With the January transfer window fast approaching, Leeds United are one of a handful of Premier League clubs who could do with reinforcements.
Centre-back plight has been a painstaking subplot to the Whites’ first Premier League campaign for 16 years, with Diego Llorente, Liam Cooper and Robin Koch all spending time on the sidelines.
In midfield however, Leeds have been relatively well-stocked, making the inability to snare Rodrigo de Paul in the summer markedly less painful.
However, Mateusz Klich’s withdrawal with a suspected thigh injury against West Bromwich Albion this week was perhaps the first indication of a little wear and tear being sustained by the almost ever-present Pole.
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Klich has started each of Leeds’ 16 Premier League games this season, and prior to his half-time substitution against Old Trafford, had missed just 23 minutes.
Since then, Klich has been subbed in each of the last three fixtures, missing a cumulative 101 minutes. Marcelo Bielsa has been trying to protect one of his prized midfield assets during a packed festive period.
Equally, the 30-year-old is walking the suspension tightrope, one booking away from a one-match suspension if he accrues it before the trip to St James’ Park on 26th January.
Consequently, Leeds could be in the market for a Rodrigo de Paul-type player this January, to add quality and depth, as well as picking up some of the slack left by Klich when he is perhaps not at best.
One such individual is a South American playing in Serie A, but not the Argentine De Paul.
Fiorentina’s Erick Pulgar was linked with Leeds United interest in the summer, but after a campaign in which he scored seven times and assisted six, he was somewhat out of Leeds’ reach.
Under Vincenzo Montella and Giuseppe Iachini, Pulgar was a firm favourite, designated penalty-taker and a key player within their midfield three.
This season, new coach Cesare Prandelli appears to have reservations over the Chilean, with Pulgar starting just four times in Serie A.
Over the past three gameweeks in which La Viola are unbeaten – including a 3-0 win over champions Juventus – Pulgar has featured for just 55 minutes off the bench.
One thing which is remarkably striking about Pulgar is how similar his 2019/20 campaign was to Rodrigo de Paul’s. While the Argentine trumps the Chilean in terms of ball progression, Pulgar ranks fairly similarly in chance creation and pressing the opposition.
According to FBRef.com, Pulgar made 195 successful pressures in Serie A last season, meaning Fiorentina retrieved the ball within five seconds of Pulgar applying pressure to the opponent in possession. This was the third-most of any player in the division.
De Paul on the other hand, made 186 successful pressures, a very similar figure, which explains why Leeds were in the market for both in the summer. This is not to mention that currently Mateusz Klich is Leeds’ most prolific presser this season, and operates in the same space as Pulgar would.
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As for the Serie A duo’s Expected Assists (xA) – a fancy term for how likely a player is to score based on the quality of the pass provided to them – the difference between De Paul and Pulgar once again is like splitting hairs.
De Paul registered 7.0 xA; Pulgar 6.7. Both players ended the season with six assists.
This paints a picture of a player who – currently out of favour – has the potential to slot seamlessly into this Leeds United side. It will no doubt help that Pulgar’s native tongue is Spanish, and that while he has been out of sorts at Fiorentina, he would certainly be fit enough to get up to speed with the Leeds team straight away.
Last season, Fiorentina were one of Serie A’s most pressing-focused sides, with three Viola players making up the top ten for individuals with the most pressures attempted.
He is certainly an option, and could even be available for less than the €30 million quoted for De Paul.