Is Rodrigo De Paul finally fulfilling potential at Udinese?
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Rodrigo De Paul is enjoying a breakout season in Serie A. It seems Udinese's Argentine winger is finally living up to the expectations that led to Valencia bringing him to Europe in 2014.
De Paul's career began in his home country, joining Racing Club as an eight-year-old. He came through the youth system, eventually making his first-team debut in 2013, just a few months shy of turning 19.
After over 50 appearances for Racing, Valencia came in with an offer to tempt De Paul. He struggled to standout in Spain, though, and 18 months later rejoined his boyhood club on loan. The youngster then signed for Udinese in July 2016.
Since arriving in Udine, De Paul has performed reasonably well. He managed four goals and two assists in his first campaign before notching four goals and seven assists last season. The winger has upped the ante again this time around, having already recorded six goals and three assists. His performance is essentially keeping Udinese's heads above water.
At the beginning of the decade, Udinese sat alongside Italy's best teams. They finished fourth, third and fifth between 2011-13. Since then, though, the Zebrette have slumped to Serie A's bottom half. Their demise coincided with talisman Antonio Di Natale growing older, eventually retiring in 2016.
This campaign, Udinese are really struggling. Prior to the weekend, they were in the relegation zone. De Paul's goal on Saturday overcame Roma to end his side's run of seven games without a win. That victory took them to 12 points, one above third-bottom Bologna.
So far this season, Udinese have only managed to score 12 goals in 13 Serie A matches. De Paul has notched six of those, assisting on another three. In fact, during every single game in which the Zebrette have picked up points, their Argentine attacker's managed to find the net. Right now, he is carrying the team, albeit with a little help from Ignacio Pussetto and recent Azzurri debutant Kevin Lasagna, who have added two goals each.
De Paul's form has led to his international debut. He was called up to the Argentina squad in October, then retained his place this month. The Buenos Aires-born winger played a half in three of the recent friendlies. With La Albiceleste looking to rebuild due to Lionel Messi's international future still undecided, they will be searching for suitable attacking talent.
De Paul comes close to topping that list. His versatility is a key factor. He has started most games on the left-hand side, either in a front three or midfield four. The 24-year-old can play central midfield and as a striker, too. Though he is most comfortable when featuring on the left.
Good on the ball and equally proficient at dribbling, De Paul can also pick out teammates in better positions. He is a useful set-piece taker as well. Standing at 5'10'', his heading ability should be better than it is, although he makes up for that weakness in other areas.
De Paul has recently renewed his Udinese contract. The new deal means he is signed up until 2023. However, the vultures are already circling, with the two Milan sides believed to be interested in snatching him.
The Zebrette can't afford to lose De Paul. But if their stock continues to crash and his carries on rising, the only possible outcome is a move away. Udinese will hope to ward off any potential suitors, at least until he has helped them secure top-flight status for another season.