Álvaro Rodríguez: Real Madrid’s academy player and potential replacement for Karim Benzema – scout report
As the curtain draws on a season of mixed results for Real Madrid, the Spanish giants will undoubtedly plan a serious challenge to take the La Liga title away from rivals Barcelona who have won the league convincingly with a 10-point gap between the top clubs. The plans unfortunately will have to be without their talismanic forward and captain Karim Benzema. Arriving as a fresh-faced forward for a then-French record transfer, he has helped guide Real Madrid to five league titles, and of course five European Cups.
Real Madrid could look to replace him with a certain talented academy product in Álvaro Rodríguez. Having already made several appearances this season under Carlo Ancelotti, and scoring the equaliser against bitter rivals Atlético Madrid, it seems the Uruguayan is making a case that he may be relied upon to be Madrid’s number ‘9’ next season.
“Álvaro Rodríguez will be in the first-team squad next season.” – Ancelotti remarked after the Madrid derby back in late February.
This tactical analysis will be a scout report on Rodríguez. The analysis will look at what kind of player Rodríguez is, what qualities he could bring to Real Madrid’s tactics next season, and how he will be able to facilitate the hole left behind by Benzema’s departure.
A versatile centre forward
Rodríguez is a unique breed of striker that the modern day is seeing more and more of (cue Erling Haaland). Standing at 192cm tall, at first glance, it may appear that the big centre forward is just your typical target man, able to hold up the play and win aerial duels. Although the latter may be true, which we will touch upon later, he is anything but that.
Rodríguez has played six times for Real Madrid’s first team this season, each of those coming off the bench as a centre forward. Plying his trade in Los Blancos’ reserve team, he possesses fantastic physical attributes that have seen him bully defenders in the air in Real Madrid’s Castilla, and this has seen him given chances in La Liga this season.
As mentioned previously, his height gives him an obvious physical advantage against centre-backs as evident in his goal against Atlético Madrid. The Uruguayan is powerful and has a good leap that often allows him to win headers and aerial duels against defenders.
Rodríguez tends to stay up and right up against the centre-backs, stretching the play vertically. This puts him in a good position to challenge for aerial battles. This also allows him to be a direct out ball for his team during the build-up. His ability to win flick-ons and direct headers towards his teammates further up the pitch can often help his team bypass the opposition’s press.
As mentioned previously, Rodríguez isn’t just a tall and powerful target man. In fact, if it wasn’t for his obvious height advantages, Rodríguez would be considered more your typical poacher and classic number ‘9’. When his team have possession of the ball as they progress up the pitch, he often doesn’t get involved with the build-up play. He stations himself on the last line of opposing defences and makes intelligent runs in behind the back line.
Moreover, he is deceptively quick and often beats defenders to loose balls and through passes in behind. Rodríguez is an intelligent player. He times his runs well and likes to play right on the shoulder of defenders. Not only this, he varies his movement around the opposition back four/five, never staying in one position long enough to get picked up by a defender, and not afraid to drift wide. Often times Rodríguez will make an initial run in behind, and if the ball doesn’t arrive, he will double back up and make a second run from a different position in an attempt to get in behind.
Another key point that further exaggerates his unique playing style for someone his height is his tendency to run away from his own teammates in midfield who have the ball to make blindside runs, rather than come towards the ball as a back-to-goal passing option to facilitate progression.
This is even more evident in the 3-5-2 system that he plays in under Raúl in Real Madrid Castilla. His striking partner is often the one to pick up spaces between the lines, or drop into midfield during possession, leaving Rodríguez the furthest forward, running in behind and away from the man with the ball. By making runs behind the field of view of opposition centre-backs, he often finds himself with time and space when he does receive the ball, allowing his tidy finishing to put the ball into the back of the net.
Defensive work rate
Though he is a striker, Rodríguez has important defensive attributes that benefit his side. Rodríguez has scored 11 goals in his 40 appearances for Real Madrid Castilla since his move there from Girona FC back in 2021. Although not a particularly striking goals per games ratio, Rodríguez puts a lot of energy into off-the-ball movements and defensive actions.
Defensively, he is an asset during both offensive and defensive set pieces. With his height and powerful leap, he can provide that extra option in the box to win decisive battles, winning a significant 81.7% of his aerial duels this season.
His height isn’t the only thing that lends to his physicality. Rodríguez has the benefit of bringing the stereotypical South American tenacity to his game (despite being born in Spain). He works tirelessly off the ball to help the team press the opposition’s back line. Rodríguez harries defenders into making mistakes or passing the ball back to their keeper. In transitions, Raúl often asks his teams to press to win the ball back before dropping into shape. Rodríguez plays a pivotal role in this system as his aggression and intensity set a tone for the rest of his teammates to follow.
Young and room to grow
Strikers are expected to be the main goal threat for their team, and their contributions to the game can often be the difference between winning and losing, especially at the highest level. While Rodríguez of Real Madrid is a talented player, he is still an unpolished gem with a few notable shortcomings that he needs to work on if he is to vie for a starting place in Ancelotti’s team next season.
