After the signings of Robin Koch and Rodrigo Moreno, Leeds are still in the market for midfielder who can offer the creativity and open up the defences like Pablo Hernandez. With the influential play maker nearing the end of his career, this summer Leeds will be looking to both replace him for the coming years, but also for someone to make an instant impact upon their premier league return. The man they seem to be targeting according to various reliable sources is Udinese and Argentina international Rodrigo De Paul. The 26 year old midfielder has been a consistent performer in Italy over the last few years and has caught the eye of a lot of clubs around Europe after helping keep the Udinese in Serie A. Despite being a full international and one of the stand out performers last season, De Paul is still relatively unknown to a lot of people who don’t follow European football. In order to find out what sort of player Leeds would be signing, I took a look at his stats and watched some of his games to find out.
In total De Paul played 2,997 minutes last season in Serie A, scoring 7 goals and making 5 assists, a good return for a player in a struggling side. He made 4.56 dribbles per 90 at an impressive 61.16% success rate as well as 4.17 progressive runs per 90, highlighting one of his main strengths, which is progressing the ball. Only 7 players in the top 5 leagues made more progressive runs than De Paul last season.
He also progresses the ball well via passes, making 8.68 per 90, showcasing his elite ability to move the ball forward. He is also very good at creating chances, making 0.78 key passes per 90 as well as an xA per 90 of 0.24. His pass accuracy of 79.95% is low when compared to other midfielders but is common among players that try harder and more creative passes, as we see with Pablo Hernandez, who also has a below 80% pass accuracy. With it looking likely that he would start as one of the number 8’s for Leeds if he were to join, defensive output is important. In total he made 6.4 successful defensive actions per 90, which compared with Hernandez last season is slightly less, who averaged 7.64. Still relatively decent defensive numbers for a player that provides such attacking output.
Last season De Paul predominately played as a right central midfielder in Udinese’s 5-3-2 system but also played as the central midfielder. Throughout his career, he has played a number of positions including as a number 10, a right winger and even as a secondary striker. This positional versatility is something we all know Bielsa likes and offers cover and competition for a number of positions.
As you can see from his heat map from last season, he covers a lot of ground but likes to occupy the right half space. If he were to join Leeds, he would likely play as the more advanced of the two 8’s alongside Klich. His stats suggest he has the skill set to provide the creative spark but how do the stats look in action?
The Eye Test
Rodrigo De Paul is an all action midfielder who is among the best in Europe at progressing the ball forward via carries or passes. His ability to find pockets of space and then drive towards goal is one of his main attributes. Combine this with his dribbling ability and you have a player that is brilliant in transitioning defence to attack. Due to the way Udinese play, he often picks the ball up in his own half so being able to resist the opposition’s press is important. The passage of play below is a great example, beating the press with his good dribbling ability before driving into the space. He is under pressure and his team mates don’t offer any good forward runs so he cuts back and switches play.
For a midfield player, he has a good turn of pace, especially across a short distance which helps massively when running away from players. His awareness of what is around him on the pitch is also very good, often picking the ball up in between the lines. This is where he causes a lot of damage, often leading to him having a shot, making a pass or being fouled. In fact he ranks in the top 30 in Europe last season for the most fouled player, showing how difficult he can be to stop when in full flow. It’s important that once he gets into the final third that he can make a difference, which he certainly can. The majority of his chances created tend to come from or start in the half space, more often on the right as that is where he naturally plays but also at times on the left. The examples below show that, one cross from the left and one smart pass from the right. Both chances unfortunately don’t end in a goal but they was certainly laid on a plate by De Paul.
Not only can he create goals and chances, but he is also very capable of scoring them. He scores a wide range of goals from long range shots to arriving in the box with well timed runs. He is often involved in the build up of these goals as well, as the example below shows. He initially picked up the ball in his favoured right half space before playing it out wide. This is the area he then received the ball before playing a pass for one of his team mates. He didn’t however stand and admire his work, he carried on his run into the box where he was picked and found the top corner with a curling effort. A perfect example of his influence.
As well as providing a threat from open play, he is also Udinese’s main set piece taker and often picks out his team mates from corners. This is an important weapon at his disposal, especially given how much he is fouled, Udinese get a lot of dead ball situations so making the most of them is important. He often deliveries the ball with pace and dipping which makes it difficult for goalkeepers to come and collect or punch. It also means that his teammates only require slight touch as all the power is on the delivery, as the corner below shows.
As his stats suggested, he is an elite ball carrier, the creative hub in a pretty poor Udinese side but there are a couple of area for improvement if he wants to take his game up to a new level.
Areas For Improvement
Despite De Paul being a very well rounded midfielder, the defensive side of his game would need some work depending on what position and system he plays in the future. If he was to be played as number 10 and given the freedom, his defensive output is more than good enough however if his long term future is as a number 8 then he will be required to be more switched on defensively. This also includes aerial duels, something he struggles with despite being 5ft 11, often being a bit lazy with his attempts to win the ball. For a midfielder, it’s isn’t as important as a defender but if he can win more battles in the air, then it would allow his team to win the possession turnovers more often and therefore control games better. Finally, with him being tasked with providing the creative spark, he can hold onto the ball too long at times. This is partly down to his team mates often making poor runs or him being the furthest forward but sometimes just him trying to much and being caught in possession. I think playing in a team that provides more attacking options, this won’t be a problem as he will learn to release the ball quicker as he won’t be the only player in the opposition attacking third.
Having turned 26 just three months ago, De Paul is about to hit his peak years and at a reported 30 million, he would be an excellent additions to most sides in Europe. With Leeds United looking to add quality over quantity and needing more goals from midfield, Rodrigo fits the bill perfectly. It’s slightly surprising given his performances over the past 2 seasons that Leeds are even in a position to be in the running to sign him, but being from Argentina, Bielsa will be a big pull for Leeds. Despite the quality additions of Rodrigo Moreno and Robin Koch, De Paul would top them both in my opinion if he was to sign for Leeds. Exciting times are coming.
By Thomas Wilson
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