal reason for his signing. Fernandez felt that the team got pushed around last season by the likes of PSG and Juventus.

They were also incapable of nicking an all-important away goal from a set-piece. And when games turned physical they were overwhelmed. Paulinho has to deliver in those scenarios.

For now supporters can just enjoy watching him demolish La Liga defences. ‘The silk glove and the iron fist’ was Diario AS’s headline tribute to Barca top scorer Messi and their second-top scorer Paulinho.

The Brazilian will be more than happy to be the steel in Ernesto Valverde’s La Liga leaders.

 

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