This summer is expected to be one of turmoil and transfers in Madrid as Zinedine Zidane looks to rebuild a Real Madrid side in his own image. That will begin with the arrival of Rodrygo Goes, the latest Brazilian starlet to move from Santos to Europe for 45 million euros on a contract until 2025.
The 18-year-old follows in the footsteps of Vinícius Júnior who made a similar move last summer and will be looking to following suit in making an impression in his debut season in La Liga as Real Madrid look to get back on top. This tactical analysis will analyse how Rodrygo can bring a new threat to Real Madrid by using statistics to evaluate the impact he could have once he arrives at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
Stick to the wings
As a traditional winger, Rodrygo’s game centres around hugging the touchline until he gains possession and even then remaining out wide. Unlike the likes of Gareth Bale who constantly look to drift inside to gain possession and have more influence, Rodrygo will stick outwide, only cutting inside once on the ball and being supported by a full-back.
Much like Vinícius Júnior before him, Rodrygo is substantially more comfortable on the left. Similarities could also be drawn to Cristiano Ronaldo at his peak at Real Madrid, where he stuck to the flanks and then looked to cut inside, rather than occupying a central position. In fact, on the few occasions when he has been deployed as a centre-forward, he has rarely stuck to his position and has instead dropped deep.
In fact, only two of his goals have come from right of the centre of the pitch and neither of those came from wider than the six yard box. In recent months, Santos have deployed him more and more on the right hand side of the pitch, but they are still yet to get the best out of him from that side of the pitch, where his dribbling success rates have dropped significantly, going from double figures to below five on average. These figures did begin to recover in late April as he grows increasingly comfortable on the right.
Just how that will work out in Spain remains to be seen. Vinícius has made that role his own in his debut season, overtaking Bale and others, whilst the potential arrival of Eden Hazard could complicate matters even further. That could mean that Rodrygo is restricted to a substitute role, tried on the right, where he’d compete with Marco Asensio. There can be no debate that competition will be stiff for Rodrygo right from the off and he may have to adapt to Zidane’s preferred style of wingers who look to cut inside, rather than hugging the line, in order to work his way into the team.
One of the biggest criticisms of compatriot Vinícius in his debut season at Real Madrid has been his limited goal return, scoring just four goals in all competitions. However, Rodrygo is far more clinical in front of goal. His return of 20 goals for club and country to date is impressive, but even more so when you consider how far he has exceeded xG, given that he has not registered more than 0.83 xG in any single game this season. That means that he has scored 1.32 goals for each 1.0 xG he has recorded. For context, he has surpassed Lionel Messi’s figure in 2018/19 of 1.30 goals per 1.0 xG whilst Cristiano Ronaldo recorded 1.08 goals per 1.0 xG in his last season at Real Madrid. The thought of putting a player who is so clinical in front of goal into a side with playmakers like Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos is truly frightening.
From 25 shots inside the box this season, 13 have been on target and eight have been scored. Often cutting in from a run down the left or looking to get in the far post, he is somewhat of a poacher when coming in from out wide. Rather than taking speculative efforts from distance, he has always looked to try to get into the box and into the danger area before taking off his shot. His high accuracy rates show that he is intelligent when it comes to decision making, not taking a shot when there could be a better passing route available.
Outside the box, he still has work to do. Up against faster and fitter defenders in European football, Rodrygo will find his opportunities inside the 18 yard box become more limited. His dribbling abilities will be crucial to helping him break down those walls, but he may also be required to adapt his game to improve his attacking from distance. Particularly if he is not to take up a central role, he will need to ensure that he is exploiting any spaces that can open up. Still yet to score from outside the box in his career, it is an area that Real Madrid coaches will surely be looking to work on.
This will also be an area where his adaption to European football will be intriguing to follow. Vinícius’ struggles in front of goal have been well documented in his first season, yet his statistics were even better than Rodrygo’s in Brazil. He recorded 1.34 goals per 1.0 xG during his stint at Flamengo and for Brazil’s youth teams, yet at Real Madrid he has 0.55 goals per 1.0 xG. For Rodrygo, adapting this element quickly will be essential to landing smoothly in Spain.
No fear to take men on
Averaging 7.7 dribbles per match with a further 2.7 progressive runs, it’s clear that one of Rodrygo’s biggest strengths is how he brings the ball forward and takes men on. Despite his youth, he has shown no hesitation to face up to rival defenders even as the challenges going in on him become harder with each passing week as his reputation grows in his home country.
Starting out wide, he will look to either go beyond the full-back and deliver a cross directly or will take on his man as he moves on inside. With a 64.1% success rate with his dribbles, his technical ability and skills have served him well as he has exploded onto the scene. Often without support from overlacking full-backs, he has had the full flank to himself but been called upon to take men on without anyone to distract or occupy markers, making his achievements all the more remarkable.
Once he arrives in Chamartín, he will have to become accustomed to having full-backs bombing forwards on the overlap and underlap. With that drawing attention away from him and giving him more space and freedom, he could well reap the rewards of the attacking threat of the likes of Dani Carvajal and Marcelo.
In Brazil, his pace has given him an advantage from the off which will not be so impactful when translated to European football. However, even as he has grown in stature it has been evident that his game is based around more than pace, using ability to take men on rather than just beating them in a foot race. His short, sharp touches will dazzle defenders, even if he, like Neymar and Vinícius before him, will have to adapt to the greater pace of the game and having less time on the ball.
Pressing from the front
Whereas Neymar came from Santos to Spain as a player purely focused on attack and who had to put in a lot of work to improve the defensive side of his game, that is not such a concern with Rodrygo. Far more rounded in style, he looks to press high and defend from the front by intercepting passes and pressuring defenders who get on the ball deep in their own half, even at times if he appears to be on a one man mission.
With 2.72 recoveries per game, only Marco Asensio of the Real Madrid forwards surpass him, with 60% of those recoveries coming in the opposition half. It is not an approach that has been implemented at the Bernabéu under any of their recent coaches but is one that fans have increasingly been calling for. With a rejuvenated front-line and young players with pace capable of fulfilling such an approach, this summer may be the time that Zidane tries it out.
Far from being a superstar primadonna, Rodrygo does put in the hard graft and help out his team-mates in both offensive and defensive senses. He does not shy away from tracking back and will often be one of the first to bring the ball back out as the team look to break forwards.
Defensively, this is how he forms a vital outlet. Often, he will drop deep when his team are back defending, even for set pieces, and will then look to make explosive runs out from the back for his goalkeeper or the clearing defender to distribute to. It is a key element of Santos’ counter-attacking style and one which will surlely please Zidane who is so insistent on a rapid transition from defence to attack.
Rodrygo remains a very raw talent, much like many of the Brazilians in whose footsteps he follows. The potential is clearly there. Very few forwards have had such clinical finishing rates or been so effective with the ball at their feet, but the European game will bring new challenges to him. Whilst he and Eden Hazard may both join the club this summer, there are very few similarities between them in their style. While one drifts inside and the other hugs the line, they are both technical players suited for different scenarios and approaches. Rodrygo will have some adaptation to do, but the future looks bright for Real Madrid’s latest young Brazilian recruit.
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