Rodrigo has mastered the unsexy art that could solve Leeds’ key problem
Fire up the YouTube compilations, baby. Leeds United are back and about to break their transfer record with the eye-catching £30million signing of Valencia striker Rodrigo. Since it’s 2020, we’re here to offer you the definitive take on the Spain international without ever really having seen him play.
Of course, any mention of Leeds United and strikers means talk will inevitably turn to the positives and negatives of a certain Patrick Bamford, so let me just get it out of the way and make my own position clear: he’s worked his bollocks off to earn a chance in the Premier League, performing admirably in the face of intense scrutiny and, at least online, abuse. But equally: I wanted to strangle him for about 95% of the season.
That’s always the problem with Bamford; his work-rate and general uncoolness make him endearing, yet watching him try to put the ball into the back of the net is about as comfortable as watching Jason McAteer try to decipher the enigma code. In Bamford’s defence, he is not the only member of Leeds’ squad afflicted with this particular problem.
Enter Rodrigo, with a transfer fee that would make Ken Bates cancel Christmas, 22 caps for Spain and, erm, his own relatively underwhelming goalscoring record.
Just twice has the forward reached double figures in a single league campaign – although he has often played as a second striker or out wide – prompting some corners of Twitter to question how much of an upgrade he actually is on Bamford.
It’s impossible to conclude until Rodrigo pulls on the white shirt, but after watching a compilation of his Valencia highlights, one thing does stand out: he’s really good at tap-ins.
Compilations are designed for nutmegs, elasticos and volleys. The entire second half of a Rodrigo compilation posted by La Liga’s English-language Twitter account is mainly made up of clips of him rolling the ball into an empty net from six yards out – and a YouTube video of all his goals for Valencia, posted six months ago, confirms that is regularly the case.
Sure, that may not seem like much, but it could prove crucial within Marcelo Bielsa’s style of play, which sees Leeds continually look to find space out wide before cutting the ball back or drilling a cross across the six-yard box until the opposition are worn down.
Bamford performs a key role in leading the Peacocks’ press to ensure they win the ball back as soon as possible and try again, but when he’s not squandering chances he’s often guilty of not sniffing out where an opportunity will present itself.
His remit from Bielsa obviously demands he is involved in far more other areas of the game, but he regularly provokes the urge to shake him by the shoulders and tell him to stand on the penalty spot to give him the best possible chance of getting on the end of Leeds’ relentless attacks. Eddie Nketiah reaped the rewards of such an instinct, albeit he lacked the other required facets to his game to displace Bamford in Bielsa’s starting XI.
Bamford has defended his goalscoring record in the past by suggesting the work demanded of him often means he is too tired to be as sharp in front of goal as he would like. The stats back that up: Bamford was a far more effective striker in his second season at Elland Road, and the team as a whole performed better as a result, yet his minutes-per-goal ratio in the Championship dropped from a goal every 161.1 minutes in 2018-19 to one every 216.5 minutes in 2019-20.
The suspicion has always been that a better striker will be able to combine the two sides of the game more naturally. Rodrigo will be the litmus test in Bielsa’s own take on the age-old battle between nature and nature: talent vs lung capacity.
Bamford will no doubt start on the opening day at Anfield, and most likely the following weeks, as Rodrigo is taught the difference between match fit and Bielsa fit.
When he finally gets a chance, Leeds fans may be expecting something a bit sexier than six-yard tap-ins from the most expensive signing in their history. But if the goals start to arrive, that should be enough to turn them on.