When a club shells out its record transfer fee for a player, expectations are inevitably going to be stratospheric. That will be no different for Rodrigo at Leeds United this season, as the 29-year-old forward embarks upon an exciting new adventure in the Premier League.
Having completed his £27 million switch from Valencia to Leeds United, it’s fair to say that fans will be hoping Rodrigo will excel for their team, in what has been an agonizingly long-awaited return to the Premier League. Nevertheless, this new signing isn’t the out-and-out striker he’s often painted to be. There’s much more to his game than that.
✍️ #LUFC are delighted to announce the signing of Rodrigo from Valencia for a club record transfer fee
— Leeds United (@LUFC) August 29, 2020
As a forward with Valencia, it’s hard to define Rodrigo as a prolific scorer by any stretch of the imagination. Over the course of six campaigns with the club, he scored just 38 goals in 172 appearances in LaLiga, which gives him a strike ratio of less than 0.23 goal per game. His best league season was during an almost ever-present 2017-18 campaign, playing 37 of 38 matches with a return of 16 goals.
Such numbers are unlikely to make Leeds United top-four or even top-six challengers, with current Premier League betting odds at 200/1 for the title. However, with Leeds also priced as interesting outsiders at 33/1 to win the FA and 66/1 for the EFL Cup, Rodrigo could prove to be a great asset in those competitions. During his time at Valencia, the Brazilian-born Spaniard made 22 appearances in the Copa del Rey, hitting 14 goals in 22 matches.
While it will certainly be interesting to see how Marcelo Bielsa utilises the talents of Rodrigo, much will depend on what system the Argentine coach deploys tactically. In the Championship, 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 were the most commonly used formations, as Leeds concluded the 2019-20 campaign with just one defeat in their final 15 encounters.
Should the Leeds boss retain those shapes in the Premier League, we can probably expect to see Rodrigo played most frequently in wide positions. The timing of his movement from wide positions is what makes Rodrigo a particularly dangerous player, whether it’s bursting into central positions or arriving to finish at the far post.
Rodrigo will undoubtedly be an alternative option to challenge Patrick Bamford for the centre forward spot, although it’s more likely the Spanish international will be deployed as an inside forward, primarily used on the right side of attack in a 4-2-3-1 system. This has proven to be his most productive position with both Spain and Valencia over the last few years.
Whether cutting inside to carve out scoring opportunities or provide assists, Rodrigo is a player who is adept at making the most of any space he gets. Give him just a little room to manoeuvre, he is the kind of forward who can punish defences with a speculative prod at goal or killer pass for an assist. All in all, Rodrigo is an agile forward who is capable of playing on either flank or through the middle, making him a versatile option for Bielsa.
One certainty is that Leeds United have secured the services of a talented individual. Rodrigo is the kind of player who can turn games in an instant, he’s intelligent with or without the ball at his feet, while flexible and adaptive tactically. The latter will certainly be a pleasing faced to Bielsa to have at his disposal, as ‘El Loco’ prepares to test his managerial abilities in the Premier League.