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Leeds United have released a statement of intent upon arriving back to the Premier League with the signing of Spanish international Rodrigo from Valencia for a club record £27m.
Here’s a brief look into what makes Rodrigo an effective forward.
Rodrigo is capable of playing either up front or out wide. Rodrigo played in both a front two and as a winger in Valencia’s 4-4-2 in recent seasons, and when playing in a front two, Rodrigo had the licence to drop towards deeper positions, where midfield could be linked to attack and drift out to the flanks.
He brings a respectable enough goal record, albeit up and down. But although reaching 15+ goals in two of his five full seasons with Valencia, perhaps Rodrigo will be more revered by Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa for his movement and positioning without the ball more so than his goal scoring, similarly to centre-forward Patrick Bamford.
Bamford’s movement invites forward passes and drags defenders out of position, his hold-up play which invites defenders, midfielders and wingers to make runs ahead of him and even draws fouls are key to Leeds’ system, and they are qualities comparable with Rodrigo’s.
The Spaniard is very good at making runs from wide areas after having drifted from the centre. Rodrigo often gets into space between defenders on the wing, which means he is harder to mark when making the run and has space to play a cross or pass into the box from the flank.
And when on the flank, Rodrigo can take on the full-back down the outside or switch back on to his stronger left foot, where he can then cross or cut inside from the flank to shoot himself. Rodrigo is also effective at creating space for the winger (if starting up front) to make runs ahead that can be followed by a pass or shot. Basically, his runs and movement make space in advanced areas for other attackers to exploit
These runs, equipped with Rodrigo’s speed can also be a threat in transitions. Valencia were capable of starting attacks from deeper positions, launching balls to be knocked down into the path of Rodrigo making a run down the right or left flank.
Rodrigo’s mobility has meant that when Valencia have attacked, Rodrigo can also link attacks. Rodrigo can get into pockets of space where he can then receive a pass from either midfield or out wide and then pass to another attacker closer to goal. It’s worth noting Rodrigo averaged 0.52 goal creating actions per 90 in the Champions League last season.
The movement to either create a passing option down the flank high up the pitch or to help link attacks is added to by his movement in the box. Rodrigo is able to peel off markers quickly when balls are played into the box from either full-backs or wingers down the flanks, or from set-pieces. Take a look at Rodrigo’s goal in a 1-1 draw with Barcelona a few seasons ago.
Rodrigo’s movement can add variation in attack and can cause problems for defences. Whereas one forward for Valencia may have stayed central and occupied the box more so, Rodrigo would make runs to allow the ball to be moved forward, whilst there was a still a forward in the box ready to pounce. Rodrigo’s movement is able to drag defenders out of position and create space in the box, which then Rodrigo or a teammate passed to can make use of.
Basically, his runs and movement make space in advanced areas for other attackers to exploit.
How’d Rodrigo fit in Leeds’ system?
The aforementioned movement, as well as the forward’s ability to press defenders will come in handy for the promoted side. There’s room for rotation of positions in Leeds’ system, which could possibly suit Rodrigo, given he doesn’t tend to stay central or stay wide. And it’s also arguable that Rodrigo is a niftier dribbler than Bamford, which would add something else to Leeds’ attacks.
But, is it a risky singing? Rodrigo has cost Leeds a pretty hefty fee. And even with the off-the-ball qualities mentioned, do Leeds need a more reliable goal scorer amongst their ranks if they are to survive in the top flight of English football – Rodrigo scored 7 goals last season? Will Leeds need to bring in another attacker? Though it does seem Leeds are adding players perhaps tailored to the current system, and Rodrigo certainly bolsters the side with what he offers.