Paulinho (r.) is ready, willing and able as Bayer Leverkusen get set for the season's denouement without star man Florian Wirtz (l.). - © IMAGO / Moritz Müller
Paulinho (r.) is ready, willing and able as Bayer Leverkusen get set for the season's denouement without star man Florian Wirtz (l.). - © IMAGO / Moritz Müller
bundesliga

Paulinho: the Brazilian wunderkind Bayer Leverkusen need in Florian Wirtz's absence

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Following a week of setbacks in which Florian Wirtz and Jeremie Frimpong succumbed to season-ending injuries and the team's European adventure came to an end, Bayer Leverkusen were buoyed by the brilliance of Paulinho, Die Werkself's boy from Brazil who is ready to answer his team's attacking call.

With just eleven minutes of their Matchday 27 encounter in Wolfsburg remaining and the game looking set for a scoreless conclusion, Leverkusen coach Gerardo Seoane sent Paulinho into the fray as part of a double substitution. Sure, a point would have taken the visitors back above RB Leipzig and into outright third spot, but Die Werkself would have been left without a win in five games in all competitions.

Having dropped out of the Europa League at the hands of Italian side Atalanta just days before and with the international break approaching, the Bayer were in need of a lift. Enter Paulinho.

Watch: Paulinho's late double lifts Leverkusen

Pouncing on a Wolfsburg lapse in midfield with just four minutes remaining, the 21-year-old subsequently took off, slaloming his way forward before releasing a low shot that, at the last second, swerved out of the way of Pavao Pervan's outstretched hand and smacked the back of the net. An eruption of euphoria on the away bench followed as Paulinho raced to the corner, leaping and punching the air just before his ecstatic teammates swamped him.

Back at his home convalescing, Wirtz opened up Instagram and started filming his T.V., later posting the celebratory moment in his Insta stories and tagging Paulinho, with some fire and heart emojis added for good measure. As if in response, the Rio de Janeiro native replied by scoring with his first Bundesliga header to seal both a memorable double and Leverkusen's triumph in injury time.

The scenes will have acted as an inspiration for Wirtz, who has just begun a similar journey that Paulinho successfully completed at the very end of last season. A hugely complex knee injury - that included a torn torn cruciate ligament - kept Paulinho sidelined for 10 months. Coming, as it did, right before Bayer were due to face Bayern Munich in the 2020 DFB Cup final, the training-ground setback shattered Paulinho's spirits. "It felt like my world had fallen apart," the Brazil U23 international explained. "I was in really good form, had settled in well to the team. The injury happened before the cup final and it was a bitter blow at the time."

Fast forward to Sunday, and the man who could now help to solve Seoane's attacking conundrum with just seven games to go and a UEFA Champions League place to seal, was jumping for joy once again. "Above all, I’m delighted for Paulinho, who always tries so hard and has now reaped the reward," Bayer captain Lukas Hradecky said after his team's 14th top-flight win of the campaign.

"I think the whole team is happy for him because he hasn't scored a goal for a long time," Seoane said. "We try to encourage him to push on, not to hesitate and show determination. You could see that with his first goal," the Leverkusen tactician added, before admitting about his team's second, "We didn't know anything about his strength at headers until now!"

Sunday was celebration time for Paulinho (l.) and Karim Bellarabi. - Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Paulinho's goals were the first he scored in the Bundesliga in over two years. The last time the Brazilian - who signed for Bayer from Vasco De Gama in summer 2018 - was on target was with another double against Eintracht Frankfurt in March 2020. “Paulinho always shows his quality in training [where] he finishes an incredible amount," Seoane said. "He's had a few chances to score in the last few games that weren't converted due to inaccuracy and bad luck," B04's boss continued.

Yet with increasing game time now likely when the Bundesliga resumes after the international break, Paulinho - who has made 24 appearances across all competitions this season - will look to play 'ketchup' in the goalscoring stakes.

“You can see how much of a treat these goals were for Paulinho; I’m so happy that his ketchup bottle has finally burst open!” Hradecky joked after Sunday's 2-0 win for the visitors. The quip came in reference to a comment Leverkusen striker Patrik Schick - who has missed the last four Bundesliga games with a calf injury - made after scoring four goals in a 7-1 win against Greuther Fürth earlier this season, his first that day arriving in the 49th minute. "It was like ketchup, when you first open the bottle, nothing comes out, but when the first thing comes out, everything starts to fall out," Schick joked at the time.

Paulinho (r.) could be the man to help fill Florian Wirtz's boots, with the latter's season over. - IMAGO / Jürgen Schwarz

The weekend win was the good news story Leverkusen were hoping for. Mindful of those long-term injuries to Wirtz and Frimpong and of his team's European disappointment, Seoane said, "After a difficult week, the victory is really good for the team. Today we were rewarded for our efforts."

Captain Hradecky agreed, "It’s a big weight off our shoulders with this win. We showed today that we can also offer a fight, and not just play pretty." With a hungry Paulinho now on the prowl, the Werkself are targeting an attractive conclusion to the campaign.