Atlético Madrid are league champions — but there are still improvements that need to be made ahead of a title defense in 2021/22.
For one, Atlético could use another option in central midfield, another creative player there to share playmaking duties with Koke. Atleti’s captain (and two-time league champion) took up a holding midfield role after Thomas Partey left, and he excelled in the position. Geoffrey Kondogbia, ostensibly Thomas’ replacement, made only four starts after completing his move from Valencia and most often entered as a late-game, defensive-minded substitute. And after enduring his worst season as a colchonero, Saúl Ñíguez looks more out than in for 2021/22.
This indicates that Diego Simeone might not view the “Koke-as-anchor” strategy as a bandaid or a “break glass in case of emergency.” Rather, Cholo may see Koke as capable of filling that role in his preferred 11 next season and beyond, after years as a wide midfielder.
If that’s the case, Atlético’s rumored Rodrigo De Paul pursuit makes a whole lot of sense.
Matteo Moretto and Fabrizio Romano reported Saturday that Atlético want the Udinese captain and have opened negotiations with the Italian side. Romano claims Atleti are willing to yield 20-year-old center back Nehuén Pérez to bring down De Paul’s €40 million price tag. Pérez is still regarded as one of Atleti’s brightest prospects, but he struggled for game time while on loan at Granada in 2020/21.
Over in Italy, De Paul put together another exceptional season. The 27-year-old is a much different player from the one who left Valencia in 2016 — he has emerged as an all-around force in midfield, scoring nine goals and registered nine assists in 2020/21 while generating nearly five shot-creating actions per 90 minutes. He also completed better than three dribbles and two key passes per 90 for a side that finished 14th in Serie A.
Rodrigo De Paul entre todos los mediocampistas de las 5 ligas top de Europa en la temporada 20/21:— DataRef (@DataRef_) May 25, 2021
- 1° en gambetas exitosas (122).
- 2° en duelos ganados (294).
- 2° en infracciones recibidas (125).
- 6° en pases claves (82).
- 8° en participación en goles (18). pic.twitter.com/gvAOrSEU10
De Paul has been linked with Atlético before, and fellow Argentine Simeone has spoken glowingly about him in the past. Clubs all over Europe have kept tabs on the player given his outstanding performances over the past few years, and Udinese aren’t under immense pressure to sell given De Paul’s contract still has three years left to run.
And, given that Atlético are still recovering from the financial damage COVID has wrought, a swap deal involving a young player like Pérez might be the only formula that would entice Udinese. It’s unlikely Atleti will be spending €40 million on anyone this summer, even someone as brilliant as De Paul.