After struggling to make a splash in his first few games, Leeds United’s £27 million man is starting to ride the waves at Elland Road.
It was always going to be a difficult transition for Rodrigo, embarking on English football for the first time since his fleeting loan spell at Bolton Wanderers in 2010/11.
Giving away a match-winning penalty against Liverpool was the only major contribution from the Spain international in his opening appearances under Marcelo Bielsa, and a poor display against League One Hull City in the Carabao Cup attracted predictable jibes from opposition fans.
Following in the footsteps of his formerly criticised teammate Patrick Bamford however, the 29-year-old is going from strength to strength after following up his promising display in Sheffield with a memorable performance against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
His impact on the game after replacing Tyler Roberts in the second half was the breakthrough Rodrigo needed; the point earned from the battle between master and apprentice reminded the Premier League that Leeds are capable of grappling with the big boys, and it was the Spain international that led the charge.
After Rodrigo came on...— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) October 4, 2020
He registered the most shots (3)
Only Bernardo Silva (9) completed more successful final third passes (7)
No Leeds player completed more passes (14), created more chances (2) or more touches in the box (5)
Only Costa (5) made more Leeds recoveries (4) pic.twitter.com/dD34MIX5FY
Arriving as a beginner to Bielsa’s system, Rodrigo has shown remarkable adaptability since joining in August, especially since adopting the Hernandez-role in attacking midfield rather than replacing Bamford in the number-nine role.
The confidence he exuded there against Manchester City was a sign of things to come from a player who showcased the multiple attacking qualities he possesses; it was his tenacity while running at City’s £65 million signing Ruben Dias that allowed him the opportunity to shoot, and it was the precision of his shot that forced a save from Ederson, leading to the equaliser.
Rodrigo’s goal itself, while scrappy, highlighted his experience as a striker, and more notably, a poacher. Amid the defensive mishap from the Citizens’ defence, he was in the right place at the right time to drag the ball home.
Not long later, Bamford glanced on a header from Luke Ayling’s cross into the area - despite having little time to react, Rodrigo was still able to direct a looping header on goal, accurate enough to force Ederson to glance the ball onto the bar.
And that was him on the ball. It is common knowledge now that what makes Leeds so deadly is what they do out of possession: crowd the opposition, relentlessly press and never take their feet off the pedal.
The 23-time Spain international contributed at both ends of the pitch, dropping deep to drown possession from City before charging forward to add to Leeds’ counter-attacking threat.
Just after the corner, what appears to be the footage in fast forward, is in fact #Leeds players in defensive transition to their half to get 8 men behind the ball— Roshan Rao (@thefieldofgreen) October 4, 2020
Then they win possession, immediately organise a counter and make it 4v4 in the other half #LEEMCI #Bielsa pic.twitter.com/IY2dmNEToz
With 25 touches since entering the fray in the 56th minute, Rodrigo rewrote the script and handed Leeds an eye-catching draw against a Pep Guardiola side looking hell-bent on recording an easy victory in the early stages.
After getting more involved in the 1-0 win against Sheffield United, this display against one of the best sides in world football was a sight to behold, and should make for worrying watching for the Whites’ other Premier League opponents.