Rodrygo goals: analysing how the Real Madrid attacker plays
The Brazilian scored a hat-trick against Galatasaray and continues to shine despite there being a dearth of attacking talent at Real Madrid this season.
Rodrygo Goes is the signing Real Madrid never knew they needed in the summer. He arrived from Santos for €45million and was quickly registered in Real Madrid's reserve side. He knew that his adaptation in a new city, country and continent would take time and was happy to bide his time and take opportunities when they came his way.
Real Madrid's squad is oozing with attacking talent. Eden Hazard arrived in the summer and it was decided that Gareth Bale and James Rodríguez weren't going anywhere either. Isco was already in the team and Lucas Vazquez another option. Vinicius, already a year into his assimilation at the biggest club at the world, played 31 times last season with seven goals. Rodrygo was understandably after thought.
As soon as we thought we had a feel for how Real Madrid might look this season, things changed.
Bale and James are both suffering from mysterious injuries and the band-aid applied to their relationship with Zinedine Zidane and the club has been ripped off to reveal what is not a healed wound but a festering one. Isco is three miles off the pace and Lucas Vazquez has dropped down the pecking order. Vinicius too has struggled, which has opened the door for Rodrygo. It's like series two of your favourite TV show when the writers realise that the guy who was supposed to be playing a bit part has way more charisma than any of the leading actors. In sporadic cameos and training, Rodrygo has convinced of his chops. At only 18, he is a major part of Zinedine Zidane's plans.
Rodrygo's versatility a major factor
Zidane admitted that Vinicius is fighting a more difficult battle than he did last year since Hazard's arrival. Vinicius can only play on the left and that is the Belgian's position. Likewise, Isco has seen his minutes decline rapidly because there is no role for a number 10 in the team with some mental gymnastics from Zidane and a change of style. The Spaniard can play across the entire attacking line but he tends to drift inside robbing Madrid of width, lacks pace to attack 'vertically' and isn't altogether keen on defending with regularity.
Lucas Vazquez is the opposite of Isco but he lacks nuance in his game, his ability to defeat players in crowded spaces isn't at the level required and he doesn't have a natural nose for goal. With Bale and James ruled out, it means Rodrygo offers something that nobody in Real Madrid's team does - basically all of the above.
His first goal against Galatasaray saw him drift out to the left and into space where he lost his marker before taking it down perfectly before calmly tucking it home. It was a Fede Valverde run into the box that forced the two Galatasaray players to collapse in on top of him as they feared the lanky Uruguayuan nodding the cross home. They left Rodrygo with acres of space.
His second goal, which is similar to his first goal against Leganés saw him set up shop in the penalty area when things were congested out on the left. He spins and finds space only to finish with perfection from a glancing header. More interesting perhaps is Benzema's run to the back post, creating space for Rodrygo to exploit in the centre. As you can see in both instances, Benzema's dart to the back post has the defenders back-pedalling and forced into an either or situation. Either let Benzema score at the back post or mark empty space - the thing is, they don't know that Rodrygo is about to occupy that space and how lethal he is from close range. The telepathy with Benzema has been duly noted.
As you can see from the Leganés goal too, he waits, drops, moves forward, and then back waiting for the ball inside. Granted, the marking is slack but it's this instinct that sees him find the space needed to finish. Something that also has to be considered is that he is 18. Gareth Bale doesn't tend to get that kind of space in the box and is offered more respect when he's in a dangerous position. You would expect Rodrygo go command more as time goes on but that's where his development will come and that will also create more chances for Hazard and Benzema.
His third on Wednesday night was a perfect display of his versatility. Asked to move out to the left when Isco came on, Rodrygo came back into the game. It was similar to his goal against Osasuna when he took a ball down expertly on the left before cutting inside to finish. That debut goal was much better but the Galatasray one was enough to see him seal a hat-trick and his place on the front pages on Thursday morning.
"I have no preference [where I play]," said Rodrygo recently. "I started on the right and during the game, he changed me with Hazard. Wherever they put me, I'll play and enjoy it." His connection with Benzema, ice-cool finishing and his willingness to play anywhere Zidane asks him has seen him slot into Zidane's starting XI when this was supposed to be a year of adaptation and development.
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