Sampdoria versus Udinese might not normally be the most captivating prospect for your choice of Saturday night viewing, but the contest may well have enjoyed a strangely boosted number of onlookers in the area of Merseyside.
Particularly, among the households who support the red of Liverpool.
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Now, that spike in ratings probably had little to do with a sudden passion for Claudio Ranieri’s Blucerchiati, although witnessing that beautiful strip in full flight is a real joy to behold.
No, it more likely has something to do with the presence of a certain attacking playmaker donning the yellow of Udinese, who goes by the name of Rodrigo De Paul.
The Argentine has been linked with a potential move to Anfield this winter, and with the Reds taking to the field on Sunday afternoon, it gave supporters a chance to see their transfer target in action.
One question must have been on every Liverpool fan’s lips after seeing De Paul dismantle Samp on Saturday: What the hell is this guy doing at a team like Udinese? In fairness, it’s a very valid question.
The 26-year-old put in a simply breathtaking display of individual brilliance, teamwork and maverick genius at the Marassi, but even his talents could not compensate for the shoddy companions which surrounded him.
After another brilliant performance which yielded zero points, De Paul himself is probably pondering exactly what he’s doing in Udine, too.
Speaking after his teammates allowed all his majestic work to go to waste once again in the 2-1 defeat to Sampdoria, the Argentine admitted to Sky Sport that he ‘sets no limits’ for himself, fluttering those eyelashes at Europe’s heavyweights.
“I set no limits for myself.
“Once you join a National team like Argentina, you feel you are ready to play with anyone. I hope I am going to have a great career and I am working to achieve it.”
Let’s hope Jurgen Klopp tuned in to Serie A’s Saturday night showdown, too.
The German coach clearly demonstrated that he is searching for players to make this Liverpool side more unpredictable in the summer transfer window, starting with the signings of Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota.
Thiago offers a creative outlet in the centre of the park which is lacking among his teammates, and the speed at which he moves the ball can help the Reds to unlock the deepest and most stubborn of backlines.
The Spaniard’s injuries – along with Jota’s long-term absence – have left Liverpool far more entrenched in a title race than Klopp would have hoped, and he must be wondering if a January addition will prove the difference between a title defence 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 that money can buy. The number 10 jersey, the captain’s armband, the weight and expectations of an entire city on his shoulders, the undeniable heart-throb good looks.
They’re extremely similar on the pitch, too. De Paul can play out on the left, centrally, 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 one player every second, purely because they couldn’t process thoughts on your level. That’s De Paul.
His ability to carry the ball, shoot from distance, use either foot effectively and produce sublime passes to pick out teammates makes him impossible to read as a defender, and equally as problematic to stop. Goals, assists and an incomparable work rate. He’s got the lot.
His almost perfect display against Samp typifies everything he can offer over the course of 90 minutes.
The midfielder provided his first major contribution by collecting the ball in his own half, rolling his marker and then speeding 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 box, only for his striker to frustratingly miscue.
De Paul’s next big play was prime Grealish. He received the ball in a congested midfield area, used some neat footwork to shift left and roll a pass out wide. Instead of darting into the box, he lingered in that left channel, and possession was handed back to him.
Dropping his shoulder and taking two touches to get the ball out of his feet, he curled a missile towards the far corner, and was desperately unlucky to see his shot rattle the crossbar. He was getting closer, though.
The talisman’s big moment finally arrived in the second half. Loitering between the Samp midfield and defence, he picked up possession, and was awarded three cracks at goal. The first was blocked, the second saved, and the third – bingo.
We can add persistence to his list of skills, then.
Ultimately, his goal wasn’t enough to save Udinese from their below-average-selves, and a final 25 minute collapse left De Paul crestfallen and downbeat yet again. It must be difficult being such an incredibly gifted player in such a disappointingly drab side, all the while knowing that your departure could signal the downfall of an entire club.
But the Argentine has carried the pressure of Udine 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 game. Men of his ability should not be fighting relegation or settling for mid-table obscurity.
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 affairs.
All Klopp needs to do is say the word, and the title race will swing back in their favour.