With it looking more likely than ever that Gini Wijnaldum is leaving Liverpool on a free this summer, the rumours on who will be the man to replace him have started spreading like a wildfire. Names such as Lille midfielder Renato Sanches and Brighton star Yves Bissouma have been linked. However, the latest name to be circulated might be the most exciting yet. The player in question is Udinese captain Rodrigo De Paul. Corriere dello Sport claimed last week that Jürgen Klopp was a fan of the Argentinian midfielder and that talks had already begun to prize him to Anfield.
While Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) denied that there was anything in these links at the moment, we take a look at why De Paul might be the perfect midfielder for Klopp’s Liverpool side.
Who is he?
Rodrigo Javier De Paul was born in the Argentian city of Sarandí in the Greater Beunos Aires area. At 8 years old, he joined local club and one of Argentina’s “big five” Racing Club de Avellaneda. Here he went on to make 70 appearances for his boyhood club, scoring 7 times. This earned him the type of move most South American’s dream of, a £4.32M move to Valencia.
Spain was De Paul’s trickiest spell in his career to date. After being given his debut by now Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo, the Argentinian found himself at a club that was struggling for positives. Valencia struggled for stability after being taken over by Peter Lim, and so did De Paul. With just six goal involvements (two goals and four assists) across two years at Los Che, he was allowed to go back on loan to his former club back home by then manager Gary Neville.
In 2016 he made the move that would rejuvenate his career. Serie A club Udinese made the move for the Argentinian, securing his services for just £2.7M. Since then, his career has gone from strength to strength. Rodrigo De Paul the footballer has become Rodrigo De Paul the leader. His leadership – now currently club captain – has helped a faltering side avoid relegation in recent times. He is adored in the Northern Italian city of Udine. They know he is destined for greater things; they have seen it before with players such as Alexis Sanchez and Juan Cuadrado passing through the club. The only difference is that De Paul has stayed longer than he was expected to, for the club that he has come to love.
What Does He Offer?
De Paul’s leadership is not the only reason why clubs such as Juventus are being linked recently. There is also an extremely talented footballer in there too. He’s a player that has had to do it all in Udinese’s midfield over the past few years. He’s at his best when he has the ball at his feet. With 4 goals and 2 assists in 17 appearances already this season, he seems set on lifting the Italian club out of the relegation places once again.
There may be some loose comparisons with stages of Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool career to De Paul’s in Udine. He is expected to be a creator, a goal scorer and driving force from midfield. He particularly excels in crossing, dribbling and finding the key passes to unlock defences for a team that doesn’t get much possession. Like the Liverpool legend, De Paul also loves to shoot from range.
Comparison vs. Wijnaldum
Wijnaldum and the Argentinian are vastly different types of players. But perhaps one appealing similarity for Klopp would be De Paul’s dependability. Much like the Dutch midfielder, he isn’t someone that gets injured – with no major injuries to date. He has played every single minute of Serie A action this season and is showing no signs of letting up.
One area that De Paul excels in is goal contributions. This is also an area that Wijnaldum has been criticised for, a player that scores for his country but doesn’t show it for the Reds. Some of this can be down to the role the Dutch International is asked to play, but the criticism is still valid. With 0.49 non-penalty expected goals and assists per 90 in the league this season, De Paul is far more likely than Wijnaldum (just 0.19 per 90) to contribute in attack. This is a particular skillset that Liverpool could do with right now, a team that is often criticised for its lack of goals from midfield, has a front three that isn’t clicking right now. A midfielder with goalscoring prowess would help ease the burden. This is further confirmed by the Argentinian’s Shot Creations per 90, with 5.35 shots created compared to Wijnaldum’s 1.44.
Wijnaldum, however, is superior to De Paul when it comes to both defending and retaining possession. Whilst some of this can be put down to Wijnaldum’s superior teammates and the passes that they are asked to attempt, the numbers still lean heavily in the Dutchman’s favour. De Paul completes just 73.4% of his attempted passes, while Wijnaldum is much more secure at 92.9%. Whilst both players complete similar tackles won per 90 (De Paul 1.06 vs. Wijnaldum 1.19), Wijnaldum is far superior at defending against players dribbling at him – 40.9% compared to 18.5%.
De Paul is clearly someone that has ambitions to play in the Premier League. He recently told beIN Sports ‘I have always said that the best leagues are Serie A, the Premier League and La Liga... I had the experience of playing in two, I am missing the Premier League’. There were strong links in the summer that a transfer to Leeds was close, but this has never materialised. Since then, it has become clear that De Paul is destined for greater things than a midtable side. He is a player that is destined for Champions League football. A player that has both the mentality and skills to play for title winning sides.
Saying that De Paul would be a Wijnaldum replacement would do an injustice to both their skillsets. The Argentinian, if signed, would not be able to replace what our current number 5 does. What he would bring however, is a fresh feel to Liverpool’s midfield. He would bring goals, assists and a relentless will to win. His eye for goal (and his long-range shooting) is something this current Liverpool side is begging out for. Alongside players like Thiago Alcantara, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, Rodrigo De Paul would thrive.
For the rumoured €35-40M that Udinese are currently asking for, this is a deal Liverpool should be all over.