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FEATURE | Rodrigo de Paul profiled: What Udinese’s main man could bring to Leeds

Rodrigo De Paul is undeniably the jewel in Udinese’s crown. Despite the side’s 13th place finish in the league last season, his ability has become common knowledge amongst Italian football fans – and even further afield in some cases.

This display of talent over the past few years has understandably attracted the attention of Victor Orta, sporting director at Leeds United, and more importantly, that of manager and fellow countryman Marcelo Bielsa. Whilst it is still unclear as to whether the Argentine will leave Italian shores, this speculated transfer does look to be edging closer to completion with every day.

Here is a look at the key reasons as to why Rodrigo De Paul is attracting suitors.

Overview

Rodrigo de Paul is an Argentinian midfielder who has been playing for Udinese for the past four seasons, since moving from Valencia in 2016 for a fee of £2.7m. Subsequently, De Paul has racked up an exhaustive 11,099 minutes for Le Zebrette, collating 49 goal contributions within this period.

There are also specific attributes that make De Paul such an attractive option in the transfer market.

Key Attributes

Progressive Play

Ball progression is a fundamental component to every team. Whether the coach employs a defensive or offensive system, if they do not have at least one player that can effectively transition the ball forward, they will be in desperate trouble. In this sense, De Paul has played an invaluable role in helping Udinese maintain their consistency during his career to date in Italy.

Last season, the midfielder has been attributed 237 progressive passes (9th in Serie A), 4.14 progressive runs per 90 (7th in Serie A – of players with over 900 minutes played) and a progressive distance of 8,597 yards moved with the ball (3rd in Serie A).

Worryingly, not one player at Udinese even comes close to replicating these numbers across all three metrics and, if De Paul is to leave, it would open up a huge void that would be difficult to plug.

Shot-Creation

As well as being one of the most progressive players within Serie A, De Paul was also proficient at accomplishing shot-creating actions for his team – with his total sitting at a healthy 137 from last season.

Moreover, the Argentine notched 71 key passes, 132 passes into the final third, 66 passes into the penalty area and 20 crosses into the penalty area. He was arguably shown up in this department by his teammates, underperforming his expected assists tally by one.

Often, he will also be the one to take the shot, having done so previously on 100 occasions last season.

Map of Rodrigo De Paul’s last 75 shots and their outcomes (provided by WyScout)

So this raises the question, how does De Paul slot into Marcelo Bielsa’s system?

Leeds United

Leeds United’s most common formation and starting eleven in the 2019/20 EFL Championship season

The most obvious role which De Paul would fill in this Leeds United side is the right central-midfield position. Predominantly having been occupied by 35-year-old Pablo Hernández last campaign, it is perhaps time for some younger legs in this crucial area. This is not to say Hernández isn’t a fantastic player, but De Paul clearly has all the capabilities to prosper for ‘The Peacocks’ here.

It is imperative to note the similarity between the pair in terms of their positional play, both largely operating in the right-half space, and so Bielsa wouldn’t be forced to make significant changes for the introduction of De Paul. Perhaps more important, though, is determining whether he could contribute the necessary output required from a player in this position.

 

 

The above diagram aptly illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of each player in areas that tend to be essential for midfielders although defensive contribution is something neither are required to do a lot of.

At first glance, this does not appear to paint De Paul in a glowing light, only beating Hernández in the duels won and recoveries per 90 categories on the diagram, but circumstantial knowledge is required to accurately interpret this data.

Hernández was playing in the Championship, which with due respect is at a lower level than Serie A. This does not discredit how the Spaniard placed within the top three players in the league – of those who played more than 900 minutes – for assists per 90 (0.37), smart passes per 90 (3.49), passes into the penalty area per 90 (5.8), deep completions per 90 (3.18) and progressive passes per 90 (13.88) but certainly puts it into perspective. Whilst his output is is likely to remain at a high standard, his numbers are bound to regress as he takes the step up and this is where De Paul will prove to be an extremely useful acquisition.

De Paul is a player that currently excels in all the statistics presented above. Admittedly not quite to the extent of Hernández, but the midfielder has been doing so at one of the highest levels for multiple years. At twenty-six, he presumably is still also yet to hit his peak and would undoubtedly be a very sensible transfer for Leeds to make.

Conclusion

Statistics can only go so far in clarifying just what an integral part Rodrigo De Paul has played for Udinese over his time with the club. He has managed to keep the team chugging along in Serie A, when they could have easily faltered in his absence. He has also brought an immeasurable amount of joy to the Bianconeri fans over his four years in Friuli

If the rumours do translate into a move to Yorkshire for the midfielder, it’s possible to anticipate the Pozzo ownership transferring a player from the other team under their ownership, Watford, to Udinese. However, it is highly implausible that any player could manage to replicate the numbers posted by De Paul for Udinese.

Gino Pozzo has proven himself to be a very ruthless businessman over the years, but perhaps faces one of his toughest decisions yet. Does he attempt to convince De Paul to stay in Udine for the time being, or instead accept the speculated figure of €30-35m? He is certainly not in an enviable position.

Jacques Le-Bon

All data and graphics via WyScout

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