Joao Palhinha may have grown up idolising Sergio Busquets and Xavi, but the Portuguese midfielder is on course to matching another former Barcelona man.
The 28-year-old was a wanted man in the summer and looked so close to a move to Bayern Munich. He had travelled to Germany to finalise the deal, undergoing a medical, but the move collapsed as Fulham were unable to find a replacement.
Palhinha missed Fulham’s game that weekend but returned almost immediately to the team once he was back. And any fears from Fulham fans of Palhinha not having his heart at Craven Cottage were quickly washed away.
We’re not talking about Palhinha signing a new five-year deal either, with an option to extend for a further year, though that may have provided Fulham fans with a bit of safety. We’re talking about the fact that he has kept his level high.
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Last season, Palhinha made 147 tackles in the Premier League, at least 19 more than any other player in Europe’s top seven divisions. However, he also equalled the record for most yellow cards in a single, with 14 in the Premier League, which made him miss three matches and a chance to break the record.
It’s a bit of a strange situation for a midfielder, who idolised who of the best passers in the world when he was a young footballer — though Palhinha knows that isn’t his game.
“I always liked Busquets, Xavi Hernandez,” he told TNT Sport recently.
“But I’m not the guy that has the characteristics of them but, of course, they were two of the players that I appreciated in my life when I was young. I have other characteristics and I hope to continue to improve, to give steps more high in my life, in football.”
This season, Palhinha has already made 50 tackles in the Premier League, the first player to hit that mark in Europe’s top seven divisions. The record in the English top flight is 178, first made by Nigel Reo-Coker for Aston Villa in 2007/08, the highest since Opta began recording this data in 2006/07.
The first player to make 50 successful tackles in a top-seven league in 2023/24? João Palhinha.
*pretends to be shocked* pic.twitter.com/4LkMhvsg6S
— Squawka (@Squawka) November 8, 2023
A few years later, Reo-Coker was joined on 178 tackles in a single season by Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, who would go on to play for Barcelona. It’s funny how things work.
At the moment, Palhinha is making 5.5 tackles per game in the Premier League this season. Which means, if he plays all remaining 27 matches and keeps up that average, Palhinha will finish with 198.
It seems the only thing that can stop him (aside from yellow cards) is a move away from London in January. According to reports, Barcelona are eyeing up a move for Joshua Kimmich, which would leave Bayern needing a midfielder. Further reports claim that Bayern have been keeping an eye on Palhinha since his move fell through and any deal for another midfielder wouldn’t necessarily rule out them coming back in for the Portuguese star.
Let’s hope Palhinha waits until the summer and leaves as the Premier League’s ultimate ball-winning machine.