Sampdoria v Udinese might not normally be the most captivating prospect for your Saturday night viewing choice, but the contest may have enjoyed a strangely increased number of spectators in the Merseyside area.
In particular, among households that support Liverpool Red.
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Now that peak audience probably didn’t have much to do with a sudden passion for Claudio Ranieri’s Blucerchiati, although seeing this beautiful band in mid-flight was a real joy to see.
No, it probably has something to do with the presence of a certain attacking playmaker sporting Udinese’s yellow, who goes by the name of Rodrigo De Paul.
The Argentine has been linked with a possible move to Anfield this winter, and with the Reds arriving on the pitch on Sunday afternoon, that gave fans a chance to see their transfer goal in action.
One question must have been on the lips of every Liverpool fan after seeing De Paul dismantle Samp on Saturday: What does this guy do in a team like Udinese? In all fairness, that’s a very valid question.
The 26-year-old put on a simply mind-blowing display of individual genius, teamwork and maverick genius at the Marassi, but even his talents couldn’t make up for the shoddy companions around him.
After another brilliant performance that didn’t score any points, De Paul himself is probably reflecting on what he’s doing in Udine as well.
Speaking after his teammates allowed all of his majestic work to be lost once again in the 2-1 loss to Sampdoria, the Argentine admitted to Sky Sport that he “sets no limits” , beating his eyelashes against the European heavyweights.
“I didn’t set any limits for myself.
“Once you join a national team like Argentina, you feel ready to play with anyone. I hope I have a great career and I am working to achieve it.
Hopefully Jurgen Klopp is also tuned in to Saturday night’s Serie A showdown.
The German coach has clearly shown that he is looking for players to make this Liverpool team more unpredictable in the summer transfer window, starting with the signings of Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota.
Thiago provides a creative outlet in the center of the park that his teammates lack, and the speed at which he moves the ball can help the Reds unlock the deepest and most stubborn endlines.
The Spaniard’s injuries – along with Jota’s long-term absence – have left Liverpool much more entrenched in a title race than Klopp would have hoped, and he has to wonder if an addition in January will prove the difference between a title defense or an unexpected collapse.
If the answer is spend spend spend, then De Paul is your man.
The attacking midfielder is the closest clone to Jack Grealish money can buy. The number 10 jersey, the captain’s armband, the weight and expectations of a whole city on his shoulders, the undeniable beautiful thrilling pace.
They are also extremely similar in the field. De Paul can play left, center, or literally do the work of 10 other players while covering every blade of grass. Think back to when you played “Be a Pro” mode on FIFA and forced the computer to pass to your player every second, just because they couldn’t process thoughts at your level. It’s De Paul.
His ability to carry the ball, shoot from a distance, use either foot effectively and produce sublime passes to spot teammates makes him impossible to read as a defender, and just as problematic to stop. Objectives, assistance and an incomparable pace of work. He has everything.
His near-perfect display against Samp typifies everything he can offer in 90 minutes.
The midfielder made his first major contribution by collecting the ball in his own half, rolling his marker and then accelerating towards the penalty area. Despite being chased by two and surrounded by three, he still had the composure to roll a perfect cross into the six-yard penalty area, only for his striker to get frustratedly wrong.
De Paul’s next big game was the first Grealish. He received the ball into a crowded midfield, used neat footwork to shift left and pass wide. Instead of rushing into the box, he lingered in that left channel and possession was returned to him.
Dropping his shoulder and taking two hits to get the ball out of his feet, he launched a missile to the far corner, and was desperately unlucky to see his shot shake the crossbar. He was getting closer, however.
The great moment of the talisman finally arrived in the second half. Strolling between midfield and Samp’s defense, he took possession of the ball and got three cracks on goal. The first was blocked, the second saved, and the third – bingo.
We can then add perseverance to his list of skills.
In the end, his goal wasn’t enough to save Udinese from his below-par personality, and a final 25-minute collapse left De Paul disheartened and beaten again. It must be difficult being such an incredibly gifted player on such a lackluster team, knowing that your departure could signal the downfall of an entire club.
But the Argentine has carried Udine’s pressure for too long, and he deserves to be surrounded by players who can think on a similar wavelength and allow him to enjoy his football in the upper echelons of the match. Men of his ability shouldn’t struggle with relegation or settle for darkness in the middle of the table.
Liverpool would be the perfect home for De Paul, where his flashes of brilliance and tendency to create chances from any area of the pitch would pull the Reds over the line in the tightest of cases.
All Klopp has to do is say the word, and the title race will come back in their favor.