For a player of his size, one of Rodríguez’s weaknesses surprisingly is his hold-up play. Though he is physical in every sense of the word, it remains a question as to whether or not he will fill out his thin frame enough to play in La Liga against dominant defenders. While his height can be an advantage when it comes to aerial battles, he has struggled at times to hold off defenders who are physically stronger than him. This often leads to him losing possession of the ball and failing to create scoring opportunities for his team.
Another area in which Rodríguez needs to improve is his playmaking ability. He often makes runs behind defences, which is a valuable skill for a striker, but he needs to develop his ability to become a foil to help create chances for his teammates, often waiting in the box and not getting involved to help teammates that need support.
Despite his speed and tireless work ethic in attack, Rodríguez is often caught offside. This can be frustrating for his teammates and fans, as it means they lose valuable attacking opportunities and have to start all over again. By improving his offside awareness and timing his runs better, Rodríguez can become a more effective striker and contribute more to his team’s success.
Finally, while Rodríguez has managed to score 11 goals for Real Madrid Castilla, it isn’t as prolific for someone looking to step up into the top flight. He is quite one-footed, relying heavily on his left foot to score goals. This makes it easier for defenders to anticipate his movements and defend against him as he tends to favour cutting onto his left foot to get a shot off.
Comparison to Benzema, and how he will fit in under Ancelotti
It is very rare to find a like-for-like replacement in any football team. The way Benzema has evolved his game to become both a lethal finisher in the box as well as the focal point of playmaking dropping into the half spaces have earned him widespread recognition as one of the best strikers currently playing (evident when he won the 2022 Ballon d’Or).
There is much hope for Rodríguez amongst the Real Madrid fans that he may be able to fill the void of goals left behind by the Frenchman. He is physical, mobile, and direct and has proven already this season that he is able to score in La Liga.
What is striking when comparing the two players (noting that the stats for Rodríguez is from his playing time this season for Real Madrid Castilla), is that they are two very different types of forwards. Benzema has clear playmaking advantages as a number ‘9’ that the young Uruguayan has yet to develop in his game. Benzema tends to get on the ball far more often during possession, having incredible stats as one of the top centre-forwards in La Liga in terms of Received Passes per 90 and Passes per 90.
Where Rodríguez does have a significant advantage in his play is in aerial duels, especially with Madrid’s dynamic wingers and ability to beat fullbacks in a 1 v1. Though Benzema does have a respectable percentage of his aerial duels won, it doesn’t match the young striker’s ability to win the ball in the air which would be an asset for Ancelotti. Having mentioned Real’s difficulty in breaking down teams who sit in a low block, having Rodríguez as an option to swing crosses in from wide areas gives them another dimension to their game.
“It’s true that we suffer a little with a low block because of the characteristics of the strikers we have (speaking about Benzema and Rodrygo.)” – Ancelotti said ahead of Real Madrid’s game against Real Betis in March.
This poses an interesting dilemma for Ancelotti if he were to trust Rodríguez with the role to lead the line at Madrid. The style of play Benzema has brought to Los Blancos is the ability to bring others into play and finish off critical chances. Although there is an argument to say Rodríguez will only get better with his finishing and score more goals as he matures with better players around him (both players post a similar high stat of Opposition Penalty area touches per 90), Real Madrid will have to adapt to a new playing style when they have the ball, to look towards others as the creative focal point up front.
This also means the likes of Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo will likely bare more of the burden, both of who have benefitted immensely from the presence and playing style of Frenchman. Vinícius Júnior in particular has struck up a great partnership with Benzema that has seen him become one of the stand-out forwards in La Liga this season. Though Rodríguez may not have the technical ability and playing style that Benzema has, what Rodríguez will allow Madrid is to play more direct and even potentially change their defensive structure to press more from the front, something Ancelotti will undoubtedly welcome.
Rodríguez is young, full of energy and aggressive off the ball. Compounded with the young Brazilian forwards around him and a potential energetic midfield of Federico Valverde, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Eduardo Camavinga and others, we may see a more aggressive pressing side from Los Blancos next season.
Álvaro Rodríguez is a highly talented and unique striker who possesses physical attributes that make him stand out on the pitch. While he has some areas for improvement, such as his hold-up play and adding more goals to his game, his ability to make intelligent runs and win aerial battles make him a valuable asset to Real Madrid.
Comparing him to the legend that is Benzema, it is clear that Rodríguez has a different playing style, with a focus on directness and physicality rather than playmaking. This means that if he were to take over the number ‘9’ role for the team, Real Madrid would need to adapt their playing style to suit his strengths.
However, with Rodríguez’s energy and aggression, combined with the young talent in the team, Real Madrid could become a more aggressive pressing side next season. It will be an interesting transfer window for Los Blancos this summer, whether they will opt for a big-money signing, or trust the young Uruguayan to lead the line, hoping their ability to rely on Vinícius Júnior might ease the burden for Rodríguez.
Overall, Rodríguez’s potential is undeniable and it is clear Ancelotti sees something in the young forward. If he continues to develop and improve in the areas that he needs to, he could become a key player for Real Madrid in the years to come.