, September 09, 2021

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Rodrigo De Paul showing the extra dimension he gives Atletico Madrid

  •   3 min reads
Rodrigo De Paul Atletico Madrid
Rodrigo De Paul has already made an impact for Atleti. Rodrigo Jimenez/EPA.

It took Rodrigo De Paul just 38 minutes for Atletico Madrid’s marquee summer signing to demonstrate what he will offer Diego Simeone’s side this season. In front of his new home fans for the first time, and in his first La Liga start for his new start, the Argentine provided the perfect pass from deep for Angel Correa to score the match winner against Elche.

This provided evidence supporting the hypothesis that De Paul would be a perfect fit at the Wanda Metropolitano. Having improved season-on-season for Udinese, it was clear the midfielder was ready to take the next step in his career, and De Paul seemingly has the right character and positional profile to succeed under Simeone at Atleti.

“I don’t call all the players,” Simeone said when asked to explain how he lured De Paul to the Spanish capital over the summer. “When De Paul called me, he said: ‘Look Cholo, I’ve already told the club that Atletico is the only team I want to join.’ So, I just told him: ‘I’ll see you in 20 days’, and here he is.”

De Paul was right to desire a move to Atletico Madrid. While Simeone’s side won their first La Liga title in seven years last season, there was a spot up for grabs in their midfield. Koke and Marcos Llorente are central pillars that hold Atleti up, but Thomas Lemar, Saul Niguez and Geoffrey Kondogbia were rotated in and out of the final place in the central unit.

It now appears Simeone will build around de Paul, who cost €35m from Udinese. This was showcased in the home win over Elche, which was ultimately decided by the Argentine’s inventiveness from deep. De Paul gives Atletico Madrid a different dimension that will help them break down opponents through their use of the ball.

Simeone has spoken many times about Atletico Madrid’s need to become more expansive in their general play. He has acknowledged the disconnect that now exists between the club’s traditional status as underdogs and their new standing as one of the richest, most glamorous clubs in the European game. Underdogs don’t play in shimmering, state-of-the-art stadiums that resemble space ships.

The signing of De Paul was made with all this in mind. His ability on the ball means he will dictate the pace and tempo of Atleti’s play in the final third. De Paul is also one of the best ball carriers around which will help Simeone orchestrate overloads. This could benefit a number of his new teammates, from Luis Suarez to Kieran Trippier.

“He was playing as a left-winger at the beginning of his playing career,” Simeone explained about De Paul’s qualities as a player after the midfielder’s arrival in the Spanish capital this summer. "He has developed at Udinese and I associate his characteristics with the fact that we have players like Koke, Herrera or Lemar.

“We need players who can take that step building up into attack, controlling the tempo, so that wingers and strikers can attack. Today, it’s difficult if midfielders don’t score goals. Look at Spain, they had a great tournament [at Euro 2020], but goals must come from somewhere. It’s hard to think Llorente will score 12 goals again, so we need to add those of Saul, Lemar and De Paul.”

As impressive as Atleti were last season, Simeone is right to reference some of the unsustainable aspects of their campaign, like the goals Llorente scored. The Spanish international is now well-established as one of the best attack-minded midfielders in La Liga, but opposition teams will now have a better idea of how to handle him.

Suarez might also find it difficult to match his goal tally of last season, with the 34-year-old increasingly prone to injury. This is where De Paul will make a difference, pulling attention away from some of his teammates. It won’t be long until the Argentine is a target for opposition players and managers in his own right.

€35m will ultimately represent a bargain for Atletico Madrid. At 27, De Paul is still improving and that upward trajectory of individual development will likely continue now that the Argentine has such a suitable team structure around him. Atleti needed a player like De Paul and De Paul needed a club like Atleti. It looks to be the perfect union.

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